Monday, May 16, 2016

The Importance of Road Width, in Three Pictures

Biking home this weekend, I was struck yet again by how critical roadway width is to creating a walkable (and bikeable) environment. Here are some Google Streetview shots of the route we took down Jewel Street in Pacific Beach, one of my favorite (read: I don't feel like I'm about to be driven off the road) north-south rides through PB.

Here's what Jewel Street looks like when it's 30 feet wide, with parallel parking on both sides and a parkway between the sidewalk and street.

Notice that even with only a few scrawny palm streets and for shade and relatively narrow sidewalks, the street still feels comfortable and "human-scaled." (It also feels safe to bike on, even without fancy bike infrastructure, because the narrow travel way forces cars to slow down.) I regularly see kids playing in the street here, using the roadway as an extension of their yard.

Here's Jewel Street a few blocks further down, with a 40-foot width. This would be considered the pretty much the minimum width for a street built today.

Even though nothing else has changed besides the width (arguably the parkway and street trees are a even little nicer), the street feels more "auto-oriented" and the neighborhood seems less inviting for walking or biking.

Then we arrive at this monstrosity, a few blocks further north. At a width of about 46 feet, the street allows for diagonal parking on one side--but the awful design of the multi-family housing to the east precludes parallel parking on the other side of the street, making for an exceptional wide travel way:

Here all semblance of walkability has been sacrificed in the name of driving and parking. The parkway is gone, the sidewalk slopes awkwardly to allow cars to drive over it at any point, and there's not a street tree in sight. And then of course, there's the hideous design of the multi-family housing that lines this block. Particularly on the right, this street says to me,  "Here is a place where cars live. If you're lucky, we might let some people squeeze in, too."

We need to be sure our roadway standards result in more of the first picture and less of the last. Narrow streets are great streets, for everyone.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Walking in Slovakia

John Westmore has posted a new episode in his great Perils for Pedestrians series, this time focusing on walking and biking in the City of Bratislava, Slovakia.

While pedestrian and bicycle advocacy is relatively new to Slovakia, there seems to be a strong and growing group of advocates who are working to make public spaces more accessible on foot and by bike. They've created some ad-hoc sharrows and DIY crossings to help provide safer and more direct routes to people using active transportation in the city.

I actually spent a day in Bratislava several years ago, and found it to be fairly walkable (as compared to most cities in the US, that is).  You can see that there are many spaces in the central part of the city where pedestrians have full reign in the street space.

There's also a nice pedestrian path along the waterfront, where you'll also find restaurants and shops below (undoubtedly expensive) residential development that takes advantage of the riverfront views.

Of course, there are also the same problems that plague many older (and not so old) cities that were designed prior to the automobile. Sidewalks have been squeezed to the edge of the street and narrowed to unreasonable widths to make room for vehicle traffic, and parked cars block the pedestrian travel way to the extent that people are forced to walk in the street itself.

Given this, it's encouraging to hear local advocates talking about creating more walkable and bikeable streets. I was especially struck by one of the first people interviewed in the segment, who described public space as, "A space where you can see democracy on the sidewalk." I've written before about the idea of sidewalks as democratic spaces, but I think that view is especially poignant when you're talking about sidewalks in a country where most people still remember a time when no place in the country--certainly not the sidewalks--was democratic.