Thursday, May 25, 2006

walking the walk

This is not just about walking. The ability of pedestrians to get around safely and easily can affect the health of a community, whether it is the Loop or a local business district.

Pedestrian quality of life in the Loop is getting worse. Traffic aides give away increasing portions of stoplight cycles to motor vehicle traffic, at the expense of pedestrians. The recently added right turn arrow at Washington and State reduces pedestrian walk time by half at a critical intersection. Walk signals at some intersections are now so short that an average adult walking at a moderate pace (3 – 3.5 mph) can barely cross in the allotted time.

Large areas of the Loop are blanketed by scaffolding that renders a 1/3 -1/2 of the sidewalk area on many blocks unusable for months or years at a time, leaving a walkable area only 2 or 3 people wide. Flowers and greenery in our giant sidewalk planters are a very welcome addition, but the planters are much too wide, occupying up 1/2 of some very wide sidewalks. Loop streets keep getting repaved, but sidewalks on some blocks have been hazardous and cratered for years.

In the last month, installation of JC Decaux's large ad boards started, presumably part of the street furniture contract. They are perpendicular (not parallel) to the curb on Loop sidewalks, blocking half the sidewalk width in many places. Walking conditions would be much better if the boards were rotated 90 degrees (parallel to the curb) or placed next to existing obstructions so the ad boards do not create additional obstructions.

If the city is to be greener and healthier, there should be a significant effort to improve walking conditions for pedestrians downtown. For many downtown workers who live in dangerous neighborhoods or get home late at night, the Loop is their best
opportunity to walk and get regular aerobic exercise, more so in winter, when icy neighborhood sidewalks make walking near home a hazardous proposition.

Making Loop sidewalks more pedestrian friendly encourages workers and visitors to walk more, improving the odds that they will spend more in downtown shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, instead of in the suburbs or outlying neighborhoods. It allows pedestrians to make the most of nearby attractions without creating additional traffic congestion.

It's time to consider a Loop pedestrian action plan. An effectively used plan could be a key element in the future health of our city.


Anonymous said...

One would hope that chicago's urban planners would take something so important into consideration...alas, I don't think it's so.

I lived in London for some time and they have "pedestrian friendly" down to a science. On busy city streets, fences seperate the sidewalk from the cars to prevent people from jaywalking and there are many underground passageways so you never even have to cross the street. It helps pedestrians and it helps traffic.

In a related incident yesterday, I was crossing at Dearborn and Madison when the don't walk signal started flashing (just seconds after it turned to "walk"). The traffic cop directing cars at that intersection (and I'm really giving her a lot of credit with that description) yelled at the elderly woman behind me who clearly was not going to make it to the other side in time: "Hurry it up Grandma!" she chided. How completely unprofessional and inappropriate - I am embarassed for our city to have such employees. It is a disgrace

Fargo said...

Yes, many of the traffic aides (and sometimes cops) leave a lot to be desired in terms of courtesy and professionalism.

The pedway system we have is useful, but only in a limited area. For a long time I've thought that it should be expanded to cover a larger area of the Loop.

We still have a long way to go before the city can be considered pedestrian friendly and truly green.

Thomas Westgard said...

I wonder if architects somewhere have come up with a way to quantify walkability for cities. If we had such a thing (or invented one), we could do an analysis of downtown and be in a position to quantify the effect of changes.

I would guess that some natural allies for these kinds of thoughts would be the really "into-it" bicyclists. Car traffic gets prioritized to the detriment of everything else, which they understand and are already organized around.

Fargo said...

[Thomas Westgard said] natural allies for these kinds of thoughts would be the really "into-it" bicyclists. Car traffic gets prioritized to the detriment of everything else, which they understand and are already organized around.