Friday, April 22, 2011

This week on foot

This week the country is pondering sidewalks. First, the Senate Introduces a Narrower Bill for Wider Sidewalks (or at least, more funding for them). Then, there's some Some Orlando Neighborhoods Getting Sidewalks. But all this talk of sidewalks has some people wondering, Sidewalks are a neighborhood status symbol, but do they help the environment?

Meanwhile, it isn't sidewalks, but intersections in Honolulu that lead to Pedestrian Safety Concerns Rise After Newspaper Vendor Injured. And across the Pacific, it's another location, the Rincon Hill Intersection Nightmare For Pedestrians  that's leading to bad dreams in San Francisco.
Fortunately, there's plenty of work happening to address these types of pedestrian problems. The City of Spartanburg Introduces Reflect for Safety Monday , and in Nebraska a City Works to Improve Pedestrian Stadium Traffic . But not every message promoting pedestrian safety is being greeted with enthusiasm. In New York, some complain that “Don’t Be a Jerk” — The Wrong Message at the Wrong Time , and that the City's focus on bicycling "jerks" is unwarranted. Other people aren't waiting for officials to address pedestrian wrongs, and instead moving forward quickly to see that pedestrians receive justices, as in the Wrongful-death suit filed in PCH hit-and-run .

Other people are turning to art, not lawsuits, in an effort to improve walkability, as in one neighborhood where Profanity, slurs in pedestrian tunnel lead to art contest . Others ponder walkability from different perspectives, such as this blog post that considers A dog's eye view of what makes a walkable neighborhood , or this one evaluating Outdoor Cafes .

Yet, with all the positive attention being paid to walkable neighborhoods, one Streetsblog post wonders, Is the Realtors’ Survey Really a Ringing Endorsement of Smart Growth? Maybe not, but it does continue to show that people want to be able to walk in their communities.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Very Own Crosswalk: Final Steps

First of all, many thanks to Grist and Planetizen for promoting this series, I hope it's helpful to my fellow crosswalk lovers out there.

In the previous step, I talked about gathering support from other groups and individuals who could help champion your cause. To finish up, let's move on to:

Step 8: How do I apply pressure?
Now that you've gathered the details you need to make your case, rallied your supporters, and identified the people you need to influence, you can begin the real work of advocacy. Successful advocacy strategies could make up an entire series in itself, so I'll only offer a few thoughts here.

First, publicize your case. This could mean anything from starting a facebook page, to contacting your local paper (Tip: you don't have to focus just on the big news outlets. Many communities have their own small, but influential, papers), to holding a rally or walk-in at your crosswalk location. The more outlets you use to raise awareness the better.

Second, use your contacts. Follow up regularly with the contacts you've met at the staff and elected level within your jurisdiction. By this I do not mean calling and/or emailing every hour, or even every day. You're looking for the happy medium between calling often enough that your contacts realize you're serious, and calling so much that they want to set fire to their phone whenever they hear your voice on the other end. This can be a fine line. However,  unless there's immediate urgency I suggest that a follow up call or email every few weeks to a month is sufficient.

Third, use your supporters. It's important to demonstrate to decision-makers that you are not the only one who cares about this crosswalk. Some options include asking your fellow advocates to sign a petition, having them contact their elected official to indicate their support (the simplest thing is for you to draft an email yourself, and provide it to others to copy and send out themselves), or asking them to testify at a public meetings.

That last one is particularly important, because one of the most critical things you can do as a crosswalk advocate is to attend meetings and testify. I will not sugarcoat this: public meetings are long, boring, and often occur at inconvenient times. However, they're the way things get done here in our fair country, and if you're serious about your crosswalk you're going to need to attend them.

You can start with meetings of your local community planning group (if you have one), but you'll also want to show up at meetings of your city council or county supervisors. Even if your crosswalk is not on the agenda, you can use the period at the start of the meeting (when the public is allowed a short time to provide testimony on off-agenda items) to promote your cause. I also suggest doing this for crosswalks on state roadways, as your local elected officials can help you pressure folks at the state level.

I don't have to remind you of my earlier warning to avoid costumes for these hearings, right? You might think that dressing in head-to-toe zebra print will really hammer home the advantages of installing a zebra crossing, but I promise you that it does not help your cause to be known as "Zebra Man" in your city's sacred halls. Ditto on any overly-aggressive speeches (yelling, name-calling, finger-pointing). Also, be aware of any time limits that are placed on public testimony, and draft your speech accordingly.

Finally, be patient. The public process is many things, but "fast" is not one of them. Continue to use your contacts, rally your supporters, and apply pressure to the appropriate decision-makers. Also, be aware that your jurisdiction may not have the ability to fund any new crosswalk projects in the current fiscal year. Because of this, even with the full support of staff and elected officials, you might still have to wait many months before action can be taken. (Towards that end, you may want to time your advocacy to the period when budget decisions are being made. Often this is in the early part of the year, a few months before the start of the new fiscal year in July.)

Step 9: Enjoy your crosswalk
If all goes well, your efforts will pay off and you'll soon be admiring the sparkle of bright white lines against asphalt. Congratulations!

And if not? The reality is, even the best advocacy doesn't guarantee results--particularly not in today's fiscally-crunched world. But even if your work doesn't result in the crosswalk of your dreams, don't let it go to waste. Continue to build relationships with the staff and elected officials you've met. Maintain contact with your supporters. You've managed to establish yourself as a smart leader who's serious about improving pedestrian conditions in your community, and you shouldn't waste that political capital. Instead, use it to continue to work towards enhancing your neighborhood's walkability--because there's always another crosswalk out there that could use some stripes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week as brought us our usual share of pedestrian challenges here in the Southland. A Metro bus hits, kills pedestrian in Culver City, and further south a Pedestrian hit by car in San Marcos--but lest you complain, as do some of my readers, about the morbidity of this feature (I believe the term was "pedestrian death blog"), let me point out that I am sparing you the details of 30 other stories of pedestrian death and injury that I cam across while writing this week's post.

Actually, that's not really so cheerful either. Okay, how about the story of how a Warwick Auto Body employee saves injured pedestrian? Or how the Brownsboro Road Diet & Sidewalk Receive Overwhelming Public Support in Kentucky, and in ENCINITAS: Council seeks to improve pedestrian access through downtown, and in Oregon Beacons Installed To Help Pedestrians On The Bend Parkway, and how according to AASHTO: New Rule Makes it Too Hard to Ignore Cyclists and Pedestrians ? You see, I find lots of positive stories to share with you.

Of course, on the less positive side there's the recommendation of one Architect: Open Salem pedestrian mall to cars, parking, and more stories of how police are cracking down on pedestrians both near (Henderson Police Targeting Pedestrian Safety ) and far (DBKL issues summonses to jaywalkers ).

And then there's the in-between news. Like learning about the Congestion on the Mount Vernon Trail in Virgina--are too many pedestrians a good or bad thing?  And while we're asking questions, Is Auckland bad for your kids? Will London’s New Wayfinding System Get More People Walking? Well, there's one thing we can be sure of: Times Square plaza improves air quality.

Now if only San Franciscans could get the same kind of pedestrian support that New Yorkers get. After all, the City's Pedestrian crash toll dwarfs preventative safety costs. Maybe they should get in touch with Texans, where the word from Local Lawmakers: Don’t Mess With Texas Cyclists and Pedestrians

Finally, if you're in the San Diego area don't forget that San Ysidro's new pedestrian bridge opens Friday--and while you're walking around down there, you might want to check out A Surprisingly Walkable Neighborhood

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.)