Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: Followers of your Footsteps

Step 7: Who else can help me?
As I mentioned yesterday, elected officials respond well to angry mobs (well fine, I didn't exactly say it that way), as do the other folks you need to help you with your crosswalk quest, like planners and engineers. In other words, now is the time to seek out other members of your community who are just as excited about getting a crosswalk installed as you are. You could really start this step at any time, but I've put it here because by this point in the process you should have a pretty good idea of what you need to do to make your crosswalk a reality, and you can share those specific needs with your new supporters.

And who are these supporters? Well, you have a lot of possibilities. Sadly, the impetus to install a crosswalk is often a serious crash, so you may already have the injured person (or their friends and family) rallying behind you. But where else can you look for people to champion your cause? Here are some ideas:
  • Your local pedestrian advocacy group - For a list of groups in the US and elsewhere, check out the Pedestrian Advocacy Groups page
  • Your city's pedestrian coordinator - Not every jurisdiction has one of these, but more and more are devoting a full-time staff person to pedestrian and bike issues
  • Regional governments or Metropolitan Planning Organizations - Even if your city doesn't have a ped/bike coordinator, your regional government may have someone devoted to non-motorized transportation policy
  • Neighborhood planning committees - Many communities, especially in larger jurisdictions, have town councils, community planning groups, or similar organizations who deal with neighborhood-level planning issues. Your elected official or city staff person can help direct you to these groups, if they exist
  • Chambers of commerce and business improvement districts - Explain to these groups how walkability promotes economic development in the community
  • Your local Safe Routes to School coordinator - The Safe Routes to School National Partnership can point you towards a coordinator in your region
  • Your neighborhood school or PTA - Staff and parents are often eager to support pedestrian-improvement projects, particularly when they're along designated school walking routes
  • The health advocacy community - You know that walking is good for your health--and so do people who work in the health policy field. For example, here in California you can find groups of promotoras within the Latino community, community leaders who work as lay health advisors to promote walking and pedestrian improvements (among many other issues) 
  • Non-profit organizations - Your city may have an organization dedicated to promoting complete streets, alternative transportation modes, or "green" living. They've probably logged a lot of advocacy hours themselves, and may be able to provide you with contacts or advice that can help your cause
  • Your neighbors - This group should really be first on the list, as you're unlikely to get far if everyone else who lives in your neighborhood hates the idea of a new crosswalk. Spend a little time chatting with the boy or girl next door--even if you can't gain their support, you'll hopefully prevent local backlash
I'm sure there are others that could be added to this list, but at this time of night my brain has about run its course. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: Stepping Through the Politics

As promised, a continuation of last week's guide to gaining a marked crossing in your neighborhood.

Step 6: How do I cut the red tape?
Remember how I said you had other options if you weren't getting anywhere with the local bureaucrats? Here's where the politics come in.

An important thing to understand is that while theoretically government employees are there to serve members of the public like you, it's the politicians who are their real bosses.Often a local traffic engineer will politely listen to your crosswalk request...and then just as politely blow you off for the next three months (or years). However, if that same request comes from a councilmember's office, it's almost guaranteed to get some immediate attention.

The trick here is for you to gain the ear of the politician, which is easier to do than you might think. Elected officials keep their jobs by demonstrating that they're responsive to their constituents, so it behooves them to pay attention to what you have to say. (Just remember my tips from Step 1 on being polite--and sane. The same rules apply here.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This Week on Foot

It's been a busy week here in the walking world, and not such a happy one here in the LA region. We learned of a   $50,000 reward offered in hit-and-run death of 92-year-old man, a Candlelight vigil planned for Ventura hit-and-run victim, and, on a bittersweet note, a Pedestrian killed in 1986 identified through evidence database .
But there's better news elsewhere in the country. In Texas Students to get more pedestrian refuge, while in Arizona there's a Plan in works to deal with boom in pedestrians. Hungry pedestrians can rejoice a the thought of the Food to Land in Times Square Pedestrian Plaza  , while in Missouri they're celebrating because Missouri bicycle & pedestrian injuries down 20%-30%.

And it doesn't end there. One Del. school wants to create street for pedestrians, while on the opposite end of the age spectrum Sustainable Streets Teaches Seniors Pedestrian Safety. Police officers are getting in on the ped-friendliness as well. Around here CHP, local law enforcement crack down on distracted driving , while in Dunellen cops go undercover to catch drivers failing to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

But that's not all. The National Association of Realtors released a Study: Home buyers want walkable communities (why? Because Walkability works!). Even gas guzzling Texas recognizes the importance of walkability, as TxDOT: Road Projects Need To Be Bike and Pedestrian-Friendly...which makes you wonder why a Bike and Pedestrian Trail Along SMART Line Could be Cut by a Third, or why Denver to eliminate diagonal crossings at intersections when it was their city engineer who came up with the idea for these pedestrian scrambles or "Barnes Dance" intersections in the first place. And while we're asking questions, How walk friendly were Wilmington, Dover and Newark 2 years ago?

Maybe they can't explain that one, but the folks at the Atlantic can teach us A Green Lesson From the World's Most Romantic Cities. Do you think it involves a love affair conducted entirely on a sidewalk? It could happen...in a walkable city, that is.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: A Step-by-Step Manual

So you're staring out your window, watching cars race by your local street corner, and suddenly it hits you: "We need a marked crosswalk there!" You grab your phone and as your fingers aim towards the dial pad something else hits you: "I have no idea who to call about this."

For a lot of would-be pedestrian advocates the journey to a crosswalk ends right there because, and I say this as someone who works in one, nobody in their right mind wants to wade into the swamps of a murky local government bureaucracy voluntarily. You might never get out.


I occasionally turn the corner at work and run across some lost soul who just wanted to renew their food handlers permit back in 1983 and has been at the civic center ever since.

But it doesn't have to be that hard--or at least, that confusing. To help you out in your endeavours, I've put together this handy guide to help you turn your favorite crossing from plain pavement to pedestrian paradise. (One caveat before we begin: I've tried to keep this as generic as possible, but since every city/state/country's government is organized a little differently, I can't guarantee I've covered all potential scenarios. Hopefully this will at least give you a starting point.)

Photo courtesy of Streetsblog 

Step 1: Why are we doing this again?

If you're serious about getting a crosswalk installed in your neighborhood, you need a convincing argument for installing it--and by convincing I don't mean generic or self-serving complaints like "people in my neighborhood drive too fast" or "I hate having to walk an extra block to cross the street." These may be legitimate problems, but remember that yours is only one of hundreds of similar requests your city receives. To make yours rise to the top you need to:
  • Be polite - This can be a frustrating process, but rudeness gets you nowhere but the trash can. Letters to your city beginning "Dear pea-brains" does not further your cause (plus they get boring after a while). Along these same lines, ranting letters in ALL CAPS do not endear you to the folks whose help you need.
  • Be sane - Now is not the time to bring up conspiracy theories, aliens, or explicit pictures. Ditto on the chicken/bloody corpse/traffic light costume
  • Get data - Can you spend an hour counting how many people try to cross the road on a typical afternoon? Calculate how many schoolchildren use the crossing to get home? Find out the number of past crashes at your location? The more detailed information you have to demonstrate that there is a problem at your crossing, the stronger your argument becomes
  • Gather support - From your neighbors, your PTA, your local pedestrian advocacy organization (more on this in Step 7)

Friday, April 1, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week Five Pedestrians Awarded Compensation from Mobile Phone Companies for injuries they sustained at the hands (or should I say, vehicles?) of distracted drivers. The move encouraged legislators in New York and Texas to introduce bills that would impose Mandatory Loss of Cell Phone Privileges on drivers convicted of talking or texting while on the road.

In other good news, congress is moving forward with Changes to Federal Transportation Funding Regulations that favor pedestrian travel over highway improvements and high-speed rail projects. Perhaps inspired by their federal counterparts, Wisconsin's state assembly voted to Increase Gas Taxes to Pay for Sidewalks throughout the state.

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles Caltrans has announced plans for a Temporary 405 Closure, a la cicLAvia, allowing locals to enjoy the iconic freeway on foot or pedal. The San Diego and Ventura district offices are considering similar plans for the 5 and the 101 within their jurisdictions.

Outside of the US, pedestrians in Mumbai, India have staged an Encroachment Sting Operation with the help of local officials, forcing businesses and vendors to clean up their sidewalks and remove barriers to pedestrian travel. The work has inspired similar efforts in other cities throughout the country.

Back home, one small town in Idaho is considering Ordinance Changes to Remove the Word Jaywalking from its traffic code, in recognition of the concept that streets belong to more than just vehicles. Similarly, in Canada, Vancouver and Victoria move to Eliminate Fines for Crossing Outside Crosswalks. These types of changing attitudes could explain why in Arizona, Police Blame Motorist for a nighttime crash involving two pedestrians. 

Finally, in a heartening story out of South Carolina, one city declares April 1 Pedestrian Appreciation Day. To celebrate, major streets around the city center will be closed to vehicle traffic, neighborhood groups will participate in various "street beautification" activities, and the mayor will lead a group of students on a Safe Routes to School walk audit of the local elementary school.