Weekly Walk Around the News 2/3/2012

Feet First’s look at pedestrian news for the week of February 3, 2012.

WEEKLY WALK AROUND THE NEWS

Posted by Helen Lundell

February 3, 2012

 

Local

The Alliance for Pioneer Square announced that a guide is being produced to help property owners in Pioneer Square preserve sidewalk prism panels, many of which are in need of repair. These prism panels are, essentially, glass squares in the sidewalk that help light underground spaces, but they are also a defining feature of building entryways. 

 

National

I think the National Center for Bicycling and Walking said it best this week:

“The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released its version of a federal transportation bill. You might want to sit down before you read on. Committee leadership appears to have stopped short of outlawing the bicycle, but not by much: the set aside for Transportation Enhancements is eliminated; the SRTS program is eliminated; state bicycle/pedestrian and SRTS coordinators are eliminated; the information and research clearinghouses for bicycle/pedestrian and SRTS are eliminated; NEPA is gutted; and public involvement in transportation planning occurs at state DOT discretion. Those are just a few of the low points. If you are wondering whether you should take this personally, I recommend it: this bill is a return to a 1960’s style happy motoring/shut-up-and-move-aside-for-the-bulldozer mentality.”

 

Jarrett Walker (public transit planning consultant) posted an intriguing blog this week on why Seattle is the perfect candidate for sustainable transportation (thus promoting walkability). As well as a sustainable power supply (running on hydropower), dense, mixed-use land, and a clear political identity, Seattle actually has very few transportation routes between places, because it’s surrounded by water and hills. The resultant ‘choke points,’ or channels through which multiple people are forced to travel (e.g. bridges) can serve as perfect transportation hubs, provided they’re given precedence over car transit. 

 

Paul Knight of Better Towns and Cities threw himself into a defense of the oft-criticized ‘grid system.’ He argued that grid systems should not be regarded as inherently detrimental to the town, or just boring. Having grown up in warren-esque city of winding streets, I can’t disagree that the grid system might be an efficient method of town planning, but I’ll always prefer curves and angles on my walks.

 

The Wall Street Journal Online discussed New York City’s zoning laws; their origins in planners’ fear of a city overshadowed by skyscrapers and their goals today of making the City a more habitable, more walkable city.

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced that it is changing the system through which transportation projects receive funding, aiming to make the process less complex and time consuming, and focusing more on projects that meet local needs, such as street cars and efficient bus services.

 

HBO, the Institute of Medicine, the CDC, the NIH and Kaiser Permanente are debuting a four part documentary called “The Weight of the Nation” in May. Among multiple important issues, it will tackle the influence of the built environment on physical activity. The CDC also announced the dates of its annual “Weight of the Nation” Conference, whose theme this year is “Moving Forward, Reversing the Trend” focusing on how “communities, early care and education, medical care, workplaces, states, territories and tribes, and schools can be game changers by improving healthy eating and increasing active living for all Americans.”

 

Miller McCune discussed the growing trend of “pop up urbanism” in which community members take a temporary stand to make their neighborhoods how they want them to be. The “Better Block” group took one city block and made it into a ‘complete street,’ painting bike lanes, narrowing the street, putting up foliage, out door furniture…while these projects may be short lived, they make a very public point and give people a glimpse of how things could be different in their community.

 

Better Towns and Cities reflected on the 2012 Benchmarking report finding that cycling and walking investments return up to $11.80 for every $1 invested. They suggest adhering to the key messages of CNU’s “Sustainable Street Network Principles”  which are:

  • “Create a street network that supports communities and places.
  • Create a street network that attracts and sustains economic activity.
  • Maximize transportation choice.
  • Integrate the street network with natural systems at all scales.
  • Respect the existing natural and built environment.
  • Emphasize walking as the fundamental unit of the street network.
  • Create harmony with other transportation networks.”

 

America Walks has released a new report detailing how different “Signalized Intersection Enhancements” can make life better for pedestrians. This is an easy read with lots of pictures.

 

Rails to Trails conservancy has released a report challenging the assumption that only urban areas can benefit from investment in walkability.

 

The L.A. Times reported that L.A. is being forced to start fixing its dilapidated sidewalks. Why? Because their disrepair violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by preventing disabled people from travelling freely. So far, these cases have resulted in $85 million being earmarked for the sidewalks, and there are more to come. The cases are also drawing attention to the issue, highlighting that the city currently has no long term plan to get the sidewalks up to scratch. Hopefully there will be more to come over the next few months. Follow this link for Feet First’s Policy paper on similar issues here in Seattle.

 

International

Charles Mahron of Better Towns and Cities argued for “Shared Space” in urban streets. In this model, pedestrian space (the sidewalk and cross walks) and car space (the road, when the light is green) are merged into a rather counterintuitive ‘shared’ space, in which traffic is regulated by the natural ebbs and flows of drivers and pedestrians simply watching out for each other. My question is, if someone does get injured, how do you assign accountability?

 

Take a look at a rather grandiose example of shared space that has just opened in London: Exhibition Road.

 

 

If you come across any interesting pedestrian news or stories, please send a link to info@feetfirst.org.

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