Monday, May 31, 2010

Walking in Washington (and elsewhere)

Safely back from a whirlwind jaunt through the greater DC (anything within two hours of the city counts as "greater DC," right?), I have a few pics of my many, many walking excursions to share. First, I was happy to note the tremendous number of marked crossings, many with some kind of distinct paving treatment:

On the othe hand, much of the marking--like much of the sidewalk--was brick. As we learned in a previous post on sidewalk materials, given enough time, water, and/or tree roots, brick can become seriously difficult to navigate.

You'd think the founding fathers would have kept that in mind when they designed this street near the capitol building, but I suppose trip and fall lawsuits weren't such a prominent issue when you were in the middle of building a nation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pedestrian Advocacy Part 2: Safety First

I'm checking out walking in the Washington, D.C. area this week, so until I have time to report on what life on foot looks like on the East Coast today, here's some info on what life on foot was like at the turn of the last century--and how it led to some of the first pedestrian advocacy groups.

The first organized groups to promote pedestrian safety formed in response to the increasing prevalence of automobiles on city streets. Some of the groups, like the Long Island Highway Protective Society established in 1902, were independent associations. However many, such as the Society for Political Study’s Committee for the Prevention of Reckless Driving and Street Accidents and the Safety First Federation of America’s Street Traffic Committee, were part of larger civic organizations. Often at odds with increasingly powerful motorist lobbies, these groups pushed for greater regulation of drivers and motor vehicles, including the adoption of speed limits, the installation of traffic signals, stricter enforcement of roadway rules, licensing requirements, and competence exams for drivers. They also argued for the creation of uniform traffic laws, including laws to protect pedestrians at crossings. Safety organizations paid particular attention to educating children, who were accustomed to using city streets as their playgrounds, about roadway safety.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Walking is GOOD

Intrepid blogger Ryan Bradley takes a long walk through Los Angeles and pens (er...types about) his experiences in this miniseries from the folks at GOOD. "Could it be that this western cow-town, this place that's synonymous with self-reinvention, is reinventing itself?" he asks. Let's hope so...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cool Ped Stuff #6: Parklets

Count on San Francisco to come up with a program that turns Pavement into Parks (and on Streetfilms to make a movie of it):

Inspired events like Park(ing) Day and New York's pedestrian plazas, the joint effort of the mayor's office, public works and planning departments, and the MTA creates temporary mini parks in unused (and often unusable) patches of public street right-of-way. Although the parks are currently dismantled after an intial trial run, the idea is to make the most popular ones permanent fixtures in the SF streetscape.

What I really admire about this idea (aside from the improvements to the pedestrian environment, of course) is its brilliant political strategy. Putting up a "temporary" park bypasses much of the bureaucracy and political finagling that would be required to build a permanent park. Once the temporary park is place, people fall in love with it. Suddenly there is a group of park supporters who will help fight to make the park permanent--a group who probably never would have existed if the temporary park hadn't been built in the first place. In other words, sometimes the only way to get a good idea implemented is to put the proverbial cart in front of the horse...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pedestrian Advocacy Part 1: First Steps Along a Footpath

Since I've been working on a paper about pedestrian advocacy in the developing world recently (more on that later), pedestrian advocacy groups have been on my mind a lot lately. One thing that's always baffled me about pedestrian advocacy is how, despite the fact that virtually everyone walks at some point in the day (even if it's only from the couch to the fridge), it's hard to get pedestrians to think of themselves cohesive group the way bicyclists or runners or even transit riders do. Why don't pedestrians self-identify? This is one of the questions that inspired me to research pedestrian advocacy, and while my paper went in a different direction, along the way I learned some pretty interesting stuff about the history of pedestrian advocacy. Who knows, maybe it can provide some insight that will advance the cause of walkability. Even if it doesn't, I thought it was worth sharing...

Those of you who read my post about the history of sidewalks might recall that London was responsible for introducing the first sidwalk in the late 1700s, so it should come as no surprise that the UK was also the birthplace of pedestrian advocacy. Right about the same time that the new-fangled "sidewalk" was making walking easier within British cities, foot travel in more rural parts of the country was becoming more difficult. Historically citizens had been allowed access through private lands along designated public footpaths. But an 1815 Parliamentary act allowed magistrates to close those paths they considered “unnecessary.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This Week on Foot

In Southern California, the week has been full of debate over sidewalks. Angelenos are up in arms because
L.A. may stop footing bills for sidewalk and driveway repairs The City took over sidewalk repairs in the 1970s when it received a hunk of federal money for sidewalk fixes. The money has long since run out, and now the City is hoping to help balance its ailing budget by asking property owners to pay at least a portion of sidewalk repair costs (a common practice in other cities). Not surprisingly, property owners aren't jumping up and down with joy over the proposed change.

Further north, it's No block party in San Francisco, where the City is considering an ordinance to forbid sitting and lying on city sidewalks. Aimed at curbing agressive panhandling in some city neighborhoods, the proposed regulations have led to intense debate among San Franciscans. Some believe that the proposal flies in the face of other city policies that encourage the use of sidewalks as public gathering places, while others point out that law enforcement officers need better tools to deal with panhandlers whose "assaultive" behavior is hurting local businesses.

On the other side of the world, pedestrians in India are also struggling over the issue of sidewalks--or lack thereof. Pune's 55% walkers have minimum facilities on road, and in response the Centre for Science and the Environment has proposed improvements to pedestrian facilities as part of a Comprehensive Transport Policy for the Indian city.

Back in the US, City planners track cyclists, pedestrians to measure trail needs as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project. Counts will take place this fall in 150 cities across the country. Perhaps we'll finally get some decent pedestrian counts out of the work.

In the meantime, we can ponder this question from the Smart Planet blog: Are cul-de-sacs to blame for stifling urban communities? According to one study cited in the article, they are at least to blame for a significant (26 percent) increase in vehicle trips, compared to neighborhoods with better street connectivity.

And on a final, ominous, note: 'Lord Jesus Christ' struck by car in Northampton. You know it's rough out there for pedestrians when God can't cross the street without incident.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Upcoming Walks, Courtesy of WalkSanDiego

Saturday, May 15, 2010, 9:00 a.m.

Old Town Walk - meet at Caltrans parking lot at Taylor St and Sunset St
(parking in Caltrans lot okay on weekends)

WalkSanDiego joins with San Diego River Foundation on this walk that will explore the history of Old Town/Mission Valley and its relationship with the San Diego River over the past 200 years, including the Old Town State Park, the Presidio, and Presidio Canyon. Lots of interesting history, trivia, and old photos to be shared. This modest paced, four-mile long walk will include several hills and some trails.

Saturday, June 26, 2010; 9:00 a.m.

Kensington Walk – meet in front of the Kensington Library, 4121 Adams Ave.

Join us in celebrating Kensington’s centennial with a walk through this wonderful community, with highlights of its history and a tour through some of the beautiful neighborhoods.
A modest paced, three-mile walk on flat terrain.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Data from the National Household Travel Survey

For all the data geeks out there, the final 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) Data is now officially available for download from the NHTS website. The 2009 NHTS includes data on the travel of 150,000 households in the US, representing about around 1 million trips using all modes of travel, all times of day, and all purposes. It's a great source for understanding overall travel patterns in the US (and is the only nationwide source of walking data for non-work trips).

Unfortunately, NHTS data can't be disaggregated to understand the travel of specific states, regions, or cities, because it's only available for the country as a whole. Not only does this make it difficult to apply NHTS to specific areas, there is always the possibility of things being thrown off by the New York Factor (because of its vast population, high density, and unique transportation system, New York City tends to skew nationwide travel data).

Nonetheless, the latest round of data has some interesting info for us ped-heads:
  • About 11 percent of all trips in the US are made on foot (compared to about 82 percent by private vehicle, 1 percent by bike, and --this is why I generally favor pedestrian investment over transit spending--4 percent by public transit).
  • Relatively few people walk to work (about 6 percent of work trips), but nearly a quarter of all family/personal business and social/recreational trips are walking trips. This is why I feel it's very important to invest in neighborhood walkability: Americans might not be able to walk to the office, but they make up for it by walking a lot on their off time.
  • Compared to social and personal trips, school/daycare walking trips are relatively low; only about 10 percent of people walk to school/daycare/religious activities. Yet another argument for the importance of the Safe Routes to School program

Sunday, May 2, 2010

This Week on Foot

This week began with a pedestrian-oriented complaint from the Natural Resources Defence Council on its Switchboard Blog.  Writer Kain Benfield laments, "I wish AIA didn’t define ‘green’ so narrowly." He notes that the recently announced top 10 green projects for 2010 might be environmentally friendly on the inside, but since many of them are located in unwalkable communities, it's a bit misleading to call them "green."

I guess someone was listening, because just a few days later LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System Launches as Benchmark for Green Neighborhood Design. The new rating system gives points for factors such as walkable design and "transportation efficiency."

New Yorkers were reminded just how important those factors are this week, when there was an Increase Call for Pedestrian Safety After Transportation Advocated Killed by Cab. The death of neighborhood activist Harry Wieder led others in the community to call on the NYPD to provide better access to data on pedestrian safety and traffic management in the city.

Perhaps pedestrians in Illinois will have an easier time than New Yorkers, where in that state a New law requires stopping for pedestrians, not yielding.

Or we could all just move to Europe, where Garmin takes a pedestrian-friendly phone overseas. Here in the US Garmin products focus on providing users driving directions, but in Europe and Asia users "tend to rely more on mass transit" (understatement) so a ped-friendly wayfinder is more marketable.