Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dead Man Walking?

Dead Man Walking[1] has a different meaning for pedestrians, especially in Florida: You are 6.5 times more likely to be hit by a car walking in Tampa Bay than in the Twin Cities.[2] Even here, more than 500 pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed over the last ten years, plus an additional 20,000 injured.[3]

This lack of safety is no accident. For years, transportation departments have been pressured to move as many cars as fast as possible, leading to more traffic lanes and fewer sidewalks and boulevard trees in order to “remove impediments to speeding traffic.”[4]

Although the Twin Cities ranks last in pedestrian fatalities for a large city, Minnesota is making strides to improve.[5] In May 2010, Governor Pawlenty signed the transportation policy bill into law.[6,7] It includes Complete Streets, a policy that promotes the idea that streets should be designed and operated to be safe and accessible for all users – pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclists, and drivers – regardless of age or ability.[8] The concept is gaining popularity in the U.S., having been adopted by 20 states and multiple local governments.[9]

What are the benefits?
Besides increased safety, Complete Streets improves accessibility for people with disabilities, seniors, and children. It also promotes walking and biking, which improves our physical health and the environment.[10]

Using our feet also reduces transportation costs. “Americans spend an average of 18 cents of every dollar on transportation, with the poorest fifth of families spending more than double that…most families spend far more on transportation than on food. When residents have the opportunity to walk, bike, or take transit, they have more control over their expenses.”[11]

Perhaps one of the most surprising benefits of Complete Streets is what it can do for economic redevelopment. At a time when many communities are cash-strapped, something as basic as transportation design helps improve economic conditions for both business owners and residents. Check out this story on West Palm Beach.[12]

What do Complete Streets look like?

Complete Streets have no prescriptive design standards. Communities have the ability to select options that work best for them, including sidewalks, bike lanes, upgraded transit stops, safe crossings, curb extensions, and narrower travel lanes.[13] Check out this slide show of examples.[14]

Do Complete Streets cost more?
Not necessarily. Communities are able to include Complete Streets elements into existing transportation budgets with little or no additional funding by re-prioritizing projects that improve overall mobility. Many options are low cost and can be implemented quickly.[15]

My community has only four sidewalks, which means pedestrians, bikes, cars, and buses all share the road. We are lucky in that the traffic generally doesn’t move very fast, but sometimes that creates a false sense of security. We could use Complete Streets design here. For now I plan to do what my mother taught me: Look both ways before crossing the street. Like many other things, it’s still good advice.

BONUS: Use this interactive map for transportation “fun” facts about your favorite state.


No comments:

Post a Comment