Friday, February 15, 2013

This Week on Foot

This week we learn that while Good health can be a walk in the park --not to mention The Link Between Kids Who Walk or Bike to School and Concentration--we still face The disturbing and sometimes tragic challenge of walking in America . Fortunately, all over the country people are working to address that challenge. In New Jersey Metuchen Announces New Program for Pedestrian Safety , while Pedestrian safety projects, funds in SF to shift to major streets . There's A pedestrian mall for The Triangle , a Pedestrian Wayfinding Initiative in Chinatown , and an Elaborate pedestrian tube proposed for Coronado Bay Bridge . In Florida Orlando to fund new pedestrian bridge at Universal , while in Santa Barbara COAST to Lead Eastside Walk of New Pedestrian Improvements on Milpas Street . Further south Complete Streets comes back to Texas Senate , and PB planners formulate aggressive project list for community’s future .

Still, there's plenty of danger out there. This week we consider what happens When cycling and pedestrian worlds collide . In Washington, DC the DDOT Releases Study of Bike and Pedestrian Crash Locations, and in Canada we find that Most vehicle-pedestrian collisions happen at intersections. Perhaps that's why a new Bill would ban pedestrian texting while crossing roads .

But eliminating distracted walking won't solve all pedestrian safety issues. We need to focus on the broader concept of walkability--which can be difficult because 'Walkability' factors of a city cover wide span . Still, Vibrant, Walkable Downtown Areas Make a Positive Difference in the Chicago Real Estate Market, Reports RE/MAX, so we need to keep trying. Towards that end, here's What We Can Learn About Walkability From Looking at Pictures .

Of course, walkability has it's naysayers: Living the walkability life is driving me crazy says one Canadian columnist. And elsewhere Eateries face $1m insurance for outdoor dining (which improves walkability), while AAA fights to keep unnecessary parking rules (which hurt walkability). Let's hope these folks are in the minority.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Have we lost all sense of "reason"?

 Photo courtesy of the San Diego Historical Society
Here in San Diego there's been much moaning and groaning over a recent court decision that effectively quashed plans to remove vehicles from the Plaza de Panama in the heart of Balboa Park. As you can see from the picture above, the Plaza de Panama was once an unobstructed square surrounded by exhibits and green space. The square is still in place today, but it's not quite the pedestrian haven it once was.
Photo courtesy of

After years of dodging cars to cross from one end of the park to the other, the civic-minded (and wealthy) founder of Qualcomm, Irwin Jacobs, decided enough was enough. He proposed a plan to remove vehicles from the Plaza, redirecting them to a parking lot on the park's periphery--and committed to funding it. While the project had the support of San Diego's mayor and city council, the historic preservationist group Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) was concerned that construction of a bypass route to the new parking lot would cause irrevocable damage to the historic Cabrillo Bridge. (Lest SOHO's claims sound too outlandish, consider the damage that previous forward-thinking planners did to the park when they replaced this bucolic pond beneath the bridge with a freeway.) They sued to stop the project, and earlier this month a judge ruled in SOHO's favor. Rather than continue the legal battle Jacobs admitted defeat and withdrew funding.
There's much to be said here about big money vs. small advocacy groups, effective community outreach, true "public interest," and winning the battle but losing the war--but what grates on me is the legal technicality that lost this lawsuit. You can geek out and read the whole ruling here. In summary, the City was unable to convince the judge that there would be "no reasonable beneficial use absent the alteration" to the park. Instead, the judge found that a roadway and parking lot, while perhaps not the most reasonable and beneficial use of park space, is not entirely unreasonable.

That's where I disagree with the ruling. I believe it is entirely unreasonable to sacrifice the safety, aesthetic, and connectivity of a civic institution for the convenience of park users who choose to drive there. I believe there isn't the slightest benefit to prioritizing (free!) parking over open space in a park that has ample parking elsewhere.  I believe that 100 years ago when this park was built, San Diegans would have thought it crazy to use the Plaza de Panama the way we do today. There was a time when we didn't find it reasonable to place the so-called "needs" of the automobile above all our other values. It's long past time for that sort of thinking to return to San Diego.