Want to make more crosswalks on the streets in your neighborhood? Or make the ones you have better? Here’s a bit of background on what makes streets so great (and not so great) and how you can make crossing them easier, safer, and more fun where you live.
Jack Kerouac, who spent time on Colfax Avenue in the course of his travels, called it the “longest, wickedest road in America.” It may not be the wickedest, anymore, but many do say that it’s the longest commercial street in the world. Lined with historic hotels still sporting their fantastic midcentury modern neon signs, Colfax has welcomed lots of new businesses in recent years. Bus lines and a new light rail station (finished in 2013) on Colfax have made the Avenue more accessible than ever.
“Colfax Avenue is this major east-west connector in Denver,” says Jill Locantore of pedestrian advocacy organization WalkDenver. “It’s pretty storied in Denver’s history; before the interstate system was built, it was the major travel corridor through Denver. So there were tons of people who came across the country and were doing road trips and went along Colfax Avenue. But it’s really continued to evolve over time.”
Despite all the development and redevelopment happening on Colfax right now, though, it’s still not a street you’d really want to walk or bike. Not yet. It’s too massive and car-dominated. Even crossing the street on foot can be dangerous. That’s why WalkDenver – along with partners like Place/Matters, and an army of planning students from the University of Colorado – started collecting data last year on pedestrian-Colfax interactions. They created an app called WALKscope (which invites users to enter location-specific data on sidewalk quality, pedestrian counts, etc), to help them identify specific interventions that might make Colfax more bike and ped friendly.
The findings led to meetings with public transit agencies, which in turn led to the creation of a HUGE AWESOME REIMAGINE WEST COLFAX EVENT coming up right around the corner, on August 16th. Picture one solid block of Colfax Ave transformed into pedestrian/cyclist/donut lovers heaven for the day, and that’s about what you’re gonna get:
1. Tito Malaga will be playing live gypsy flamenco.
2. The Klez Dispensers (best band name in the history of band names) will be playing, yep, Klezmer.
3. Pop-up parklets on the sides of Colfax – sort of like the ones in NYC’s Union Square.
4. Three City Councilmembers will be in attendance to celebrate and make some remarks.
5. Expect food trucks, pop up shops, Little Man ice cream, Great Divide beer (donated by the local brewery), AND
6. IF you complete the Tour De Donut pop-up protected bike lane loop – which will demonstrate three different kinds of protected bike lanes – you’ll get to nosh on free Voodoo Donuts. By the way, cyclists – City Councilman Paul Lopez has promised to bike the Tour De Donuts, so if you’ve ever wanted to enjoy a Captain my Captain with a local official, now’s your chance.
Not gonna lie – we’re kind of jealous.
OH WHAT A DIFFERENCE A LITTLE LIGHT MAKES
What feature are the folks of WalkDenver most excited about? “It may not sound that exciting,” says Locantore, “but we’re really excited about an enhanced pedestrian crossway that we’re putting in for the day. It’ll simulate a pedestrian activated traffic signal, so pedestrians push a button, a light flashes, and cars stop. We’re going to actually have rainbow colored crosswalks, to really highlight this as a pedestrian crossing area.”
How’s that for pedestrian visibility? There will also be a planted median refuge area in the middle of the street, so that you don’t have to make it all the way across in one go, as well as “bulbouts” at the ends of sidewalks, to further shorten the distance a pedestrian has to cross to get to the other side. It’s all about shrinking carspace and growing peoplespace.
And what about cars, you ask, if pedestrians are going to be crowned king for the day? “Cars are welcome as guests, but they need to slow down and respect the people on foot,” says Locantore. Awesome. That pretty much describes our dream city, here at ioby. If you see any crazy community organizers charging the streets of Brooklyn with signs telling cars that they’re “welcome as guests,” that’ll probably be us.
GUYS, THIS IS NOT A PIPE DREAM
The best news of all is that this stuff is not pie-in-the-sky. The changes that WalkDenver and their partners are implementing on Aug 16 are totally, completely, 100% feasible as long-term, permanent solutions.
“We didn’t want to demonstrate things that were just a fantasy and could never actually happen,” says Locantore, “so we very deliberately did a design workshop where we invited representatives from Denver Public Works, from the Regional Transportation District (the local transit agency), and from C-DOT (the state transportation agency). And we put them to work. We gave them an aerial photo of the block of Colfax that we we’re focusing on, and we told them to draw what they thought we could do to Colfax that would make it more pedestrian friendly that would actually be realistic and could be implemented down the road. So a lot of the ideas we’re testing out are ones that came directly out of that conversation with the agencies that would be responsible for permanent implementation.”
So come enjoy the day, meet some neighbors, eat some donuts, drink some beer, and then share your feedback via the video booth and story board that’ll be set up for you. YOUR VOICE MATTERS, and the organizers can’t wait to see you.
If WalkDenver’s work inspires you to take action in YOUR neighborhood, or if you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Some great streets in LA are upping their games, too, and we’re helping them raise money to do it.
In our new series “In the News,” we take a moment to look at a headline issue and reflect on how it impacts the neighborhoods where we live and work.
Michael Kimmelman’s July 15 New York Times article “Renewal Projects, Down to the Sidewalks, Highlight Social Divides” draws a stark connection between recent police violence and the more insidious racist influence of Twentieth-century planning policy. In each of these deaths – Eric Garner’s on the neglected North Shore of State Island, Akai Gurley’s in a Renewal-era housing complex, Tamir Rice’s in a Cleveland public park, and Trayvon Martin’s in a Florida gated community – the built landscape was not just a stage set but a headlining player in the tragedy of these lives cut short.
[via The New York Times]
As Kimmelman asserts, Garner’s death highlights an important struggle over equality in public spaces, a struggle that has echoed throughout the civil rights movement. The right to safe, welcoming public spaces – parks, streets, sidewalks, and squares – is fundamental in every community. The systemic destruction and degradation of these spaces through demolition, bad design, neglect, or threat of violence is an infringement on this right, and communities of color continue to bear the brunt.
We can add another item to the list of malignant urban design decisions: Streets built for cars, which are frequently deadly for those of us who, by choice or necessity, move through our city on foot or bicycle. And what would seem to be an equal-opportunity killer – car “accidents” should be random by definition – is not at all.
Last year, Smart Growth America published its report Dangerous by Design, with the finding that pedestrian deaths nationally, about 5,000 a year, are 60% more likely to be of an African American victim than a non-Hispanic white person, and 43% more likely to be Hispanic of any race.
More than 80% of all pedestrian deaths across the US occur when cars are moving faster than 35 mph. So in less dense cities, it’s not surprising that 40% of all pedestrian deaths occur where there is no crosswalk.* In these places, usually sprawling metropolitan areas, there is a serious structural inequality at play. People don’t cross or travel along high-speed roads on foot or by bike by choice – but they do by necessity. Those who walk or bike on roads designed for traffic are people who cannot afford to do otherwise. And in our country, those are low-income people of color.
On top of the increased threat African American and Hispanic people face regarding vehicle-on-pedestrian “accidents,” there is old-fashioned racial discrimination to contend with. A study by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium found that drivers are less likely to yield to black pedestrians waiting to use a crosswalk than white ones. Pedestrians of color are discriminated against even when they are using public streets and crosswalks in the “right” way.
And traffic deaths are not the only hazard when car-centric urban landscapes combine with ingrained racial prejudice.When Trayvon Martin was shot he was walking in an area designed for driving, a behavior that George Zimmerman found suspicious. And in Ferguson, Missouri, a very common arrest is for “manner of walking along roadway.” This intentionally vague law encourages police suspicion of pedestrians and allows police to follow someone without a real reason. Not surprisingly, African-Americans comprise 95% of these arrests.
Streets and sidewalks are by far our largest public spaces, typically making up more than 25% of our cities, while parkland hovers around 2%. In many communities, these de-facto public spaces, designed for cars, are ill-equipped to meet the public need for foot and bicycle transportation, recreation, social interaction, political demonstration, and more. They are mismatched to our most basic human needs, and communities of color suffer disproportionately from this mismatch. Beyond being merely unpleasant, our streets are fundamentally unsafe, upholding a legacy of systemic discrimination that, in a flash, can become all too apparent.
*Florida is a particular offender: The four most dangerous cities for pedestrians as ranked by the Pedestrian Danger Index are Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.
It’s a sad fact that L.A. is designed for cars, yes, and that for a long time it’s been dominated by car culture. But the idea that it’s impossible to walk anywhere in L.A. is not one Angelinos have to subscribe to, and the folks over at pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks have plenty to say on the matter.
“So it’s actually an urban legend that people don’t walk here.”
“There’s actually a very large public transit-dependent population here,” says LA Walks staffer Colleen Corcoran. “So it’s actually an urban legend that people don’t walk here.” The problem is that even transit-dependent neighborhoods aren’t pedestrian-friendly. There’s a serious, city-wide lack of crosswalks, for starters, so that pedestrians are forced to walk far out of their way or dart across unsafe roads. There’s also a big “first mile/last mile” problem keeping people in their cars; there may be a transit hub a mile or two away, but people simply don’t feel safe walking it, or don’t realize how manageable that distance really is.
But maybe some of the biggest barriers between Angelinos and their nearest transit station are just psychological. Maybe if people were invited to experiment with walking, and provided wayfinding signage that stated exactly how many minutes away their destinations were, we’d see more feet hitting the pavement, more riders on the trains and busses. After all, signs work. Ever been confronted by a sign nudging you to “take the stairs, not the elevator: burn calories, not electricity” and found yourself actually heading for the staircase? In theory, signs may seem bossy, but in practice, they’re usually helpful – even comforting. Someone wants to help you choose, help you stay safe, help you find your way.
Corcoran and her team leading their ioby campaign plan to discover if very good signage can get Angelinos walking. Over the next year, they’ll work with two local artists to design10-20 signs in a hand-painted aesthetic, and install them around L.A.’s Leimert Park. The exact signage locations will be informed by a community mapping exercise. Their goal is to get people oriented through a pedestrian’s eyes, and to show them how easy it is to walk from transit stations to various points of interest in the Leimert area.
“The important thing with this type of signage,” says Corcoran, “is to show how many minutes it takes to walk somewhere, because a lot of people just don’t understand how long it takes to walk certain distances. So they’re like ‘oh my god, I’d have to walk a mile.’ But it’s only 15 minutes. Especially here, where the weather’s nice pretty much every day. People just don’t connect the dots. Their perception of the distance is more than it actually is.”
“Their perception of the distance is more than it actually is.”
Angelinos also may not realize how much time they spend trying to park their cars in congested areas, and that to walk a mile, two miles might often take much less time. But a shift may be happening; more and more young people are moving into transit-accessible downtown, and into areas near the newer rail lines, such as the arts district. “I think it is slowly changing,” says Corcoran, of LA’s well-documented history of horrendous traffic and overbearing car culture. “I think younger people here are less likely to drive. People are really burned out on the fact that they have to sit in traffic. They’re choosing to live in places that are more transit accessible or easier to bike to and from.”