Saturday, December 19, 2009

This week on foot

This week we're presented with an avalanche of evidence that pedestrians still don't get the funding, attention, or respect they deserve.

Consider one Albany resident's plea for officials to Clear snow away from bus stops. In a letter to the editor, Wendy Montano observes that after a large snowfall streets are immediately plowed for drivers, but sidewalks and bus stops remain buried and inaccessible.

Even in areas without snow, pedestrians still have it tough. As Construction begins at San Diego border crossing , millions of dollars are being spent to reduce crossing time for motorists. At the same time, the "improvements" to the pedestrian crossing include a new bridge that is actually longer than the one that exists today.

Of course, even a long bridge is better than no bridge at all, according to this Midland resident who is lobbying for better accessibility in his neighborhood: Seeking a safe crossing, Braley speaks up

While I don't always advocate pedestrian bridges (I'd rather see improvements at the street level), perhaps a bridge could have helped out the Pedestrian, 78, fatally struck by car in Pasadena.

Of course, according to Jim Perskie's editorial on Atlantic City, Pedestrian deaths increase: Could it be the state's fault? , the problem is the pedestrians themselves.

Tampa seems to agree, as this week's Safety program yields dozens of warnings for pedestrians

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walking in Ecuador (the Good)

Okay, we've established that Ecuador has some challenges when it comes to the pedestrian environment. But what about its successes? As I observed in my jaunts through cities large and small, in many places Ecuador has really done things right.

Consider this street in Quito's New Town:
Note the street furniture, large trees, and narrow roadway. The bricks are a nice touch also, though I wonder if they present any type of maintenance or accessibility problems.

Even better is this street in Banos: What I loved the most about this street (aside from the fact that cars are allowed only half of the space the pedestrians enjoy--take that Ventura Boulevard with your seven travel lanes and narrow sidewalks) was the perfectly proportioned mixed-use buildings on either side. With shops below (that blend so well with residences above that my husband didn't even realize the housing was there, and kept asking where people actually lived in Banos), this street shows us density as it should be done.

But perhaps most exciting to me were the pedestrian streets like this one that littered the roadway network in Quito's Old Town:
About half the streets in this part of town were limited to walkers only, or opened only occasionally to vehicle traffic. Add to this numerous plazas, colonial architecture, and narrow one-way streets, and you can understand why--even with Quito's fancy BRT system--we usually opted to travel on foot.

And this was only in the cities. In many of the rural areas we visited vehicles were so rare that the question of who the roadways belonged to (vehicles or people) was moot. Pedestrians (and sheep, and chickens, and horses) embraced the streets and footpaths as their own, only rarely interrupted by the passage of a motorcyle or an inter-city bus. If only Angelenos had it so good.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking in Ecuador Part 1 (the Bad)

Nothing gives you a better sense of a country's transportation system than trying to navigate it while dragging around a bunch of luggage. I say this as a person who has sprinted through the Paris subway system with a rolling suitcase, juggled two loaded duffel bags on Madrid's airport bus route, and, now, teetered along Quito's sidewalks with a hefty backback.

The good news is that people in Ecuador walk a lot. The bad news is that in many places they're forced to do so along sidewalks so narrow that a tall person walking along them risks decapitation from the mirrors of passing trucks. I was especially aware of the emaciated sidewalks as my bulky backpack and I shimmied our way through the streets during rush hour, knocking people from the curb left and right (see above).

Add to this the heavy cloud of diesel fumes permeating the cities, crumbling street furniture, and poor signage, and you end up with a pedestrian environment that is barely tolerable for the able-bodied, not to mention the challenges that a person with disabilities might face.

Still, either by design or by luck Ecuador manages to get a lot right. Next up: Walking in Ecuador Part 2 (the Good).