Wednesday, March 28, 2012

True Cost of Unwalkable Streets

A great read: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/03/true-cost-unwalkable-streets/1616/

Kaid Benfield makes no mention of carbon footprint, or reliance on foreign oil, or global warming, or electric cars as a silver bullet solution, or the importance of LEED-certified buildings, or any other topics that tend to cause division and miss the main point for a lot of people. Rather, he focuses on the simple and direct correlation between the way in which we've chosen to build our towns and the health consequences of that decision. When we design for just one choice (driving) at the expense of other ways of going about our daily activities, the vast majority of us will make that one choice the resulting lack of physical activity will cause our collective waistline to get bigger. Not to mention the social harms of making it more and more difficult for people to just walk from their homes to the corner store. It's seems so obvious and straightforward, yet turning this ship around is no easy task.

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I've seen a disturbing number of traffic counters recently on roads throughout central Arkansas, and if past action is any indication of future steps, I'm pretty sure what the likely outcome of those traffic counts is going to be. I know the road 'improvement' projects could be delayed temporarily by channeling my inward Edward Abbey to use the limb loppers in my trunk for nefarious purposes (I've heard that loppers work great on the rubber hoses attached to traffic counting machines), but we need something more permanent than that. 

We need more folks saying things like: "City of Little Rock, Metroplan, AHTD, City of North Little Rock, Pulaski County, Faulkner County, Conway, Saline County, etc., etc.- STOP trying to solve traffic problems by making it easier for people to cause traffic! Let's slow down to think about the outcomes we'd like to actually see happen and take steps to make those outcomes possible instead of just reacting to today's perceived traffic problems with yesterday's antiquated responses. Let's engineer choice back into the system instead of spending billions of dollars to force everybody into one unhealthy, dangerous, and expensive choice!" 

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Spring break is over, but the aforementioned  posts did not happen. Plumbing work, mowing, swimming in a creek in the Ozarks, a 7+ hour march/crawl to the Eye of the Needle and back again, reading, and hanging out in the Coolest Town in Arkansas all got in the way of blogging. Sorry! Words will flow as time allows.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's the Design, Stupid.

I went for a spin around the River Trail loop this afternoon and came upon a bike-car crash in front of Episcopal Collegiate School on Cantrell:
Shaken up. And hurt.
There were some police people and others milling about and doing important things, so I tried to stay out of the way and didn't catch the cyclist's name. But, from what I could ascertain, she was riding east to west (away from downtown) trying to negotiate the crosswalks and pedestrian islands in front of the school when the light changed for the teachers and parents leaving the campus. A collision ensued.

The first thing that I noticed when I walked up to the scene of the accident crash was that the cyclist was blaming herself. Yes, it sounds like she could have avoided it had she done what the walk/don't-walk signs were telling pedestrians to do. However, this crash was not her fault (and nor was it the driver's). The real blame lies with the design of the intersection and road with their complete lack of any space for cyclists. The official River Trail route through this section forces cyclists to break the law by riding on the sidewalk and the wrong way down a one-way street, and the street design here encourages drivers to mash the gas pedal like they're out in the boonies instead in the middle of an urban space with mixed transportation modes.

Cantrell Road is 6 lanes wide just to the east and west of this intersection. That's about 75 feet, curb to curb. The posted speed limit is 40 mph, but it seems that most drivers treat that as a minimum rather than a maximum- not because they're evil law-breaking speed demons, but because the road design itself encourages faster speeds.

The green space between the sidewalk and the Episcopal School is about 20 feet wide. That's over 100 feet of total width to play with (including the sidewalks), yet some how no one could find room for cyclists. It makes no sense. We need to shrink the space for cars here, carve out ample space for bikes and pedestrians, and beef up the public transit infrastructure. And we don't need to do it by spending $15 million on a cantilevered bridge around Dillard's. There is plenty of space in the Cantrell right-of-way for good, 21st century street design.

Bad design.
 (image from the Google)
If we design and build for cars, then the result will be more cars. If we design and build for choice and balance in transportation mode, then people will make balanced choices. The second way is less expensive and pays off later with lower maintenance costs. Plus, traffic will still flow fine; there will be fewer injuries and death from crashes; we'll have less road rage; and maybe we can use some of that wasted surface parking in downtown LR for higher and better uses when more people are able to get there without driving. Heck, we might even improve our health. Simple. Easy. What're we waiting for?

Tom Ezell over at BACA wrote a great description of the design problems with this section of the River Trail and made this video. The spot where the crash above happened comes at 2:33 with general commentary about that intersection starting at about 2:15:


 (and lest anyone think otherwise, the title of this post has absolutely nothing to do with the crash victim. "Stupid" refers to the people who decide and continue to think that intersections like this are a good idea.)

Spring Break and the Tech Park

Spring Break is almost here, and with it will come a few updates from this blogger. In the mean time, regarding Little Rock's Technology Park plans, two articles came across my screen this week that are apropos:

1. How Amazon got the urban campus right.
and
2. How Apple is getting it so wrong.

I hope to dive much deeper into the issue next week, but for now- take a gander at what the LR Tech Park Authority is showing off to illustrate their suburban vision. Those yellow buildings are parking decks. That red line is likely a perimeter fence to separate what's going on inside the development from the life outside. The grey things are surface parking lots.
This couldn't be farther from where we need to be going as a city.
Come back to this here blog for a more detailed critique, alternative ideas, and maybe a Venn diagram or two next week!

Friday, March 2, 2012

There's New Asphalt on the Fort Roots Climb

There's fresh, smooth, buttery tarmac running from the gate at the bottom all the way to the top. Judging by the heat coming up off of it and the "Road Closed" barriers at either end and the unmistakable feeling of my tires sticking to the road, I'd say they (who are those mysterious they?) installed it today. I didn't stop to take a pic, but if you like riding up there you'll see it soon enough for yourself. 

Happy weekend, and enjoy this great weather everyone!