Sunday, January 15, 2012

City Sidewalks!


How much attention do you pay to whether the area in which you live or work or play has sidewalks? Commuting to and from work via bike and/or bus has given me ample time to examine such things. I also notice traffic signage, lights, and crosswalk markings (or lack thereof).

In the city, we sometimes plan routes around town with the amount of stop signs/lights in mind. The fewer signs and lights we run into, the better time we can make getting to where we're going. And, many times, we conveniently fail to come to a complete stop before reaching pedestrian crosswalks... in cars and on motor/pedal bikes alike. When you stop to consider how much we "don't see" these signs and markings you come to realize how much we take them for granted. I'm not exempt from this. But they were created to help not hurt us.

I have always commented, whether in a car or the saddle of a bike, on how crazy pedestrians in the 'burbs are. They walk and jog in the street... y'know... where cars and non-attentive drivers rule with an iron first (and an annoying horn). Those suburbanites put their lives in the hands of gas-guzzling automobiles in the sun, rain, sleet and snow. Don't get the wrong impression. The peds wear bright clothing and reflective vests, but drivers notoriously want and believe the streets belong to them... and them alone. The attitude grows more maniacal as you travel further from the city centers around the world. I could excuse this sense of entitlement, if not for the fact there are some [sign] marked bicycle routes in the suburbs. Our city planners don't seem to think painted bike lanes in the suburbs are important safety measures. Weird.

The greatest insult to pedestrian intelligence and safety, however, is in suburban industrial parks. On my route to work, for instance, there are staggered sidewalks. By this I mean the sidewalks alternate between the two (North & South) sides of the street. Hey! At least they have 'em, eh? Wrong. To use these sidewalks, pedestrians are forced to cross the street every other block. There are no painted crosswalks or signs to control traffic as hardworking people step out into what could be there peril. Right about now, you may be thinking drivers take this into consideration as they cruise down the mile stretch of unmarked road. That's sweet of you... and absolutely off the mark. Everyone seems to put the pedal to metal, and cars scream down that street like banshee steeds onto a blood-drenched battlefield.

So, why does any of this bother me so much I feel the need to write about it, right?

It is said we can judge the health of our communities/cities by how safe it is on the streets (for our children).

I'll let that marinate a minute...

Can your children walk around, on a sidewalk, safely in your neighborhood? Count your sidewalks. Do your children cross the street via a marked/painted walkway with signage to help slow drivers? Pay attention the next time you're in your car. Does your family have immediate access to painted bike lanes (for recreation and exercise)? You know the drill.

The streets are paid for out of OUR tax dollars. Shouldn't WE be able to traverse them safely... with or without a car? Is an additional three feet of grass between our homes and the nearest person really worth a potential victim on our streets? Do we want to end up like Toronto, Canada -- where the city is removing painted bike lanes in response to drivers complaining those lanes should be used for motorized traffic?

I leave you with this quote from Jane Jacobs' The Death & Life of Great American Cities:

“A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, out of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities:

First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects.

Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.

And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.”

Think about it.


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