Walking Outside the Lines

By C.J. Barbre

There is a National Center for Bicycling & Walking in Washington, D.C. Scott Cochran, transportation planner with TCAG (Tulare County Association of Governments), introduced two members of bikewalk, as it refers to itself, at the TCAG-sponsored workshop for &#8220Creating Walkable Communities.”

Bikewalk’s Mark Plotz explained a little about the center before the PowerPoint presentation by his compatriot, Bob Chauncey, Ph.D.

He mentioned several reasons for the workshops including pedestrian safety; economic development – making sure people can get around on foot in the business district; health – better air quality and battling obesity.

Next, attendees were given the opportunity to tell their interest in participating in the workshop.

It was a good cross-section with representatives for children’s interests, the elderly, the handicapped, beautification; public safety; recreation and economic development.

Lindsay City Service Director Mike Camarena, a longtime bicycle commuter from Porterville, noted that Lindsay already has one of the highest pedestrian uses in the county. Community Development Department Manager Diane Bucaroff observed that Lindsay has many one-car families causing stay-at-home moms to walk their children to school, a good thing. Mayor Pro Tem Pam Kimball noted that Lindsay is already a safe place to walk, a message that needs to be &#8220enhanced.”

&#8220I think basically that most older neighborhoods I’m attracted to have inviting tree-lined streets. I feel we kind of missed the boat for a number of years with wider streets,” said Lindsay City Manager Scot Townsend.

It was noted that Lindsay already has several walking programs, trails or paths in the works but they have not yet come to fruition.

Health factors vis a vis vehicles

“You may know why we want to build walkable communities, but we want to give you the ammo,” Chauncey said, He is bikewalk’s director for policy annalysis. He stared with the obvious, the health factor. “Those of us who depend on our cars tend to weigh more, not just us but our kids,” he said dopomatically, being a very fit lookin ggrandfather. He spoke of building “heart healthy” communities. He said teh percentage of obesity in children ages 6-11 has tripled in the last 30 years.

“Years ago you never saw kids showing up for soccer with asthma inhalers. We don’t have any free range kids anymore.” Chauncey recommeded reading Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficti Disorder. Patents should check it out at Amazon.com. You can now turn the pages and browse the book. “Nature is a potent therapy for depresion, obestiy and ADD. Environment-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores and grade pont averages and develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking and decision making,” the books states.

“Our kids may no live as long as we do and our grand kids less long,” Chanucey said. He said about 15% of the children in Tulare County have asthma. Recent (2003) surveys have it at 10.5%-14% according to a story in the Times-Delta. The national average is 8%. Asthma can be lethal. Chauncey said most of the air pollution is from autmobiles and children living next to freeways are 50% more likely to get asthma.

Economic factors vis a vis vehicles

It cost a lot to drive a car. It takes a lot of money to take utilites to the outlying areas. Pakring lots take up a lot of space that is not genrating sales tax revenue. It costs more than $13 billion per year for California school buses. Houses in walkable communiteis are worht more, and more still if they are near trails. We kill 50% more peoole on the highway than with homicides. Chauncey cited all tehse facts and asked rhetorically, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had transporation system that killed fewer us?”He said a car dependetn society disenfranchises people. “Don’t we owe transportation to everyone? I want a transportation system so I don’t just sit home waiting to die,” he said, alluding to his age once again. A lot of seniors definitely find as theri physical skills and income decrease, the cost and safety factors of operating a motor vehicel become prohibitive. And Amercian society is aging dramatically.

Chauncey noted that Lindsay has a lot of wide streets. “You really want people to drive at 20 miles per hour, not 40 through your town,” he said. lindsay Vice Mayor Kimball, who serves on the TCG Committee on behalf of Lindsay,had said pretty much the same thing before the city raised a number of speed limits around town per a traffice enginner’s sudy. Chauncey showed a street sign has the speed limit at 17 mph. He sugested 21.6 mph just to get people’s attention. “It doesn’t  have to end in zeros or fives,” he said.

Chauncey noticed that traffice in Exeter can be hetic in the downtown area. On example was a five-way stop at teh intersection of Pine, C and Pocky Hill. While it wasn’t  a problem now, Chauncey said he foresaw some congestin issues at teh intersection and suggested either a roundabout or simply eliminating “one leg” by closing off Rocky Hill or C Street near the Joyner Park.

“You need to make traffice behave and make it do what you want it to do,” he said.

The boldest and at the same time most obvious idea once presented was reverse angle parkng. This where cars back into a space instead of driving in forward. The advantages are blantantly obvious. You are still controlling traffic, causing the person behind you to stop if you are back in. And when you pull out, your vision is not blocked by the SUV on the right and the full-size pickup on the lfet. It should be done immediately at places like the Olivewood Shopping Center, where there are no pedstrian controls of speak of. By backing in at an angel, not straing like the parking space are presently marked in front of Lindsay’s Save Mart, you also don’t have to stand out in traffic toput your groceries in teh truck. In fact why not make it  a one way loop, with people driving in at the east exit and driving at the east exit and driving our at the west exit. What a concept.

Another concept was truning four-lane streets like Mirage Avenue, into two-lane streets with a turn lane in the center and bike lanes on either side, another simple and effective concept. There would still be room for curbside parking.

Walkable communities

This was followed by beautiful photos of walkable commuitie. Many has residents living above storefronts. Thses were balanced with the “before” photos of a senior having to use her walker in the street because the sidewalk was too damaged, and young mothers likewise pushing baby strollers in the street. There was suburbia with an SUV inevery driveway in front of the house- “where the cars live,” versus tree-lined residential neighborhoods with old fashioned alleyways and parking in back “where it belongs.”

Chauncey said the prescripiton for walkable communities was wide sidewalks that are well maintaned, lined with shade trees that also serve as a buffer to the street. He pointed our that communitites need destinations places to go; pedestrian-scale lighing and bences; street furniture such as seat-high palnter; shops that welcome you; maps for strangers to ge around; a grid pattern; short blocks; paseos for better access; public restrooms and signage.

“Note what you are particularly proud of,” he said. He lauded the mural in Lindsay and Exeter. “Keep doing it.”

All walkable communities need green space. “Remember the kids when you build your park.” He showed a photo of a wonderful playgorund slide shpaed like a Raido Flyer red wago. He also had photos of various outdoor art, all enticing. Functional art included a bicycle rack shaped like a bicycle.

Lindsay and Exeter scored relatively high. Lindsay already has flashinglighted crosswalks by the schools. Sidewalks around town are being reparired, starting with the neediest areas where no sidewalk previously exsited on the north and south side rather than in the business district or better neghborhoods as so frequently happens. It has been planning for a walkable community for the last several years, but these things take time.

“We are doing alot of things right,” Exeter City Planner Greg Collins said. “They did mention tring to convert morealleys into paseos, similare to what has been done behind Mixter Park.”

Exeter already has done facade improvements to most of the downtown’s core are, turned the catastrophic destruciton of Mixter Pharmancy into a beautiful park and secured funding for a bike lane throughout the town. Traffic has been slwoed due to the mural program and the city is in the process of placing a tree-lined median on Palm Street and adding bulb-outs, where the sidewalk juts out with planters and flower beds at intersection, toslow down traffice and reduce the distance pedestrians have to travel across teh street. Chauncey also suggested ahving more residential areas withing walking distance of downtown.

“You want your town to have something unique. Whatever it is,build it,” Chauncey said. “You want to retain your city’s  rurla character, not have it surrouned by strip malls. You have started to do a lot of things.”

Chauncey observed Lindsay’s penchant for getting grant funing but cautioned that, “it is not an issue of money. It is an is of priority.”

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