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Pedestrians


DC is telling us more about blocked sidewalks and car crashes, and that should mean safer streets

DC has created a map that shows where it has issued permits to block sidewalks and bike lanes for construction projects, and soon, the city will begin releasing more detailed data about where vehicle collisions have happened. Both will tell us more about where in the city pedestrians and bicyclists are at risk, which will make it easier to make those areas safer.


A closed sidewalk. Photo by Jacob Mason.

The map went up in August and is updated daily based on public space permits that DDOT issues.


Map from DDOT.

On the map, the green squares are where a utility company has a permit to block the sidewalk or bike lane, and the yellow triangles are where one has applied for a permit. The red triangles represent permits for DDOT contractors to work in the right of way, taking away parking for a temporary span of time. Orange squares mean there's a permit for a block party, purple squares are for mobile cranes, and red squares are for special events.

Jonathan Rogers, a policy analyst who reports to DDOT director Leif Dormsjo, said, "Obviously, DDOT can't be everywhere inspecting work zones, so to the extent residents are checking the public traffic control plan... we can work together make sure developers are keeping the streets and sidewalks safe."

We'll soon know more about car crashes around the District, too

DDOT will also soon begin publishing monthly reports with information about vehicle collisions, including the ward, block or intersection, the type of vehicle involved, the Police Service Area where the crash occured, the number of people killed or injured, and why it happened.

Some of this data, like the date and time of crashes and the geographic X/Y coordinates for the location, is available now in an open format, but it's much more sparse than what's on the way.

"This open data is a matter of transparency," Rogers said. "People have a right to know where traffic injuries and fatalities are occurring in their city. If residents do nothing more than discover the safety trends for their own neighborhood, that is part of good, open governance."

Rogers also points to how the data can be crunched in a variety of ways that DDOT may not have thought of.

"We want to tap into the expertise among the many data scientists out there, the civic hackers, coders, etc. and see what kind of correlations they may discover. Perhaps they can identify locations in need of urgent improvements that DDOT may not have detected."

Before DDOT starts issuing those reports, however, it has to be sure that they do it in a way that doesn't disclose personal information about victims that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) doesn't allow.

"We'll continue to publish the crash and violation data in the open data format in the meantime," said Rogers.

Pedestrians


Ask GGWash: Is there any reason not to have a sidewalk?

There are parts of DC and other cities with no sidewalks. As pedestrian safety has become a higher priority in road design, DC and other cities have been adding them, though sometimes residents oppose the idea. Is there any good reason not to put one in? Do we have statistics?

Reader Phil L. asks: "Do sidewalks measurably improve pedestrian safety even in low traffic density areas, like residential neighborhoods? What would be a compelling reason to have a residential street without a sidewalk?"


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Erin McAuliff says:

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, "Pedestrian crashes are more than twice as likely to occur in places without sidewalks; streets with sidewalks on both sides have the fewest crashes." I think the reference for this is from the Federal Highway Administration.

From another angle, and with a particular focus on the aging, sidewalks may increase residents' perception of safety. Falling or tripping on poorly maintained sidewalks is a serious concern for the elderly, especially the frail, for whom one accident could be devastating. Falls are the leading cause of death from injuries for persons over the age of 65.

Ben Ross gives some historical perspective on why neighborhoods might not have them:
The original reason for not building sidewalks in suburban neighborhoods was to give the development a "high-class" non-urban image by discouraging walking. See Dead End, page 16.
Sean Emerson lives in one such area:
A reason I've heard people in my neighborhood (Woodmoor in Four Corners) use for opposing sidewalks was the preservation of the "rural" feel of the neighborhood. My neighborhood and several others nearby were once anchored by Indian Springs Country Club, so you can imagine that the clientele originally buying homes around here were doing so to escape the city and its associated "urban" infrastructure like curbs and sidewalks.

The streets in my neighborhood close to University Boulevard and Colesville Road were built in the mid-1930's with no sidewalks or curbs (these streets comprised the original development anchored by the country club). When the county installed curbs about 10 years ago, sone people complained that the curbs changed the "character" of those streets, and several think that sidewalks would make it worse. There are many 1930's era neighborhoods in and around Silver Spring which still lack curbs of any kind, much less sidewalks (Hillandale, North Hills of Sligo, and parts of Woodside come to mind).

Retaining a "country" or "rural" feel might not sound like a compelling reason to prevent the installation of sidewalks to most, but it is for some.

So does Nick Keenan:
My neighborhood, Palisades, had a protracted debate about adding sidewalks on a neighborhood street, University Terrace. Ultimately they were not put in.

Some of the arguments were expected: there are people who never walk, who don't see any utility to sidewalks. Landowners who would lose part of their front yard were predictably opposed. What surprised me was how many people expressed the viewpoint that sidewalks actually detract from a neighborhood. People even used the adjective "rural" to describe our neighborhood. I'm not sure they really knew what rural meant—Palisades certainly isn't rural— I think they were looking for a word that meant non-urban and that was the best they could come up with.

Like so many personal preferences, there's no right or wrong, but there's also very little room for persuasion.

Not all neighborhoods of that era lack sidewalks. David Rotenstein writes:
It's a mistake to generalize that all 20th century residential subdivisions omitted sidewalks or that the failure to install them was part of some larger, mysterious anti-pedestrian agenda. One Silver Spring subdivision (outside the Beltway) originally was developed between 1936 and 1940 and the subdividers/developers intentionally constructed sidewalks and used their existence as a marketing point in sales literature.
Coming back to the issue of statistics, Jonathan Krall writes:
The "safety in numbers" effect, often discussed in relation to cycling, also applies to pedestrians. Briefly, injuries per pedestrian fall as the number of pedestrians increase. This implies that adding sidewalks to an area would encourage walking and make that area safer.

However, it is difficult to square that result with the nationwide increases in pedestrian fatalities, happening during a decrease in driving and (I presume; I don't have data on this) an increase in walking

My hypothesis is that the shift towards transit (and presumably walking) that is so clear in data for millennials is leading to more walking in suburban environments along dangerous arterial roads. But that is just a hypothesis.

But Ben Ross challenges the premise that statistics can explain the sidewalk debates:
"Safety" is not the main issue here. It's equal treatment. Lack of sidewalk discourages walking by denying pedestrians the right of way. They must get out of way whenever a car comes by.
David Edmondson explains how just slowing cars down can improve safety:
It's likely not simply an issue of traffic volume but of traffic speed. Take, say, this random street in California. It's narrow but two-way and so traffic is very, very slow (roughly jogging speed). Despite its lack of sidewalks, it is a pedestrian-friendly street—I see unaccompanied kids on such streets all the time. Yet I would not feel comfortable walking down other sidewalk-free streets (like this one in Silver Spring) where calm traffic is not invited by the street's design.

I don't know of any studies regarding sidewalks and pedestrian safety on low-volume streets, but I don't think that's the right way to look at it anyway given all the factors that go into a street's safety. Risk is a quality positively correlated with increased volume and speed and sight-lines, each of which are themselves correlated with certain street design choices. A pedestrian is shielded from some of that risk by a sidewalk, but sometimes the risk is so low that the shielding is unnecessary.

We first ran this post about two years ago, but since the discussion is just as relevant today, we wanted to share it again!

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

Pedestrians


What happens when people without cars move to places built for driving?

What happens when people without cars move to neighborhoods built for cars? In Langley Park in Prince George's County, an increasing number of people want to walk to jobs and retail—even though doing so isn't all that safe (yet).


The number of people who walk along University Boulevard in Langley Park is on the rise, but the area is still most accommodating to cars. Image from Google Maps.

Langley Park is on the county's northwestern border with Montgomery County. It used to be a farm, but after World War II it was sold to developers who built small bungalows and garden apartments for newly returned GIs and their new families.

In the early years most residents were white, but during the 1970s African American families began moving to the neighborhood. In the 1980s immigrants began trickling in as well. They hailed from diverse places—El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Vietnam to name just a few. Immigrants continue to live in Langley Park, but today Hispanics are the largest racial/ethnic group, comprising 76.6% of the area's 2010 population.

We usually think about walkability in the context of young professionals who want to walk to bars and restaurants and get to work via bike lanes or public transportation, but in Langley Park, walkability is about immigrant families who need to walk bus stops and shops for everyday errands.

Lots of people want to walk around Langley Park

Langley Park has two main thoroughfares: University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue. Both are state highways with concrete median strips. Based on what I see on Google Earth, I'd estimate that cross streets in Langley Park are usually at least 2/10ths of a mile apart. The area's retail is concentrated on University Boulevard in small- and medium-sized strip malls with parking lots out front.


A Google Maps image of Langley Park. 193 is University Boulevard.

As the distance between cross streets and the abundance of parking lots on University Boulevard demonstrate, Langley Park's developers assumed the area's residents would drive to local retail establishments. There are still plenty of cars in Langley Park—traffic jams are common during rush hour—but now there are also lots and lots of pedestrians. And, there are many businesses for them to walk to.

In fact, retail in the corridor is thriving. Strip mall vacancies are rare, and most businesses target local residents instead of commuters driving through the area. There are only a few fast food chains on University Boulevard, for example, and the most visually prominent one—Pollo Campero—originated in El Salvador and tends to cater to Central Americans missing the tastes of home.

Other shops include nail salons, pharmacies, international groceries, and Salvadoran and Mexican restaurants. The area also has a variety of clothing stores, including an African fabric store, a Sari shop, and a Ropa Colombiana. Value Village also has a store in the area, and serves as a sort of second hand department store, selling clothes, toys, furniture, and small appliances.

All of this adds up to the streetscape in Langley Park being more vibrant than your typical suburban area. People aren't just going to and from their cars; they're walking, hanging out in front of stores, or sitting on retaining walls and shooting the breeze. One strip mall even has a semi-regular street preacher. Armed with a megaphone and boundless conviction, he exhorts and cajoles passersby in equal measure.


Photo by the author.

Most importantly, there are lots and lots of kids—in strollers, holding their parents' hands, and carrying a backpack on the way to or from school. Except for the built landscape, this could be in any kid-friendly area in DC—think the Palisades or Chevy Chase.

Pedestrian safety is a big concern here, and quick fixes aren't long-term solutions

That built landscape is a big deal, though. Getting from home to shop and back again isn't easy when you have to cross six lanes of traffic. And unlike the Palisades or Chevy Chase, the distance between cross streets in Langley Park is substantially longer.

As a result, pedestrians often cross between crosswalks, which can be dangerous given the volume and speed of traffic in the area. Crashes involving cars and pedestrians have been a consistent problem in the area for more than a decade. The latest pedestrian fatality happened last July when a police officer struck and killed a man as he was crossing the street in between walk signals.

To try to address this problem, the county installed new medians along University Boulevard last year, along with six foot metal fences to prevent pedestrian crossings between signals.


Photo by the author.

While these may make the street safer in the short term, they come at the cost of increasing the root problem, which is that there aren't enough crosswalks to handle all the demand. The fences prioritize making sure cars can move through the area without worrying about people on foot, making the road even more like a highway. That's actually the opposite of how you build a street to be genuinely safe and useful for pedestrians.

Fortunately, signal timing and crosswalks in some places have recently been improved to give people sufficient time to cross. And the new Takoma-Langley Crossroads Transit Center, set to open in late 2016, will also be a good step since it will consolidate stops for 11 bus routes that currently carry 12,000 passengers a day. That means transfers will be much easier and safer.


The Takoma-Langley Crossroads Transit Center. Photo by the author.

Also, when the Purple Line is built, the transit center (a planned stop on the line) will further concentrate transportation options, making getting to or from public transportation easier.

Langley Park is certainly making progress when it comes to being safer for people on foot. But there's also a long way to go in order to truly retrofit the area to be safe, easy, and enjoyable to walk around.

More crosswalks would be a great start, and traffic calming to slow cars down would likely go a long way. A pedestrian bridge over University would be the dream, and planting trees and foliage would also help reduce noise and air pollution while also providing a more attractive thoroughfare.

Whatever the specifics, I hope resources go into making the area safer and easier to walk around. Langley Park deserves it.

Roads


This is a strange (and dangerous) traffic circle. Check out DC's ideas for making it safer.

Ward Circle is a rather uniquely designed roundabout at the intersection of Nebraska and Massachusetts Avenues NW, near American University. Traffic there is heavy and there are a lot of crashes, so DC wants to make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. The agency is considering four options for doing so.


The intersection of Nebraska and Massachusetts.

Ward Circle serves vehicles traveling to and from the District as well as pedestrians from American University and a nearby Department of Homeland Security office.

A previous District Department of Transportation (DDOT) study, called the Rock Creek West II Livability Study, found that Ward Circle had the most crashes of any intersection near Tenleytown, Van Ness, and Friendship Heights. There have been 60 in the last three years, with 18 resulting in injuries.

While many circles in the District are roundabouts, Ward Circle has a cat's eye shape thanks to two interior lanes that cut through the center as a continuation of Nebraska Avenue. One cause for all the crashes, as well as traffic delays, is that drivers often illegally turn left from these lanes into the roundabout (on to Massachusetts).


Ward Circle's current setup. Images from of DDOT.

Another cause for concern are the crosswalks located where Massachusetts Avenue intersects the circle. While the crosswalks on the Nebraska Avenue entrances are protected by lights, pedestrians on Massachusetts are protected from traffic only by "yield to pedestrians" signs.

This leaves pedestrians vulnerable to distracted drivers—when DDOT studied Ward Circle, it found that drivers rarely yield to pedestrians in these crosswalks. Also, not having lights at the crosswalks slows traffic when drivers do stop.

Any attempt to fix all of this would have to account for another factor: the green space in the middle of the circle, which the National Park Service owns. While people cannot currently access the space, it houses the eponymous statue of Artemis Ward at the center, and it offers environmental benefits as well, like absorbing rainwater.

At a recent community meeting, DDOT proposed four ways to change Ward Circle's design. The goal is to make the circle safer, make traffic flow more smoothly, and minimize the impact the changes have on the green space. The details are below:

Option 1: A classic roundabout

The first design option would convert Ward Circle into a full roundabout by removing the two interior lanes that carry Nebraska Avenue. It would also place signals at the Massachusetts entrances to the circle, making the crosswalks at these entrances safer for pedestrians and cyclists using the sidewalk to navigate the circle. This design doesn't include crosswalks for getting to the green space.

According to DDOT Western Area Planner Theodore van Houten, who led the community meeting, this design would increase pedestrian safety thanks to the signalized entrances on Massachusetts. With this option, there wouldn't be much effect on the green space, and the statue would stay where it is.

When it did its analysis, DDOT concluded that this design would negatively affect traffic because it would require more cars to stop for longer at the newly signalized crosswalks at the Massachusetts Avenue entrances.

Option 2: The cat's eye, but with legal turns from Nebraska onto Massachusetts

This option would remove the possibility of illegal turns from the interior lanes by simply making the turns legal. It would also remove the roundabout, making the interior turn lanes the only options for turning off of Massachusetts Avenue onto Nebraska or vice versa.

This option would still leave pedestrians with minimal access to the green space. And according to DDOT, it would also have a negative impact on traffic flow because it would force all traffic turning left onto Nebraska or Massachusetts to use the interior lanes, rather than going around a full roundabout as they currently do.

However, this option would make the circle safer for pedestrians by installing signals at the Massachusetts Avenue entrances.

Option 3: Run roads straight through the circle

The third option would make left turns onto Massachusetts Avenue from the interior lanes legal by turning the center of the circle into a four-way intersection. Dedicated right turn lanes would let cars branch off onto Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues. Two lane streets would also be preserved on the outermost part of the rotary; they'd primarily be for Metro buses and AU shuttles, but also for cars picking up and dropping off passengers.

Unlike the other options, this one significantly reduces the number of crosswalks available to pedestrians trying to navigate the circle. According to DDOT's analysis, it's the only one that would have a negative effect on safety for pedestrians and motorists.

This option would also reduce the amount of green space in the intersection and leave the Artemis Ward statue without a home.

Option 4: Keep the circle as it is now, but add more traffic signals

The final option would make the fewest physical changes to the circle as it is now. Instead, it would simply add traffic signals to the Massachusetts Avenue entrances to the circle and improve signs and paint in the interior lanes to make it more clear that it is is illegal to make a left turn from them.

While this option would make the circle safer for pedestrians and cyclists crossing Massachusetts Avenue, it might not stop drivers from making illegal turns into the roundabout from the two interior lanes.

Could the green space get more attention here?

While some of these redesigns move in the right direction, it would be great to see DDOT work with the National Park Service to make the green space in Ward Circle usable for residents, students, and employees in the area.

Dupont Circle and DDOT's redesign of Thomas Circle in 2006 are great examples to look at. While the area surrounding Ward Circle is more suburban than Dupont and Thomas Circles, long-term developments at the old Superfresh site and the Spring Valley Shopping Centre up the street are aiming to make it denser and more walkable. An accessible and useable green space in Ward Circle could serve these future communities and make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to navigate the intersection.

Until then, making Ward Circle easy and safe to traverse for pedestrians and cyclists is critical. In that regard, options one and four would be an improvement from the current set up and leave room for further development in the future.

Residents can submit comments on the proposed designs at DDOT's Ward Circle project website or by emailing Ted van Houten, DDOT transportation planner, at theodore.vanhouten@dc.gov. DDOT is scheduled to begin taking the next steps on designing and building this coming spring.

Pedestrians


Maryland shouldn't outlaw this type of pedestrian crossing signal, says a Montgomery County Councilmember

Proponents of a new type of walk signal that's gaining popularity in DC and Virginia say that the technology makes walking safer. In Maryland, though, the State Highway Authority (SHA) prohibits their use. That shouldn't be the case, according to Montgomery County Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Berliner.


A HAWK signal in DC's Cleveland Park. Photo by Eric Fischer on Flickr.

HAWK (High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon) signals tell drivers to stop at pedestrian crossings that are in the middle of a block or where there isn't a traditional traffic light. People who want to cross press a button, which activates a yellow light that tells drivers to slow down and then a double red light telling them to stop.

One reason engineers like HAWK signals is that they have a low "warrant threshold," meaning there are generally fewer barriers to putting them up than a normal traffic light. Another is that they allow drivers to proceed after the people who pushed the button have crossed.

But while HAWK signals can be an effective means of improving safety at crosswalks, they aren't without criticism. They don't look or light up like normal traffic lights, which can confuse drivers. And because they remain completely dark until activated by a pedestrian, some drivers may think the HAWK signal is not working and treat the intersection as a stop sign.

The fact that HAWK signals stay dark until activated is the primary reason Maryland's SHA does not permit their use on state or local roads. Under the Maryland Motor Vehicle Code, a dark signal should be treated as a stop sign. It appears SHA has determined that HAWK signals are applicable to this section of the code.


A HAWK signal in Pentagon City. Image from Google Maps.

In a letter to the Montgomery County Delegation to the 2017 General Assembly, Roger Berliner questioned the logic of Maryland's restrictive amendments on "pedestrian hybrid beacons," especially in light of what he sees as clear federal guidelines on how to install and use them. He asked the delegation to consider introducing legislation that would allow HAWK signals in Maryland:

"The reasons for this change from the federal guidelines are not clear to me. What is clear to me, however, is that HAWK signals can improve pedestrian safety on SHA-administered roads. I am asking that you give serious consideration to introducing legislation during the 2017 General Assembly that would require the state to adopt either 1) the Federal Highway Administration Manual or 2) the specific language of Chapter 4F in the Federal Highway Administration Manual."
Noting that multiple Federal Highway Administration studies have shown that HAWK signals improve safety and compliance at pedestrian crossings, Berliner continued:
"I was the lead sponsor of legislation requiring Montgomery County to establish a framework and deadline for a Vision Zero campaign to achieve zero traffic deaths. The work of the County's Vision Zero Working Group is ongoing, with a recommended action plan expected early next year. We have already seen too many tragedies occur in crosswalks, making improved crosswalk safety critical in the Vision Zero effort. HAWK signals are a proven solution in this regard that I believe we must embrace."
Read the whole letter here.

Links


National links: This week in pedestrian shaming...

Pedestrian safety campaigns in New York and Pittsburgh are kind of missing the point, just like Zillow did when it tried measure the best places to trick-or-treat. But Oakland's new transportation department is making some very progressive moves. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by FaceMePLS on Flickr.

Stop the shaming: The New York City DOT and the City of Pittsburgh are using flyers, guides, and even a dressed up grim reaper that talks to walkers to try to stop pedestrian deaths. The problem is that the campaigns blame potential victims, ignoring the fact that infrastructure isn't available for walking and roads aren't designed for safety. (Curbed)

Halloween metric botched: Trick-or-treaters tend to naturally identify the best urban design: it's easiest and safest to trick-or-treat in places where people drive slowly, where streets are narrow, where front doors are close together and houses have stoops. But in an attempt to quantify the best places for kids to enjoy Halloween night, real estate tech company Zillow developed an index that focuses more on home values and population ages rather than good urban design. (Slate)

Oakland's transportation turnaround: Based on policy changes the city has made in the last six weeks, you could argue that Oakland, California is at the forefront of a transportation revolution. The recently-formed transportation department has created a strategic plan, developed new parking policies, and moved traffic analysis away from a metric that just encourages more driving. The future is so bright, I swear I've seen the DOT employees all wearing shades. (Streetsblog California)

Just as good as St. Jane?: "Asset-based community development" is the process of creating an inventory of a neighborhood's strengths and organizing them together towards a greater good. Outside money and expertise will not help if the neighborhood is not first organized and aware of its strengths. Arizona State professor Otis White says this kind of approach is just as important to ones proposed by Jane Jacobs. (Otis White)

The perfect intersection: If an intersection is designed correctly, it can become a safe place for all road users. This article lays out 16 wonderful illustrations of ways to do that: there are bump outs, which narrow the streets at pedestrian crossings; speed tables, which raise the crosswalk for motorists to see pedestrians; and bike rails, which allow cyclists to stop at a light and stay on their bike. (Wired)

Quote of the Week

Pulitzer Prize winner Inga Saffron recently wrote about the impact Robert Venturi and Jane Jacobs had on modernist architecture fading in popularity:

At a time when urban renewal was mowing down vast swaths of American cities, Venturi and Jacobs championed the importance of maintaining older buildings. [Venturi] spoke about the "messy vitality," or complexity, that comes from a jumble of styles and urban facades. The phrase echoes Jacobs' "sidewalk ballet" performed by strangers who interacted as they went about their daily business on city streets. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Pedestrians


Three examples of great street design in France

On a recent trip to France, I had my eyes open for smart design. Three cities in particular were full of examples of how to make streets for people rather than cars. Here's what I noticed.


Rue de Trois Cailloux, a pedestrian street in Amiens, France. All photos by the author.

First, a small bit of context: the cities I visited were Amiens, Rouen, and Chartres, three regional capitals in northern France. Amiens and Rouen each have a little over 100,000 people, while Chartres has about 40,000. Here's where they are in relation to the rest of the country:


Image from Google Maps.

1. Amiens

Amiens is a small city known for its soaring Gothic cathedral, which is the tallest completed cathedral in France. The cathedral was built to house a relic—a piece of John the Baptist's skulland was built at such a grand scale to accommodate pilgrims who would come to see it. In Amiens, a large pedestrian street (Rue de Cailloux) cuts through the heart of the city, taking you through rows of trees and water features and past stores, bakeries, banks, and more.

At points, Rue de Cailloux intersects streets carrying car traffic, but the roads narrow so much at these intersections that instead of pedestrians waiting for a break in cars to cross, the cars had to wait for a break in the people walking to drive through.


Intersection of Amiens' pedestrian street with traffic.

When my mom and I arrived, we got stuck in a long line of traffic; I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was because of the significant volume of pedestrians milling across an intersection like the one pictured below.


Cyclists wind down a street in Amiens.

2. Rouen

Rouen is another city known for its beautiful Gothic cathedral, which was painted by Claude Monet. A brief stop in Rouen to see the cathedral also meant stumbling onto a similar street. The Rue de General Leclerc in Rouen runs through the center of town and consists of two designated bus lanes flanked by a lane for pedestrians and cyclists.

Compared to Amiens, this pedestrian- and transit-oriented street wasn't as bustling or green. Tourists seemed confused about where to walk and the few passing bicyclists would swerve into the bus lanes, which are separated by a low gutter rather than a steep curb. But the bus passengers waiting at stops up and down the street showed that the design provides a useful alternative for bus transit compared with the traffic-heavy streets surrounding Rue de General Leclerc.

3. Chartres

Chartres, a suburb about an hour and a half outside of Paris, is a delightful medieval town crowned with yet another awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral at its heart. The cathedral soars above the small medieval town below it, whose buildings are generally only three or fours stories and whose streets are often only just wide enough to accommodate a car.

Ultimately, the grand structure serves to put the human scale of the medieval town center into perspective. And the automated bollard system set up throughout this center limits the presence of cars, meaning you can stroll the streets and ponder that difference of scale in peace.

When cars do appear on the winding, narrow roads of Chartres centre ville, they share the space with pedestrians and cyclists.

Is our region full of towns woven through with small medieval streets? No. But that doesn't mean cities like it can't learn from the scale and prioritization put forth by cities like Amiens, Rouen, and Chartres (plus, Annapolis is pretty close).

Given that the Arlington County Board recently approved pedestrian-only streets, and that such streets in other cities have been reversed due to low pedestrian traffic, these French examples give us good fodder to consider what makes or breaks a street that is not primarily used by cars.

The primary key to a successful pedestrian street, it would seem, is a city that designs streets so that pedestrians feel safe and welcome. As Arlington moves forward with their plan, it will be interesting to see how they implement parallel plans to encourage walking and biking, and therefore the success of their newly approved car-free zones.

Pedestrians


Missing sidewalks? There's an app for that

Something as simple as a missing sidewalk ramp can make an entire block of sidewalk out of reach to someone who can't step up onto a curb. Inaccessible sidewalks are all over DC, and researchers at the University of Maryland created a tool for pointing them out. Now, they just need you to help them do it.


If you use a wheelchair or a walker, how are you supposed to get around here? Image from Google Maps.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires governments to build sidewalks in a way that makes them accessible to everyone. But since the law passed in 1990, many city sidewalks and intersections may not have been redesigned. With no safe way to walk from one place to another, many people simply won't travel on foot, while others may have to take a longer or more dangerous route to get to where they are going.

Project Sidewalk, from the University of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), is a tool that uses Google Streetview to rate whether sidewalks are useable by people who may have difficulty getting around on foot. That includes the elderly, children, and people with disabilities.


Rate this intersection for its accessiblity. Screenshot from author.

When you use the tool, you see a specific intersection in a DC neighborhood, and you rate it as passable, impassable, or somewhere in between. You can dive right into the work and let the program choose a street for you or you can sign up as a user which lets you track your own progress and choose which neighborhoods you want to audit.

Some intersections may be more passable on one side than the other. Other intersections may be technically passable because there's a sidewalk ramp, but an obstacle like a utility pole may block the way. You can also note places where the sidewalk is missing or the surface is so poor that it might as well be impassable.


An okay intersection. Green circles are passable while the pink one is not. Screenshot by author.

With the data that the project collects, the District Department of Transportation or other transportation planners around the world (the goal is to launch in other cities soon, and not just in the US) see where neighborhoods' greatest needs are in terms of being accessible for everyone. That could mean quick, small fixes, where repairing one part of a network would have a big impact.

I have audited two sections so far, each 1,000 feet long. In Spring Valley in DC's northwest quadrant, I audited 1,000 feet of roadway and found 13 passable intersections and 13 impassable intersections thanks to a lack of sidewalk ramps. On Girard Street in Brookland, I found 22 passable intersections, but at least two blocks lacked sidewalks despite having painted crosswalks once you got to an intersection.


Crosswalks but no sidewalks in Brookland. Screenshot by author.

Check out the site and tell us in the comments what sections you audited and what you noticed.

Pedestrians


8 ways to make it easier to walk around North Bethesda... or anywhere, really

The North Bethesda neighborhood of White Flint is in the midst of transition from car-oriented suburb to a vibrant, mixed-use community. But the area still has a ways to go. Here are eight ways to make walking around White Flint safer and easier to walk around that wouldn't require major investments.


Rockville Pike. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Around the Pike District, which is the area of White Flint near the Metro, there are a number of examples of how the built environment doesn't make it easy for people to get around on foot, which is increasingly common. There are six-lane roads with no crosswalks, places where people walk but there's no visible lighting, and crosswalk signals that simply don't turn on unless you hit a button.

These are some simple ways to make the Pike District more inviting to pedestrians:

1. Make it easier to see people who are walking

More lighting for sidewalks and crosswalks, clearly-visible crosswalks, and trimming trees and vegetation on drivers' sight lines would all make it easier for people driving and walking to see one another.

Drivers on Rockville Pike and on many of the major streets in the Pike District area aren't used to people walking alongside them. For decades, a pedestrian in that area was almost as rare as a really great $5 Bordeaux. For the cost of a bucket of paint, cool crosswalks would draw attention to the fact that people now walk in the Pike District. (They'd also add some much needed beauty and pizzazz.)


A decorative crosswalk in Los Angeles. Photo by NACTO on Flickr.

2. Make sure there are crosswalks on all sides at all intersections

When crosswalks are missing from one or more sides of an intersection, it forces people walking to go out of their way to cross in the existing crosswalks.

In reality, many people continue to use the most direct route to cross the intersection, only without the safety of a marked crosswalk and walk signal to alert drivers to their presence.


A missing crosswalk at MD-355 and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Several intersections in the Pike District, where huge residential buildings have recently gone up, are missing crosswalks on one or more sides: Montrose Parkway and Towne (Hoya) Road, Nicholson Lane and MD-355, Grand Park Avenue at Old Georgetown Road, and MD-355 at Edson Lane.

3. Make pedestrian signals automatic

Beg buttons—so called because they require pedestrians to press them in order to receive a walk signal rather than providing one automatically with a green light—make walking more complicated and inconvenient.


Photo by Eric Fischer on Flickr.

Except for the intersection of Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike, all major intersections within the Pike District feature beg buttons in at least one direction.

Rather than actually making it easier to walk places, these buttons often cause confusion among pedestrians. Not realizing they must press the button to receive a walk signal, pedestrians often tire of waiting and cross against the signal, making things less safe for everyone.

While there's a lot that goes into making sure traffic flows smoothly, it costs nothing to flip the switch to make pedestrian signals automatic like they are in nearly every urban area.

4. Add places for people to wait in the median

Rockville Pike is wide: between six and eight lanes throughout the Pike District. For many, this distance can be too far to cover on foot in one light cycle. When that happens, people are stranded on a narrow concrete island between fast moving traffic.


A pedestrian refuge in Silver Spring. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Pedestrian refuges provide a safe place for those who cannot cross the full distance in one turn. On Rockville Pike, they could be implemented in the short term by narrowing traffic lanes slightly at intersections and using that extra room to expand medians.


A tiny, insufficient pedestrian refuge at Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

5. Make signs better

Improve signage so that drivers are more aware that pedestrians will be crossing the street and so that pedestrians know the safer places to cross. Wayfinding signs could be invaluable in directing people to cross where it's safest.

These following three projects are a bit more complicated and they be more expensive than the ones above, but they're doable if officials get started soon.

6. Eliminate slip lanes

Hot rights, or slip lanes, are dedicated right turn lanes at intersections that allow drivers to make the turn at higher speeds by reducing the angle of the turn versus a typical perpendicular intersection. It also allows cars to turn right without stopping, although they do need to yield to cars and pedestrians.


A slip lane at Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Slip lanes make intersections less safe by placing walkers directly in the path of fast-moving cars and increasing the distance they must travel to cross the road.

7. Add mid-block crossings on really long blocks

Mid-block crossings are dedicated pedestrian crosswalks between signalized intersections on very long blocks. A crosswalk at Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike by North Bethesda Market is just one place where a mid-block crosswalk would help.


A mid-block crossing in San Francisco. Photo by Eric Fredericks on Flickr.

8. Fill in missing sidewalks

Several areas of high-pedestrian traffic in the Pike District lack formal sidewalks, and instead have only well-worn dirt paths, or desire paths, that develop from foot traffic. Where there are desire paths, there should be real, paved sidewalks.


Desire path at SE corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Around the Pike District, members of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Friends of White Flint, who teamed up to create the Pike District Pedestrian Safety Campaign, recently put up signs that point out the existing conditions.


Photo by the author.

The signs also invite people who walk in the area to share their own suggestions for making the Pike District more pedestrian-friendly on social media with the hashtag #pikepeds or at pikedistrictpeds.org.

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