Monday, January 24, 2011

Whose sidewalks are they, anyway?

As I was trolling the internet for pedestrian news this week, I was disturbed to come across this story about the City of Santa Barbara's latest efforts to clear its downtown streets of itinerants and panhandlers. The city's redevelopment agency (sidenote: Santa Barbara needs a redevelopment agency??) plans to devote $50,000 to rearranging sidewalk benches in the city's shopping district so that they are perpendicular, rather than parallel, to the street.

Photo courtesy of Google Streetview
The idea is that this will make panhandling less lucrative for people sitting on the benches because they'll only be facing one direction, and thus have only half the opportunities to ask passersby for money. The backs will also be removed from several benches, further discouraging lingering. The city's actions stem from longstanding frustration on the part of downtown business people with the way the homeless use the sidewalks. "It's just like they've made the street their living room," one anonymous business owner complained. The hope is that changing the angle of the benches will force the homeless to relocate out of downtown.

Wow. There are so many things wrong with this idea, it's a little hard to know where to begin criticizing it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Week on Foot

Pedestrians and health advocates everywhere are groaning over statements this week from Governor's Highway Safety Association Director Barbara Hasha suggesting that Michell Obama's "Get Moving" campaign might actually be working--and the result is that Exercise, iPods could be causing pedestrian deaths. I won't dwell on the absurdity of this much, except to point out that 1) a single year's rise in pedestrian deaths is hardly a trend, so it's a bit early to begin pointing fingers, and 2) wouldn't rising vehicle miles traveled and rising rates of distracted driving be an equal (and more plausible) possibility? And as if American madness wasn't enough, there's the Road Madness in Ghana, we are all not safe.

No indeed we aren't, and there are efforts on many fronts to address that problem. In Canada City brass hope signs cut crossing confusion --they think a sign instructing "Wait for Gap" is easier for pedestrians to understand than "Pedestrians Yield to Vehicles"-- and in Glendale Plan clears path for cyclists and pedestrians. Meanwhile China TV shows grisly deaths as driving lessons and in Wisconsin UW Wants Pedestrians To Stop Walking In Street (here's a thought: maybe you shouldn't close the sidewalk then).

Elsewhere in the world pedestrians fight back--sometimes a bit too strongly, like the Suspect stabs man in pedestrian-rage incident.  But it's easy to understand where the anger comes from when in places like Toronto Sidewalk snowed under near Scarborough Town Centre and there's no snowplow in sight.

Finally this week, a note on vehicle safety. Grist explains that Smaller SUVs are safer than bigger ones, but walkability trumps all . It sure does.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walk San Diego Forum - Jan 21

For anyone in the SD region, WSD is holding its first lunchtime forum of the year:

Coast Highway101 – Our region’s next complete street?

Special guest presenters will be:
Diane Langager, Principal Planner, City of Encinitas
Mike Nichols, Councilman, City of Solana Beach

Come hear what the cities of Encinitas and Solana Beach are doing with the planning of Coast Highway 101 to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians and how public participation has made road diets and roundabouts part of the solution.

Date: January 21, 2011
Time: 12:00-1:00 P.M.
Location: 193 Horton Plaza, 1st level, (Next to Victoria’s Secret)
Suggested: Lunch Donation is $5.00, RSVP by January 19th, $7.00 at the door

Please RSVP to Cynthia Offenhauer
Free Parking at Horton Plaza Garage

The Mystery of the Blue Sign Continues

As promised, I did some searching this weekend to try to discover why it is that pedestrian signs in much of Europe are blue, in contrast to the yellow signs found elsewhere in the world. Sadly, I have to report that while I did confirm that the current sign conventions were adopted in the late 1960s as part of the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, I have yet to identify anything definitive related to the blue color choice.

That said, I am dubious of the theory that blue signs are easier to see at night. While I wasn't able to find any research that examined blue signs specifically, I did come across one study that showed yellow and white signs are more visible at night than green signs. This suggests to me that blue might not be the best choice for pedestrian safety signs, despite Vienna conventions. This is not to say European sign standards have nothing on their American counterparts. After touring Erope on a quest to learn more about innovative traffic control practices, FHWA officials recommended the US adopt Europe's practice of increasing the saturation of color on traffic signs, regardless of shade.

Interestingly, I also came across a study suggesting that sign-makers have more to worry about that just color choice. This 2001 survey of five countries in the Middle East shows that age, gender, education and income all play a role in how well drivers understand signs. Young women with low incomes and low education levels had more difficulty understanding the intent of roadway signs thant their older, richer male counterparts--though even more disturbing was the fact that just slightly over half the drivers correctly identified all signs. As motorization rates continue to increase throughout the developing world, this could have dangerous implications for roadway safety--particularly of pedestrians.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week we're reminded why all this pedestrian safety stuff is so important by two incidents across the world from one another. First, in Canada, a Teenage pedestrian's death 'needless', while in South Africa a Pupil (7) Killed on Way to School. It's sad when a young person can't even get an education without risking their life.

Fortunately, this week is also full of news of worldwide efforts to address this issue. Oregon believes Enforcement can reduce pedestrian deaths-- but the fact that Portland begins construction on South Waterfront pedestrian bridge over I-5 can't hurt either. In New York a New Traffic Signal is Cause for Celebration, while in New Jersey a pedestrian is pleased that the New audible alert law benefits blind pedestrians.  Meanwhile, Colorado invites us to check out the new "hybrid pedestrian beacon", and in the UK Volvo's pedestrian detection system wins safety award.

With so much good stuff happening out there, it's no wonder that one Seattle pedestrian complains that Street Paint Is Really Expensive, Apparently. Why else wouldn't the city finish crosswalk markings at one of the area's most heavily used crossings?

Meanwhile, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase community voices pedestrian concerns, while here in LA Streetsblog points out a Pedestrian Friendly Ralphs Needed for Pasadena .
Perhaps better zoning regulations could encourage that Ralphs to get in line. Pasadena could look to Florida, where City of Miami Receives National APA Award for Pioneering Zoning Reform . Pennsylvannia certainly is, where York City Council, residents discuss proposed zoning revision. Let's hope they're successful in their efforts!