Monday, March 28, 2011

Advocate for Safe Routes to School

Our favorite local Safe Routes to School advocate Jessica Meaney needs support for the Los Angeles Citywide Safe Routes to School proposal, which will be heard before the full city council this Friday.

From Ms. Meaney:
"The proposed Strategic City-Wide Safe Routes to School Plan funded by the Measure R local return pedestrian set-aside for $1.2M. LADOT staff is recommending using collision data to prioritize the city’s efforts and develop a meaningful approach to making communities in the city more walkable and bikable for kids and parents on their way to school (see staff proposal here). Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition and the Safe Routes to National Partnership are recommending that the City also use socio-economic data in the prioritization as we know that children and their families in low-income communities suffer a disproportionate burden of disease and injury.

A citywide strategic Safe Routes to School plan will allow the City to prioritize and methodically address making it safer for students to walk and/or bike to school, as well as ensure Safe Routes to School funds succeed in Los Angeles, leverage additional resources, and address and improve transportation policies."

Attend the hearing yourself, or sign on to the letters of support using the links here.

Overcoming opposition to narrow streets

Recently the Strong Towns Blog published an amazing post laying out the key arguments for narrower streets--and how to make them in a language public safety officials will understand. Here's an excerpt:

1. Public safety, including fire protection, is very important.

We acknowledge this is a critical issue. People want to and need to feel safe in their homes. We also acknowledge that we sometimes actually undervalue fire protection, at least until it is our house on fire. Providing a high-level of protection, including reducing response times, is a community priority.

2. As budgets are tightened, we are forced to make choices in how we provided local services.

Unfortunately, the state of our public budgets is forcing us to make some very difficult choices. And we can see, in communities across the country, that many are opting to reduce fire fighting capabilities, including force reductions and extending the life of equipment further than it should be. These are dangerous precedents to set in what are likely early rounds in a long, multi-year budget crisis.

3. If we stick with the current approach, we may have wide streets, but we won't be able to afford to maintain them, or even pay for the fire department to drive on them.

The amount we spend on our fire department is dwarfed by the amount we spend on maintaining our roads and streets -- or would be spending if we were actually maintaining them. This is the elephant in the room, the thing we never talk about. We have chosen to invest in a pattern of development that is prohibitively expensive to maintain, and it is crowding our the other parts of our budget.

Pretty great, huh? You can read the full post at the Strong Towns Blog here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This week on foot

The week has not been good for LA-area pedestrians. First we learned the horrible story of a Tustin woman dragged for blocks after being struck by motorist, then just yesterday an Elderly pedestrian stuck twice in fatal hit and run. In both cases the pedestrians in question were over 70, an age when risk for serious injury or death from pedestrian crashes is significantly higher than the risk for younger people. This is in part because older pedestrians just don't cross the street as quickly as their younger counterparts, so their exposure to vehicle traffic is greater, and in part because when they are hit their bodies are less able to easily recover.

Across the country things are pretty bleak as well. In New Jersey Kennedy Boulevard named fifth most dangerous road in New Jersey for pedestrians , in Florida a Bicyclist Arrested In Attack On 69-Year-Old Pedestrian who didn't get out of his way quickly enough, and in Texas Regional funding crunch pits pedestrians vs. vehicles. Closer to home, just as Momentum builds for pedestrian safety in San Francisco, Streetsblog reports that San Francisco Pedestrian Safety Efforts Mired in City Bureaucracy .

But take heart. Advocacy efforts continue across the world, like in Red Bank, New Jersey, where Advocates urge adoption of bicycle/pedestrian plan, and sometimes they even appear to be having some success, like in Missouri where Nixon to Announce Bicycle, Pedestrian Trail Projects in Ozarks, or Maryland where a new Laurel database monitors pedestrian, bike safety.

And there's more good news out there. A S. Ind. mayor wants to create 'bicycle boulevard', and in Jacksonville, Florida, a Workshop seeks to improve elder walkability, while locally in Ventura 4-H All Stars hope to add Ormond Beach walking path.   Even as far away as South Africa a Pedestrian bridge makes life easier. Let's hope this is sign that life is going to get easier for pedestrians everywhere.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Discovering the City, One Staircase at a Time

In the modern American city stairways have largely fallen out of use for public access, in part because of the challenges they pose to the disabled community and in part because most of us are, well, just too lazy to take the stairs. For some, however, public stairways offer a great excuse to walk through the city and experience street life in a neighborhood you might not otherwise visit.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Stairway Walks

At first I thought this was just an LA phenomenon, spearheaded by author Charles Fleming, who penned Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles after chronic back problems led him to seek relief through walking--which in turn sparked his curiosity about the city's nearly 400 stairways. He's walked up and down nearly 300 of them, and has been known to lead tours for the equally intrigued.

But Fleming isn't the only one. Health-related circumstances turned into a similar quest for one Seattle couple, who made it their goal to climb all 500 stairways in the city. (You can check out the cool Google Map they made here, so you can follow in their stairsteps). And then there's the runner they met along the way, who actually ran up all those stairs. And West Seattle residents Jake and Cathy with their blog Seattle Stairway Walks. And finally, the mother of all stair walking sites:, with maps to stair walks in dozens of cities across the world.

I'm sure for some stair climbers it's the physical challenge that draws them up the staircase, but for me stair walks highlight one of the great joys of pedestrian travel: they let you experience places that you'll just never see from the seat of a car--or even a bike. Well, unless you're a lot braver than me...

Friday, March 18, 2011

This week on foot

The week has been surprisingly positive here on the pedestrian front. First, our friends at Streetsblog introduced us to  A New "Cultural Tourist Agency" Teaches Angelenos How to Walk in the City, while further south in San Diego the new Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge opens and in Sacramento Citrus Heights improves pedestrian safety on Greenback Lane.

And it doesn't end there. In Alexandria there's Help in sight for walkers, bicyclists in area now that funding for some new bike and ped projects is on its way, and St. Louis Gets $550,000 in Aid for Bike and Pedestrian Trails.

Meanwhile, folks everywhere are taking a fresh look at what walkability and pedestrian improvements can do for them. There's Support for turning Auckland's Queen St into a pedestrian mall and pressure from Googlites, who say: Trying to Lure Google? Better Have Mixed-Use, Walkable Development . Even in places not known for walkability, they're starting to ask questions.  Would a pedestrian zone work for Dallas? , Is Long Island Ready for Walkable Suburbs? How can we Save our pedestrian bridge?

And some of those places really need it. Consider how officials in Texas are Sapping Street Life in Dallas, Ordinance by Ordinance , or how, in this ranking of The 32 Most and Least Sustainable March Madness Contenders a college town like Durham is number 32. Even outside the US there are problems, like in Costa Rica where Traffic Fines To Pedestrians On The Increase. And we can never forget that no matter where you live, there's always danger from people who are Driving While Human.

And also from people who are unicycling while human-- and insist that their single wheel exempts them from bike prohibitions on city sidewalks. Fortunately, in New York at least, the City Lawyer Scoffs At $3 Million Unicycle Lawsuit.