Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Distracted Driving Update

I'm over a month in to my anti-distracted-driving quest. Aside from the rare 30-second call to my husband to tell him I'm on my way to pick him up from work, I've managed to keep off the phone pretty consistently so far.

My biggest complaint has been missing out on all that talking time during my 2-hour commute (I haven't been calling my mom as much lately, I think she's worried), and I have been tempted give in and allow myself hands-free conversations while driving on the freeway. But then I saw this (you might have seen other versions floating around on the internet).

It reminded me of the recent study showing that people talking on cell phones were so absorbed in their conversations they missed a unicycling clown...and reminded me to stick with my no-talking-at-all-while-driving rule.

Friday, March 26, 2010

This Week on Foot

The week started out on a postive note for those of us who spend time in the City of Ventura, where Ventura council adopts newsstand ordinance for downtown. The new ordinance requires dozens of haphazard newsstands to be replaced with classier multi-publication modules, which will eliminate ugly (and sometimes dangerous) sidewalk clutter throughout the city.

A hundred or so miles to the south, the City of Chula Vista contemplates Walkability's Price, and hopes it's low enough to convince its city council to approve a new streetscape project that will improve walkability on one of its main aterials. Improving walkability is a hot topic on the other side of the country also, where in the Washington, D.C. area a New program aims to improve pedestrian safety .

Why all this interest in improving walkability? For one thing, walking is cheap. As we learned from various sources this week transportation is The Hidden Cost of Living in the Suburbs. Based on the new Housing and Transportation Affordability Index from the Center for Neighborhood Transportation, walkability + cheaper housing = affordability.

Oh, and Beware the Ides of March Madness: brackets based on walkable urbanism. Turns out walkability is good for basketball, too.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beyond Transit Oriented Development


No, it's not just an Apple product.

POD stands for Pedestrian Oriented Development, the topic of a recent speech by author and professor Reid Ewing (described in this recent article in the Planning Commissioners Journal). Ewing explained that effective POD requires higher density (8-12 dwelling units per acre), diverse land uses, and of course "good design" (e.g. short blocks, public spaces). Unfortunately, antiquated development codes and a continuing focus on auto-oriented development currently stand in the way POD. Nonetheless, Ewing estimates that roughly 3-5 percent of development in the US could be classified as POD, a number that will hopefully increase as cities begin to revamp their municipal codes to promote more walkable communities.

While planners have long touted the benefits of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which promotes higher-density, mixed-use development around transit hubs, Ewing argues that in fact pedestrian-oriented development has more potential in many US cities, where there simply aren't enough people to support effective transit service.

Hopefully the transit folks won't hate me for saying this, but personally I agree. It's not that I have anything against transit per se. (Well, actually I do--not enough bang for the buck, too much focus on commute trips, biased towards expensive rail projects that primarily benefit rich, white people--but that's not really the point of this post.) It's just that I spend almost all of my time in places (Ventura County, Woodland Hills) that don't have the kind of density/population/job centers to support the frequent transit service that makes for good TOD. So no, transit and transit-oriented development don't excite me much.

On the other hand, I'm lucky enough to live in a community that's so walkable that I can literally go days without getting in my car (don't snicker, that's impressive for a LA suburb). I see the difference having sidewalks and places to walk to can make in travel patterns--imagine if my neighborhood also had short blocks, street furniture, and some of the other POD features that Ewing talks about. Moreover, I'd be willing to bet that implementing POD is cheaper--and maybe even more effective at reducing vehicle trips--than a lot of the transit projects out there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Street Summit 2010

In true--ironic--LA fashion, I drove for 2.5 hours yesterday to learn more about how I could spend less time in my car. Yes, yesterday was the 2010 Los Angeles Street Summit, and I wanted to share some info about what I learned in the afternoon's workshops.


MoProject is a multi-media contest that allows young people in California to enter their videos, posters, or spoken-word pieces about the health issues they deal with every day. Last year the contest focused on challenges to health in California, such as dangerous sidewalks. This year's asks California teens, how do you "own your health"? Sponsored by CANFIT, MoProject provides a venue for young people to become active participants in their community's health and development.

Greenfield Walking Group

Recently recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its success in promoting community health, the Greenfield Walking Group started in 2006 with a few moms who simply wanted to get some exercise by walking in their local Bakersfield park. Unfortunately, they were thwarted by nasty dogs and even nastier trash, not to mention a language barrier. Enter the walkability assessment. Working with California Walks, the ladies were able to assess the walking conditions in their park and identify key problems. Once armed with actual data, they were able to communicate effectively with city leaders about the lack of walkability in their park and develop real solutions for the area (lights, playground equipment, a jogging trail). Now 150 strong, the group has begun to branch out to other communities, teaching them how to advocate for improvements within their neighborhoods.

Trainings and Resources

Those of you who are interested in transforming your community the way that Greenfield ladies did can get some free help from folks at state and federal level. In California, the Office of Traffic Safety in partnership with UC Berkeley provides four-hour Community Pedestrian Safety Trainings in numerous cities throughout the state each year, as well as Pedestrian Safety Assessments for California communities.

The Federal Highway Administration also offers several programs related to walkability and pedestrian safety, including free technical assistance and bi-monthly webinars. The FHWA also recently revised its handbook on creating a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan.

Friday, March 19, 2010

This Week on Foot

Los Angeles has been buzzing this week about a visit from NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has been sharing her experiences promoting bike and ped-friendly transportation in New York as part of this year's Street Summit. If you missed her opening speech on Wednesday (see excerpt from YouTube above), you have another chance on Saturday at 10:30 at LA Trade Tech College. You can also hear her interview on KPCC here.

Elsewhere in the Southern California region things haven't been so inspiring for pedestrians this week. Along the coast in Malibu, we heard about a Pedestrian hit and ran over multiple times by vehicles on the PCH.

Further up the coast in the Santa Barbara area, Foes of Curb Extensions Can’t See the Safety for the Cars.

At least some people in California are working on improving the pedestrian environment. In the Bay Area 25 motorists cited in West Oakland pedestrian safety sting. Also in Northern California, Fox News (!!) did some investigative reporting, asking Are Sacramento Streets Safe For Wheelchair Pedestrians? (I'll give you three guesses what the answer was). Maybe the Hi-vis coats keep pedestrians safe could work for folks in wheelchairs too.

On a lighter note, a follow up on last week's story about one European town's attempt to improve pedestrian safety for those whole like to imbibe: Romanian 'drunk pedestrian' traffic signs scrapped after 'excessive media coverage'. I wonder how I can get my hands on one of those, now that Romania doesn't need them?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Factors in Childhood Obesity

I sometimes hear fitness buffs explain that losing weight is simple: eat less, exercise more. This might work nicely as a mantra to chant in your head while running up hills, but the reality is that obesity is a pretty complex phenomenon, particularly when it comes to children. As reported in this recent article from the LA times, race, family structure, household income, and several other factors are all linked to childhood obesity rates according to a newly-published study using data from the National Survey of Childhood Health.

I was especially interested in relationship between childhood obesity and outside activities, which is striking. Children who do not participate in activities outside of school are 40 percent more likely to be obese than children who do, and children who live in neighborhoods without a park or recreaction center are about 20 percen more likely to be overweight.

It seems to me that one of the barriers to getting children to do more outside of school (aside from cost, of course) is that it's hard to get them to those outside activities. What if a kids could walk themselves to soccer practice after school, instead of relying on a parent to drive them? Or walk to a park to play? I believe that an important part of addressing childhood obesity should be restructuring the built environment to make active transportation easy for everyone--especially kids.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thank you Ray LaHood

Yesterday Transportation Secretary LaHood announced on his blog (all the cool people have them these days) the "end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized." This major policy revision from the FHWA includes several key recommendations:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Go beyond minimum design standards.
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal).
  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

It's great to see leaders at the top of the transportation world recognizing that people who travel on two feet deserve exactly the same treatment as people who travel on four wheels. Here's hoping that whole bit about treating walking and biking equally extends to funding...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Upcoming Events: Street Summits on Two Coasts

Angelenos and others in the SoCal region can check out STREET SUMMIT 2010: Biking, Walking and Beyond! this Saturday (March 20) at the LA Trade Tech College from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm. Participants can learn about Sidewalk Politics, Reclaiming Streets for People, and Changing Communities Through Walkability Assessments. More information and registration is available on the Street Summit webpage.

Folks on the opposite side of the country are invited to the Chittenden County Bike/Ped Summit on March 27 at the McCarthy Arts Center from 8:30 am to 12:45 pm. On the agenda are sessions about advocacy and behavior change, safe routes to school, bicycle commuting, and a keynote address from Mary Collins, author of American Idle: A Journey Through Our Sedentary Culture. More information is available here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cool Ped Stuff #6: Skinny Streets

Who could resist a story (from Grist) that starts with a headline like that? It led me to the blog of photographer and self-proclaimed urban planning geek David Yoon, who passes the time creating pictures of what LA streets might look like on a road diet. Here's one example from Santa Monica, which shows how narrowing a street can transform it from pedestrian acquaintance to pedestrian friend. You can see more at Narrow Streets Los Angeles.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Week Foot

This week began with a spate of nasty pedestrian crashes in my part of the world. First the Ventura County Star reported a Pedestrian, 33, struck and killed by car in Fillmore, then there a Buena student hit by car remains in critical condition. Happily, she seems to be improving--but not so happy was the story of Donations sought for Ventura boy's funeral expenses after a two-year-old was hit in a Ventura crosswalk.

Hoping to avoid a similar fate for her own child, Streetsblog describes how a Bay Ridge Mother Stirs Street Safety Awakening at Brooklyn CB 10 after she--and her empty stroller--were hit while walking to pick up her son from school.

They could use that kind of activism elsewhere in the world, like in Nigeria, where in Lagos there is such an Urgent Need to Rehabilitate Ketu Pedestrian Bridge that pedestrians are forced to scurry across a busy four-lane road because it's "safer" than using the overpass.

Of course, the Nigerians almost seem to have it good compared to the Frail pensioner forced to take 14-mile bus ride when she wants to cross the road, who appeared in various blog posts this week.

With all the negative news out there, a little humor was in order. Enter this story: Romanian Residents Amused By Drunken Pedestrian Sign.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sidewalk Materials: What Are You Walking On?

Not only did this recent post from the Infrastructurist make me realize that there are blogs about absolutely everything out there, it got me thinking about what we use to build our sidewalks.

Concrete is the most common choice, as it meets several key criteria for sidewalk design: it's cheap, durable, and slip-resistant. On the other hand, it's pretty boring to look at and--a factor that's becoming increasingly important as stormwater runoff regulations become more stringent--it's impervious.

In the past bricks and similar decorative pavers have been used to spice up the look of sidwalks, but cobbled surfaces can be difficult to navigate for folks with disabilities (not to mention those of us who wear high heels). As an alternative, the FHWA recommends stamped concrete or concrete pathways with brick trim. WALKArlington has been working with that Virginia city on a similar "field and border" design concept that relies entirely on textured concrete slabs with a smooth concrete border.

Then there's the issue of permeability. With pavement covering so much of our urban surfaces, it's important to finds materials that allow water to drain directly into the ground. The City of Olympia in Washington state has been installing pervious pavement in projects throughout the city since 1999. Although pervious concrete sidewalks are more expensive than traditional sidewalks, they can significantly reduce overall construction costs by eliminating the need for expensive "stormawater controls" adjacent to roadways (see the full report on Olympia's pervious sidewalks here).

The uber-green may opt for rubber sidewalks, another porous option, made entirely recycled tires. My knees are particularly intrigued by the proponents' claim that the flexible rubber surface is more comfortable to walk on. Sounds cushy to me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Transportation For America: Take Action

Transportation for America is heading to DC this week to advocate for Rep. Earl Blumenauer's Active Community Transportation Act (H.R. 4722). This bill would create a $2 billion competitive grant program to fund safe networks for biking and walking, and it needs your support.

You can find more information on the Active Community Transportation Act here, along with links to send a message to your representative asking them to co-sponsor the bill.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This Week on Foot

Some weeks it sure seems hard to find any good news on the pedestrian front. Seems like I shouldn't have to scour through pages and pages of headlines about pedestrian deaths before I discover anything positive.

Take this story from the small Washington state town where my family is from, which describes a Day of tears: Driver gets prison for hitting, killing pedestrian (the tears must have made a difference for that driver, who only received a three-year sentence, as opposed to the Swedish Rapper Sentenced 15-to-Life for Killing Pedestrian here in LA).

Or there's this story from Long Beach, California, where LBFD rescues pedestrian pinned under Metro Blue Line in downtown Long Beach. Or the sad tale from Detroit, where a DDOT test-drive ends in a pedestrian's death.

All that mayhem makes the fact that Berkeley Police Focuses on Pedestrian Safety in March to Remember Zachary Cruz (a six-year-old killed on his way to an after-school program in Berkeley) seem almost cheerful.

But all is not completely bleak on the pedestrian front. In the UK Road safety group C76 triumphant as Kings Langley C76 route repairs commence. At least London pedestrians will have safer access along one major roadway soon.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Today's Disheartening Quote

"When did it become the responsibility of the federal DOT to build sidewalks?" asked Missouri Senator Kit Bond during today's transportation appropriations hearing (full story here on Streetsblog).

How about: around when we realized how much treating the obesity epidemic, driven in part by our auto-centric society, costs us? Or, when we discovered how expensive it was to deal with the health and environmental impacts of relying only of vehicles to get around? When we saw how many pedestrians are killed or injured each year in traffic crashes? When we learned that poor walkability contributes to serious social and economic disadvantages for people who can't drive or can't afford a car?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Safe Routes to School Travel Data Report

In its recently released report Safe Routes to School Travel Data: A Look at Baseline Results from Parent Surveys and Student Travel Tallies the National Center for Safe Routes to School summarizes two years of travel data from the national safe routes to school program. Some of the key findings:
  • Most children travel to school by car or school bus, although walking does make up a fairly significant portion of school trips (11 percent in the morning and 15 percent in the afternoon)
  • Walking peaks in fifth grade, when nearly a quarter of kids walk or bike to school, then drops when children enter middle school (possibly due to middle schools being further from home than elementary schools)
  • Distance is the biggest factor in parents' decision to allow their kids to walk to school, and makes a dramatic difference in walking rates. Over 40 percent of children who live less than a quarter-mile from school walk to school. However, the percentage of walkers drops to nine percent for children living between 1/2 and one mile from school--and to two percent or less for children who live more than a mile away from school.
  • Although distance was important, traffic speed, traffic volume, and intersection crossing safety were also major factors in whether or not parents allowed their children to walk to school. Weather also made a difference to parents, but not as much as has been shown in previous studies.

Based on this data, the National Center for Safe Routes to School suggests that in the short term safe routes to school programs focus efforts particularly on areas within a mile of schools, where many children already walk. Since safety concerns are a major reason that parents don't allow their children to walk to school, identifying strategies to lower traffic around schools, reduce traffic speeds, and provide children with safe crossings could have a strong influence on the number of kids who walk to school.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

WalkSanDiego 2010 Gala

San Diego pedestrian advocacy group WalkSanDiego has announced the date of its annual Gala and Golden Footprint Awards ceremony. The Gala, honoring Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Sessom and other award winners to be announced, is a great opportunity to mingle with other pedestrian advocates and learn about some of the important pedestrian work happening in California's most southern county. You can get more details on the website or from the event flyer.