Friday, April 29, 2011

This week on foot

It has been such a busy week for pedestrians, I hardly know where to begin. Let's start with bridges: In New York, the Mother Of All Pedestrian Bridges To Connect Brooklyn Parks, while down south Old pedestrian bridge to be removed in Louisiana and up north Foxborough Selectmen Support Pedestrian Bridge.

Closer to home (for me, anyway) Glendale clears path for pedalers and pedestrians, while in Northern California folks consider  Oakland's pedestrian dangers. As we know, one of those dangers is distracted driving, which is why it's encouraging to hear that Motorists who text or talk on hand-held phones face stiffer penalties under Senate measure.

And the California Senate isn't the only group thinking about pedestrian safety this week. Under Pressure, AASHTO Withdraws Objection to Stronger Bike-Ped Rules , while in Baltimore Citizen fights Fells Point pedestrian changes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PBIC Recognizes Walk Friendly Communities

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) has announced the its 2011 Walk Friendly Communities, and I'm pleased to see that my hometown of Seattle tops the list as the only city with a "Platinum" designation. The new program, sponsored by the PBIC, the Federal Highway Administration, and FedEx, recognizes communities that stand out in their commitment to pedestrian safety, access, and comfort. According to program manager Carl Sundstron, "The WFC designation recognizes communities that help set the bar in fostering and accommodating walking." Here's the full list of designees:

Platinum Level

Gold Level

Silver Level


Don't see your community on the list? Online applications for next year's program are available May 1.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A new twist on the marked crosswalk debate

You run across some odd stuff when you're wandering around the internet in search of pedestrian info. Take this Special Report from Project Consumer Justice, a site that describes it's purpose as to "honestly report on consumer, legal and political issues important to the American civil justice system."

The article details a $12 million settlement in a San Mateo lawsuit over a ped-vehicle crash that left a 17-year-old woman in a permanent vegetative state. The victim was struck while crossing at a marked crosswalk on a six-lane roadway. During the trial, lawyers for the victim cited Caltrans "dirty little secret" about "when marked crosswalks can be more dangerous for pedestrians." As evidence, they pointed to the infamous 1972 Herms Crosswalk Study, explaining how it proved that marked crosswalks gave pedestrians a "false sense of security."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

One more walking event

On May 13, the American Planning Association's California Planning Foundation will be offering two day-long Sustainability Walking Tours, one in Sacramento and one in Santa Monica.

Downtown Sacrament Shining Places Tour
  • Railyards mixed use project
  • Elliott Building
  • 1801 mixed use project
  • Downtown Ally Activation project
Downtown Santa Monica Sustainability Tour
  • SMURFF (urban runoff facility)
  • 502 Colorado Court (solar senior housing)
  • Main Library (LEED certified)
  • Award-winning Santa Monica General Plan
  • Public Safety Building & Civic Auditorium
  • Global Green & bioswale tour
$135 Non APA member
$100 APAP members
$35 Planning students

Registration and additional information available online here.

Upcoming Walking Events

A few activites to keep you busy over the next month:

The Road to Health: Improving Community Wellbeing Through Transportation
From safe routes to school and accessible public transit, to impacting your regional transportation plan, our convening will provide insight into creating more sustainable, healthy, and active communities. Featuring presentations from TransForm and local advocates, the convening will include:
  • An overview of the impact of transportation on community health
  • Presentations on local advocacyefforts to ensure cleaner air, safer streets, and accessible services
  • Opportunities to advocate on local, statewide, and federal policy efforts to influence transportation policy and planning

Los Angeles – April 27, 2011
10:00 am to 2:00 pm
The California Endowment
1000 North Alameda Street
San Diego – May 4, 2011
10:00 am to 2:00 pm
Sherman Heights Community Center
2258 Island Avenue

Registration is $25 for General Public, $10 for CPEHN Network Members. Register online here.

May 2 - Online Pedestrian Survey
Join California WALKS and America Walks in collecting valuable data on who walks and why we walk!  America Walks is sponsoring an online survey among its members and affiliated organizations to understand what characterizes avid walkers and what distinguishes them from those less inclined to walk. The survey is not lengthy, is easy to fill out, and is designed to provide information usable in developing actionable steps to promote walking in the United States.
Check out the survey here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This week on foot

This week the country is pondering sidewalks. First, the Senate Introduces a Narrower Bill for Wider Sidewalks (or at least, more funding for them). Then, there's some Some Orlando Neighborhoods Getting Sidewalks. But all this talk of sidewalks has some people wondering, Sidewalks are a neighborhood status symbol, but do they help the environment?

Meanwhile, it isn't sidewalks, but intersections in Honolulu that lead to Pedestrian Safety Concerns Rise After Newspaper Vendor Injured. And across the Pacific, it's another location, the Rincon Hill Intersection Nightmare For Pedestrians  that's leading to bad dreams in San Francisco.
Fortunately, there's plenty of work happening to address these types of pedestrian problems. The City of Spartanburg Introduces Reflect for Safety Monday , and in Nebraska a City Works to Improve Pedestrian Stadium Traffic . But not every message promoting pedestrian safety is being greeted with enthusiasm. In New York, some complain that “Don’t Be a Jerk” — The Wrong Message at the Wrong Time , and that the City's focus on bicycling "jerks" is unwarranted. Other people aren't waiting for officials to address pedestrian wrongs, and instead moving forward quickly to see that pedestrians receive justices, as in the Wrongful-death suit filed in PCH hit-and-run .

Other people are turning to art, not lawsuits, in an effort to improve walkability, as in one neighborhood where Profanity, slurs in pedestrian tunnel lead to art contest . Others ponder walkability from different perspectives, such as this blog post that considers A dog's eye view of what makes a walkable neighborhood , or this one evaluating Outdoor Cafes .

Yet, with all the positive attention being paid to walkable neighborhoods, one Streetsblog post wonders, Is the Realtors’ Survey Really a Ringing Endorsement of Smart Growth? Maybe not, but it does continue to show that people want to be able to walk in their communities.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: Final Steps

First of all, many thanks to Grist and Planetizen for promoting this series, I hope it's helpful to my fellow crosswalk lovers out there.

In the previous step, I talked about gathering support from other groups and individuals who could help champion your cause. To finish up, let's move on to:

Step 8: How do I apply pressure?
Now that you've gathered the details you need to make your case, rallied your supporters, and identified the people you need to influence, you can begin the real work of advocacy. Successful advocacy strategies could make up an entire series in itself, so I'll only offer a few thoughts here.

First, publicize your case. This could mean anything from starting a facebook page, to contacting your local paper (Tip: you don't have to focus just on the big news outlets. Many communities have their own small, but influential, papers), to holding a rally or walk-in at your crosswalk location. The more outlets you use to raise awareness the better.

Second, use your contacts. Follow up regularly with the contacts you've met at the staff and elected level within your jurisdiction. By this I do not mean calling and/or emailing every hour, or even every day. You're looking for the happy medium between calling often enough that your contacts realize you're serious, and calling so much that they want to set fire to their phone whenever they hear your voice on the other end. This can be a fine line. However,  unless there's immediate urgency I suggest that a follow up call or email every few weeks to a month is sufficient.

Third, use your supporters. It's important to demonstrate to decision-makers that you are not the only one who cares about this crosswalk. Some options include asking your fellow advocates to sign a petition, having them contact their elected official to indicate their support (the simplest thing is for you to draft an email yourself, and provide it to others to copy and send out themselves), or asking them to testify at a public meetings.

That last one is particularly important, because one of the most critical things you can do as a crosswalk advocate is to attend meetings and testify. I will not sugarcoat this: public meetings are long, boring, and often occur at inconvenient times. However, they're the way things get done here in our fair country, and if you're serious about your crosswalk you're going to need to attend them.

You can start with meetings of your local community planning group (if you have one), but you'll also want to show up at meetings of your city council or county supervisors. Even if your crosswalk is not on the agenda, you can use the period at the start of the meeting (when the public is allowed a short time to provide testimony on off-agenda items) to promote your cause. I also suggest doing this for crosswalks on state roadways, as your local elected officials can help you pressure folks at the state level.

I don't have to remind you of my earlier warning to avoid costumes for these hearings, right? You might think that dressing in head-to-toe zebra print will really hammer home the advantages of installing a zebra crossing, but I promise you that it does not help your cause to be known as "Zebra Man" in your city's sacred halls. Ditto on any overly-aggressive speeches (yelling, name-calling, finger-pointing). Also, be aware of any time limits that are placed on public testimony, and draft your speech accordingly.

Finally, be patient. The public process is many things, but "fast" is not one of them. Continue to use your contacts, rally your supporters, and apply pressure to the appropriate decision-makers. Also, be aware that your jurisdiction may not have the ability to fund any new crosswalk projects in the current fiscal year. Because of this, even with the full support of staff and elected officials, you might still have to wait many months before action can be taken. (Towards that end, you may want to time your advocacy to the period when budget decisions are being made. Often this is in the early part of the year, a few months before the start of the new fiscal year in July.)

Step 9: Enjoy your crosswalk
If all goes well, your efforts will pay off and you'll soon be admiring the sparkle of bright white lines against asphalt. Congratulations!

And if not? The reality is, even the best advocacy doesn't guarantee results--particularly not in today's fiscally-crunched world. But even if your work doesn't result in the crosswalk of your dreams, don't let it go to waste. Continue to build relationships with the staff and elected officials you've met. Maintain contact with your supporters. You've managed to establish yourself as a smart leader who's serious about improving pedestrian conditions in your community, and you shouldn't waste that political capital. Instead, use it to continue to work towards enhancing your neighborhood's walkability--because there's always another crosswalk out there that could use some stripes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week as brought us our usual share of pedestrian challenges here in the Southland. A Metro bus hits, kills pedestrian in Culver City, and further south a Pedestrian hit by car in San Marcos--but lest you complain, as do some of my readers, about the morbidity of this feature (I believe the term was "pedestrian death blog"), let me point out that I am sparing you the details of 30 other stories of pedestrian death and injury that I cam across while writing this week's post.

Actually, that's not really so cheerful either. Okay, how about the story of how a Warwick Auto Body employee saves injured pedestrian? Or how the Brownsboro Road Diet & Sidewalk Receive Overwhelming Public Support in Kentucky, and in ENCINITAS: Council seeks to improve pedestrian access through downtown, and in Oregon Beacons Installed To Help Pedestrians On The Bend Parkway, and how according to AASHTO: New Rule Makes it Too Hard to Ignore Cyclists and Pedestrians ? You see, I find lots of positive stories to share with you.

Of course, on the less positive side there's the recommendation of one Architect: Open Salem pedestrian mall to cars, parking, and more stories of how police are cracking down on pedestrians both near (Henderson Police Targeting Pedestrian Safety ) and far (DBKL issues summonses to jaywalkers ).

And then there's the in-between news. Like learning about the Congestion on the Mount Vernon Trail in Virgina--are too many pedestrians a good or bad thing?  And while we're asking questions, Is Auckland bad for your kids? Will London’s New Wayfinding System Get More People Walking? Well, there's one thing we can be sure of: Times Square plaza improves air quality.

Now if only San Franciscans could get the same kind of pedestrian support that New Yorkers get. After all, the City's Pedestrian crash toll dwarfs preventative safety costs. Maybe they should get in touch with Texans, where the word from Local Lawmakers: Don’t Mess With Texas Cyclists and Pedestrians

Finally, if you're in the San Diego area don't forget that San Ysidro's new pedestrian bridge opens Friday--and while you're walking around down there, you might want to check out A Surprisingly Walkable Neighborhood

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: Followers of your Footsteps

Step 7: Who else can help me?
As I mentioned yesterday, elected officials respond well to angry mobs (well fine, I didn't exactly say it that way), as do the other folks you need to help you with your crosswalk quest, like planners and engineers. In other words, now is the time to seek out other members of your community who are just as excited about getting a crosswalk installed as you are. You could really start this step at any time, but I've put it here because by this point in the process you should have a pretty good idea of what you need to do to make your crosswalk a reality, and you can share those specific needs with your new supporters.

And who are these supporters? Well, you have a lot of possibilities. Sadly, the impetus to install a crosswalk is often a serious crash, so you may already have the injured person (or their friends and family) rallying behind you. But where else can you look for people to champion your cause? Here are some ideas:
  • Your local pedestrian advocacy group - For a list of groups in the US and elsewhere, check out the Pedestrian Advocacy Groups page
  • Your city's pedestrian coordinator - Not every jurisdiction has one of these, but more and more are devoting a full-time staff person to pedestrian and bike issues
  • Regional governments or Metropolitan Planning Organizations - Even if your city doesn't have a ped/bike coordinator, your regional government may have someone devoted to non-motorized transportation policy
  • Neighborhood planning committees - Many communities, especially in larger jurisdictions, have town councils, community planning groups, or similar organizations who deal with neighborhood-level planning issues. Your elected official or city staff person can help direct you to these groups, if they exist
  • Chambers of commerce and business improvement districts - Explain to these groups how walkability promotes economic development in the community
  • Your local Safe Routes to School coordinator - The Safe Routes to School National Partnership can point you towards a coordinator in your region
  • Your neighborhood school or PTA - Staff and parents are often eager to support pedestrian-improvement projects, particularly when they're along designated school walking routes
  • The health advocacy community - You know that walking is good for your health--and so do people who work in the health policy field. For example, here in California you can find groups of promotoras within the Latino community, community leaders who work as lay health advisors to promote walking and pedestrian improvements (among many other issues) 
  • Non-profit organizations - Your city may have an organization dedicated to promoting complete streets, alternative transportation modes, or "green" living. They've probably logged a lot of advocacy hours themselves, and may be able to provide you with contacts or advice that can help your cause
  • Your neighbors - This group should really be first on the list, as you're unlikely to get far if everyone else who lives in your neighborhood hates the idea of a new crosswalk. Spend a little time chatting with the boy or girl next door--even if you can't gain their support, you'll hopefully prevent local backlash
I'm sure there are others that could be added to this list, but at this time of night my brain has about run its course. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: Stepping Through the Politics

As promised, a continuation of last week's guide to gaining a marked crossing in your neighborhood.

Step 6: How do I cut the red tape?
Remember how I said you had other options if you weren't getting anywhere with the local bureaucrats? Here's where the politics come in.

An important thing to understand is that while theoretically government employees are there to serve members of the public like you, it's the politicians who are their real bosses.Often a local traffic engineer will politely listen to your crosswalk request...and then just as politely blow you off for the next three months (or years). However, if that same request comes from a councilmember's office, it's almost guaranteed to get some immediate attention.

The trick here is for you to gain the ear of the politician, which is easier to do than you might think. Elected officials keep their jobs by demonstrating that they're responsive to their constituents, so it behooves them to pay attention to what you have to say. (Just remember my tips from Step 1 on being polite--and sane. The same rules apply here.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This Week on Foot

It's been a busy week here in the walking world, and not such a happy one here in the LA region. We learned of a   $50,000 reward offered in hit-and-run death of 92-year-old man, a Candlelight vigil planned for Ventura hit-and-run victim, and, on a bittersweet note, a Pedestrian killed in 1986 identified through evidence database .
But there's better news elsewhere in the country. In Texas Students to get more pedestrian refuge, while in Arizona there's a Plan in works to deal with boom in pedestrians. Hungry pedestrians can rejoice a the thought of the Food to Land in Times Square Pedestrian Plaza  , while in Missouri they're celebrating because Missouri bicycle & pedestrian injuries down 20%-30%.

And it doesn't end there. One Del. school wants to create street for pedestrians, while on the opposite end of the age spectrum Sustainable Streets Teaches Seniors Pedestrian Safety. Police officers are getting in on the ped-friendliness as well. Around here CHP, local law enforcement crack down on distracted driving , while in Dunellen cops go undercover to catch drivers failing to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

But that's not all. The National Association of Realtors released a Study: Home buyers want walkable communities (why? Because Walkability works!). Even gas guzzling Texas recognizes the importance of walkability, as TxDOT: Road Projects Need To Be Bike and Pedestrian-Friendly...which makes you wonder why a Bike and Pedestrian Trail Along SMART Line Could be Cut by a Third, or why Denver to eliminate diagonal crossings at intersections when it was their city engineer who came up with the idea for these pedestrian scrambles or "Barnes Dance" intersections in the first place. And while we're asking questions, How walk friendly were Wilmington, Dover and Newark 2 years ago?

Maybe they can't explain that one, but the folks at the Atlantic can teach us A Green Lesson From the World's Most Romantic Cities. Do you think it involves a love affair conducted entirely on a sidewalk? It could a walkable city, that is.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: A Step-by-Step Manual

So you're staring out your window, watching cars race by your local street corner, and suddenly it hits you: "We need a marked crosswalk there!" You grab your phone and as your fingers aim towards the dial pad something else hits you: "I have no idea who to call about this."

For a lot of would-be pedestrian advocates the journey to a crosswalk ends right there because, and I say this as someone who works in one, nobody in their right mind wants to wade into the swamps of a murky local government bureaucracy voluntarily. You might never get out.


I occasionally turn the corner at work and run across some lost soul who just wanted to renew their food handlers permit back in 1983 and has been at the civic center ever since.

But it doesn't have to be that hard--or at least, that confusing. To help you out in your endeavours, I've put together this handy guide to help you turn your favorite crossing from plain pavement to pedestrian paradise. (One caveat before we begin: I've tried to keep this as generic as possible, but since every city/state/country's government is organized a little differently, I can't guarantee I've covered all potential scenarios. Hopefully this will at least give you a starting point.)

Photo courtesy of Streetsblog 

Step 1: Why are we doing this again?

If you're serious about getting a crosswalk installed in your neighborhood, you need a convincing argument for installing it--and by convincing I don't mean generic or self-serving complaints like "people in my neighborhood drive too fast" or "I hate having to walk an extra block to cross the street." These may be legitimate problems, but remember that yours is only one of hundreds of similar requests your city receives. To make yours rise to the top you need to:
  • Be polite - This can be a frustrating process, but rudeness gets you nowhere but the trash can. Letters to your city beginning "Dear pea-brains" does not further your cause (plus they get boring after a while). Along these same lines, ranting letters in ALL CAPS do not endear you to the folks whose help you need.
  • Be sane - Now is not the time to bring up conspiracy theories, aliens, or explicit pictures. Ditto on the chicken/bloody corpse/traffic light costume
  • Get data - Can you spend an hour counting how many people try to cross the road on a typical afternoon? Calculate how many schoolchildren use the crossing to get home? Find out the number of past crashes at your location? The more detailed information you have to demonstrate that there is a problem at your crossing, the stronger your argument becomes
  • Gather support - From your neighbors, your PTA, your local pedestrian advocacy organization (more on this in Step 7)

Friday, April 1, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week Five Pedestrians Awarded Compensation from Mobile Phone Companies for injuries they sustained at the hands (or should I say, vehicles?) of distracted drivers. The move encouraged legislators in New York and Texas to introduce bills that would impose Mandatory Loss of Cell Phone Privileges on drivers convicted of talking or texting while on the road.

In other good news, congress is moving forward with Changes to Federal Transportation Funding Regulations that favor pedestrian travel over highway improvements and high-speed rail projects. Perhaps inspired by their federal counterparts, Wisconsin's state assembly voted to Increase Gas Taxes to Pay for Sidewalks throughout the state.

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles Caltrans has announced plans for a Temporary 405 Closure, a la cicLAvia, allowing locals to enjoy the iconic freeway on foot or pedal. The San Diego and Ventura district offices are considering similar plans for the 5 and the 101 within their jurisdictions.

Outside of the US, pedestrians in Mumbai, India have staged an Encroachment Sting Operation with the help of local officials, forcing businesses and vendors to clean up their sidewalks and remove barriers to pedestrian travel. The work has inspired similar efforts in other cities throughout the country.

Back home, one small town in Idaho is considering Ordinance Changes to Remove the Word Jaywalking from its traffic code, in recognition of the concept that streets belong to more than just vehicles. Similarly, in Canada, Vancouver and Victoria move to Eliminate Fines for Crossing Outside Crosswalks. These types of changing attitudes could explain why in Arizona, Police Blame Motorist for a nighttime crash involving two pedestrians. 

Finally, in a heartening story out of South Carolina, one city declares April 1 Pedestrian Appreciation Day. To celebrate, major streets around the city center will be closed to vehicle traffic, neighborhood groups will participate in various "street beautification" activities, and the mayor will lead a group of students on a Safe Routes to School walk audit of the local elementary school.