Saturday, January 9, 2010

This Week on Foot

The week has been mixed for walkers of the world. Here in Los Angeles we learned that a Stretch of Grand Avenue may be transformed into a park. Will this make Downtown LA: Totally Pedestrian Friendly ? Let's hope so.

Elsewhere in the country an SC woman receives 15 years for killing pedestrian . Perhaps the long sentence will send a message to the driver in San Jose, where a Crossing guard, pedestrian hit by VW near San Jose school

At least one city in Flordia seems to be getting the message: in Winter Park Road design has pedestrians in mind. Not so in Minnesota, where A pedestrian's tumble illustrates winter's hardships

Pedestrian problems also abound outside of the US. This week the Jordan Pioneers Content and Research Department released the results of a survey of four- to seven-year-olds showing Most Children in Jordan Unaware of Safe Pedestrian Behaviour. Perhaps Jordan should look to Europe, where Hungary's new traffic rules favour cyclists and pedestrians

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pedestrian-Oriented Parking

A new year, a new parking ordinance.

Okay, technically the ordinance became law in November. Still, I hope you’ll forgive me for dawdling on writing this up (and for tooting my own horn), because I couldn’t resist bragging about Ventura County's new parking ordinance.

This isn’t the same old motor-centric set of regulations that linger on in many jurisdictions’ codes; the purpose statement is full of phrases like “reduce the adverse effects of motor vehicle parking areas,” “create pleasant neighborhoods designed at a human-scale for human needs,” and even “encourage reduced driving.” Yes, this is a parking ordinance that wants you to drive less.

The ordinance works towards creating a more walkable environment in many different ways, but rather than subjecting you to all 30+ pages of code (available in legalese for the truly motivated here, Section 8108, --or in layman's terms in the companion Parking and Loading Design Guidelines), here are a few highlights:

Safe Pedestrian Access: the new code mandates that pedestrians have safe and convenient access from the street to building entrances. Among other things this means direct pathways to the front door, including pathways through parking lots where necessary, and no drive-through lanes or vehicles impeding the pedestrian path. This is particularly important because many pedestrian crashes actually happen within parking lots and not out on the roads.

Urban Design: the ordinance encourages sites designed with buildings in front and parking the back to create more pedestrian-friendly streets. When parking lots are located between the sidewalk and the building, extra landscaping is required to soften the impact of parking spaces.

Parking Space Reductions: new regulations allow reduced parking rates for uses that provide sidewalks, crosswalks, and other enhancements to the pedestrian environment. Considering how expensive even a single parking space is ($5,000 to $10,000 for a surface space, not including maintenance), this should motivate developers to substitute cheaper pedestrian amenities for pricey parking spaces.

Landscaping: updated landscaping requirements increase the amount of greenery required in parking lots, lessening the effect of all that asphalt on the streetscape. The code even allows some required parking spaces to be maintained in a landscaping “reserve” (kept as landscaping unless future demand warrants their conversion to parking). Result? More green space for pedestrians.

Since this is a pedestrian blog I won’t go into the new section on bicycle parking, but I assure the bike advocates out there that it’s equally extensive.

Let’s remember that we’re not talking downtown San Francisco here, where high densities and extensive transit systems provide ample opportunities to get creative with parking policy. This is unincorporated Ventura County, where a lot of serious regulatory issues revolve around roosters. If we can adopt (unanimously, I might add) an ordinance like this in Ventura, shouldn’t the rest of the region (yes LA, I’m talking to you) be able to follow suit?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This week on foot

This week we're presented with an avalanche of evidence that pedestrians still don't get the funding, attention, or respect they deserve.

Consider one Albany resident's plea for officials to Clear snow away from bus stops. In a letter to the editor, Wendy Montano observes that after a large snowfall streets are immediately plowed for drivers, but sidewalks and bus stops remain buried and inaccessible.

Even in areas without snow, pedestrians still have it tough. As Construction begins at San Diego border crossing , millions of dollars are being spent to reduce crossing time for motorists. At the same time, the "improvements" to the pedestrian crossing include a new bridge that is actually longer than the one that exists today.

Of course, even a long bridge is better than no bridge at all, according to this Midland resident who is lobbying for better accessibility in his neighborhood: Seeking a safe crossing, Braley speaks up

While I don't always advocate pedestrian bridges (I'd rather see improvements at the street level), perhaps a bridge could have helped out the Pedestrian, 78, fatally struck by car in Pasadena.

Of course, according to Jim Perskie's editorial on Atlantic City, Pedestrian deaths increase: Could it be the state's fault? , the problem is the pedestrians themselves.

Tampa seems to agree, as this week's Safety program yields dozens of warnings for pedestrians

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walking in Ecuador (the Good)

Okay, we've established that Ecuador has some challenges when it comes to the pedestrian environment. But what about its successes? As I observed in my jaunts through cities large and small, in many places Ecuador has really done things right.

Consider this street in Quito's New Town:
Note the street furniture, large trees, and narrow roadway. The bricks are a nice touch also, though I wonder if they present any type of maintenance or accessibility problems.

Even better is this street in Banos: What I loved the most about this street (aside from the fact that cars are allowed only half of the space the pedestrians enjoy--take that Ventura Boulevard with your seven travel lanes and narrow sidewalks) was the perfectly proportioned mixed-use buildings on either side. With shops below (that blend so well with residences above that my husband didn't even realize the housing was there, and kept asking where people actually lived in Banos), this street shows us density as it should be done.

But perhaps most exciting to me were the pedestrian streets like this one that littered the roadway network in Quito's Old Town:
About half the streets in this part of town were limited to walkers only, or opened only occasionally to vehicle traffic. Add to this numerous plazas, colonial architecture, and narrow one-way streets, and you can understand why--even with Quito's fancy BRT system--we usually opted to travel on foot.

And this was only in the cities. In many of the rural areas we visited vehicles were so rare that the question of who the roadways belonged to (vehicles or people) was moot. Pedestrians (and sheep, and chickens, and horses) embraced the streets and footpaths as their own, only rarely interrupted by the passage of a motorcyle or an inter-city bus. If only Angelenos had it so good.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking in Ecuador Part 1 (the Bad)

Nothing gives you a better sense of a country's transportation system than trying to navigate it while dragging around a bunch of luggage. I say this as a person who has sprinted through the Paris subway system with a rolling suitcase, juggled two loaded duffel bags on Madrid's airport bus route, and, now, teetered along Quito's sidewalks with a hefty backback.

The good news is that people in Ecuador walk a lot. The bad news is that in many places they're forced to do so along sidewalks so narrow that a tall person walking along them risks decapitation from the mirrors of passing trucks. I was especially aware of the emaciated sidewalks as my bulky backpack and I shimmied our way through the streets during rush hour, knocking people from the curb left and right (see above).

Add to this the heavy cloud of diesel fumes permeating the cities, crumbling street furniture, and poor signage, and you end up with a pedestrian environment that is barely tolerable for the able-bodied, not to mention the challenges that a person with disabilities might face.

Still, either by design or by luck Ecuador manages to get a lot right. Next up: Walking in Ecuador Part 2 (the Good).