Pedestrian safety is making its way into Suburbia, U.S.A.
It’s no secret that America’s love affair with the modern-day automobile took too much of a hold on the nation from the 1970s to this day. The result was an automobile-centric culture that has been a drag on America’s communities thus building fences between individuals. We have heard about our car addiction leading to increased smog, more sedentary citizens and unsafe pedestrian conditions.
Over the past decade, it’s obvious that many of us long for genuine communities where we could live, work and play. While it’s a long way to get to that goal, many of us are “taking it to the sidewalks, paths and trails.” Obviously, we cannot “take it to the streets” as the pop music group The Doobie Brothers sing so well about at their concerts.
As an avid runner, walker and cyclist, I’m encouraged by the sheer volume of people getting out on the sidewalks in “Suburbia, U.S.A.” Trust me, that is major progress. I have been living in this type of culture for nearly three decades in suburban Atlanta where SUVs, minivans, pick-up trucks, waste disposal trucks and construction vehicles take center stage. Many folks are hungry to get out on the sidewalks to walk and run. There’s also a bevy of cyclists who love biking throughout metro Atlanta. Unfortunately, there are not enough consistent sidewalks, trails and paths. On many runs, I will go through high grass or take to the road. It’s tougher for cyclists which must share rather narrow roads.
I’m sure the sentiment is contagious across metro Atlanta. It’s obvious that people wish to have excellent pedestrian amenities. In my adopted hometown of Peachtree Corners – about 20 minutes north of Atlanta – the demand is clear: we wish to have a walkable city. The city, formed in 2012, responded with the construction of over 20,000 feet of sidewalks and will add 11 sidewalk projects soon. To top that off, an 11-mile multi-use trail will be completed connecting several points of interest.
Additionally, the mayor created a Pedestrian Safety Task Force, where folks like myself are figuring out how to improve safety for everyone in the community. Whether on foot, bike or in a vehicle, we are creating a type of “Honey-do list” of ideas which will make this community walkable and safe.
Without a doubt, other communities across America have been engaging in these type of task forces. In places like Seattle, the city identified several areas of interest to improve pedestrian and traffic safety. Many years ago, Seattle, created a Pedestrian Master Plan which was a program dedicated to installing far more sidewalks in places where they were needed the most while improving existing ones. They created a good priority list from most popular to least popular thoroughfares. Next on the agenda was adding more crosswalks and enhancing older crossings. Slowing down cars made it on their list. A ‘traffic calming program’ which features traffic circles, speed humps and road segments were built. Working with the private sector was another key success to Seattle’s pedestrian safety program. Developers are required build sidewalks adjacent to new development. How were Seattle’s ideas funded? Voters approved a levy in 2006 called Bridging the Gap.
Indeed, the ideas that worked in Seattle are a tough sell in the South, but looking at their program, may provide ideas for cities like Peachtree Corners.