Thursday, April 29, 2010

Award-winning Walkability

Waiting an extra hour for my presentation at last week's Ventura County Board of Supervisor's hearing was pretty horrid on my nerves, but at least the delay was caused by something interesting: the 2010 Climate Change Action Awards.

An especially happy distraction was Naval Base Ventura County's award for the new Catalina Heights military housing project in Camarillo. Formerly described as "bomb shelter chic," the newly remodeled complex includes about 30 single family homes and 230 townhouses. Shopping, restaurants, the local elementary school and a community center with preschool and daycare services are incorporated into the community design so residents can meet many of their daily needs by walking instead of biking.

As this picture (courtesy of the Ventura County Star) shows, the development has many key walkable design elements: sidewalks, on-street parking, a landscaped parkway, front doors (not garages) oriented towards the street...if only Ventura Blvd could be so lovely. It almost makes me want to join the Navy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Walking Events in May

This month promises a bundle of walking excitement for pedestrian-oriented Angelenos. I hope to be able to make it down from my perch in Ventura to be able to attend a few of these events.

May 1 and 2 - Jane's Walk
I posted earlier about Jane's Walk USA, an annual series of neighborhood walks that teach people about urban planning and introduce them to their community (especially the parts that they might not notice while gazing out of their windshields). This year there are two walks planned for the LA area, one in the MacArthur Park neighborhood and one in downtown Los Angeles. You can find more info on the Jane's Walk website here.

May 4 - Safe Routes to School Southern California Conference Call
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is holding its first SRTS Southern California Network conference call on May 4. The key purpose of the call is to start bringing people, resources and knowledge together to improve walking and bicycling for children and families in Southern California. Everyone is welcome to join in the discussion.

The call will take place May 4 from 12:00 to 1:00 pm. The Conference Call Conference Dial-in Number is (218) 862-1001 and Participant Access Code is 1009315# (*6 mutes/unmutes the call).

May 12 - Metro 2010 Pedestrian Symposium: Walking into the Future City
This event will explore strategies to increase travel options and create sustainable, healthy, livable communities. Participants will learn the latest information on critical pedestrian planning issues and engage in an essential and pertinent dialogue about the future of our communities.

The symposium is scheduled from 8:30am – 3:30pm and will be located in the Board Room at Metro Headquarter, One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012. To learn more and RSVP to the symposium, visit the webpage here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

This Week on Foot

This weekend the World’s First Double Helix Pedestrian Bridge Opens in Singapore, providing pedestrians with the final link in a 3.5 path around the Marina Bay development--and the opportunity to hang out in some pretty cool architecture. Maybe Singapore can share some of its expertise with Israel, where Tel Aviv Requests Public’s Help in Boardwalk Redesign.

Of course, it takes more than walking paths to make a community pedestrian friendly. As we learned this week from Switchboard, For walkability and community, put the building on the street and the parking in back. Turns out people like looking in the windows of shops as they walk down the street more than they like looking in the windows of cars.

Think policies that require parking to be located behind buildings aren't important? If you live in an unwalkable community, Your Neighborhood Could Be Making You Sick. According to several studies cited in Psycology Today, people who live in walkable neighborhoods are "thinner and healthier" than people in pedestrian unfriendly areas.

A report out of New York City this week explains one other reason that walkability is important: the economy. Yes, Carless New Yorkers save, help city economy. Perhaps that's why in Ithica, New York a Seniors' group to survey intersections for pedestrian safety. Every little bit helps...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

Want to do your part for the planet today? Take a walk! By conservative estimates, walking generates about 1/4 the emissions of driving (more if you don't fuel your walks with a hamburger). Learn more from the Pacific Institute's study Driving vs. Walking: Cows, Climate Change, and Choice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Home is where the sidewalks are

Reading through this post from Streetsblog got me thinking about how transportation choices and walkability affect our decisions about where to live. The post asks readers to respond to the question, "How walkability a top priority for you [in deciding where to live]?" Not surprisingly (these are Streetsblog readers after all), the walkability and bikeability of a neighborhood seem to be pretty important. This seems in line with at least one recent study that shows homes in walkable neighborhoods sell for more than those in more traditional suburbs.

On the other hand, I think it's important to keep in mind the response of one reader, who explained: "most important for me, can I get a job there?" I admit, this is the case for me as well. In a perfect world walkability would be the top factor in my choice of where to live...but in that perfect world I would also have the money to afford chic California real estate, not to mention a lively trust fund.

Here in Reality, things aren't quite so simple. I have to take into account not only the location of my workplace, but also my husband's workplace. Factor in kids, schools, not wanting our kids to have to forgo school because our mortgage is so expensive that once we've paid it we can't afford to also clothe our gets complicated quickly, and walkability slips further and further down the list. All of which only serves to emphasize why it's so important to push for walkability everywhere. It should be a given that neighorhoods have good sidewalks and marked crosswalks, the same way that it's a given that neighborhoods have roads.

I'm looking forward to the day when asking a person if they prioritize walkability in deciding where to live sounds as crazy as asking if they prioritize the availability of drinking water. Until then, I guess I'm not moving.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

This week on foot

New Jersey, where a New Law Says Stop, Not Yield, for Pedestrians, continues to be in the pedestrian safety spotlight this week. The goal of the law, which requires drivers to stop completely once a pedestrian enters a crosswalk or face a $200 fine and 15 days of community service, is to eliminate ambiguities about driver behavior and Protect Pedestrians in crosswalks.

The Pacific Coast Highway could certainly use some of that protection, where this week Authorities seek witnesses to Malibu crash that killed pedestrian. The crash was the second pedestrian fatality in Malibu in the past month.

At the New York auto show this week Volvo revealed one potential solution to pedestrian safety: New Volvo S60 brakes automatically if it detects pedestrians. The vehicle is just one of a growing number of cars that are taking pedestrian safety out of the hands of drivers--a trend that I would like to see a lot more of (and not only because I have a running bet with my husband over whether or not we'll see cars that drive themselves entirely in our lifetime).

Of course, there are other options for improving pedestrian safety, as we learned in this nice Streetsblog feature about Making Streets for Walking: Dan Burden on Reforming Design Standards (e.g. if we want people to drive slowly then we need to--I know, this sounds crazy!--design roads that make it uncomfortable to speed). The piece focuses on the new street design publication recently released by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Congress for New Urbanism: Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach .

Now if they could only do the same thing for parking lots like this one in Hattiesburg where there was a Pedestrian hit in Wal-Mart parking lot...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Bunny Fiasco

Angelenos have probably already heard about last week's controversy over Glendale's Easter-themed crosswalk sting, in which an officer dressed in a rabbit suit repeatedly crossed an unmarked crosswalk to see if drivers would yield to the "pedestrian" as required by law. The police department justified the decision to use the costume by explaining that such an unusual outfit would be more noticeable (clearly they should have read my post explaining that even funny outfits don't catch the eye of distracted drivers).

The sting earned the Glendale PD a lot of publicity...not to mention the ire of at least one city councilmember, who blasted it for being "dangerous" and a waste of city resources. It got me thinking about these types of operations (e.g. crosswalk stings, pedestrian marches, etc) and whether or not they actually advance the pedestrian cause.

We know that spot enforcement can be effective at reducing bad driver behavior like speeding--for a while. But improvements tend to dwindle rapidly once the officers pack up and move to another location. What does linger on, in my opinion at least, is the resentment and bad feelings towards pedestrians that the enforcement generates. Do you think that any of the 24 Glendale motorists who were cited because they failed to yield to a bunny are going to feel enthusiastic about pedestrian rights in the future? I suspect not.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jane's Walk USA

I recently learned about this international event honoring the Jane Jacobs, the author of the Death and Life of Great American Cities and generally awesome urban planning thinker (and wearer of surprisingly cool glasses, see below).

What better way to honor an urban planner than by walking around a city? Jane's Walk USA is an annual series of neighborhood walks that teach people about urban planning and introduce them to their community (especially the parts that they might not notice while gazing out of their windshields). Begun in 2007 by a set of Jane's friends, the walks can be led by anyone with an interest in planning, walking, architecture, or other social issues facing city residents.

As the groups website describes "Jane’s Walk honors the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Jane’s Walk helps knit people together into a strong and resourceful community, instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

ITS Berkeley Transportation Seminar Series

Courtesy of the UCLA Transporters email list...

Friday, April 2, 2010

4 - 5 p.m. in 512 O’Brien

Rick Shaw
Professor, Graduate School of Business, Leland Stanfurd Junior College

A Life Cycle Analysis of Pedestrians

Abstract: It has become a mantra among transportation engineers and urban planners that our cities should be more “walkable”. However, a detailed cradle to grave study of the economic, environmental, and social impacts of pedestrianism challenges such orthodoxy. First, an historical survey reveals that innovation in perambulation technology has stagnated over the last several millennia. Additionally, a fiscally driven life cycle analysis of sneakers and automobiles reveals that the former has a markedly negative impact on global economic growth when compared to the latter.