Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to get Americans walking again

Uptown Charlotte, one of the city's few walkable areas
Yes, we in Charlotte are geeky enough that it's exciting when the mighty BBC takes note of North Carolina. And the WalkRaleigh campaign that I wrote about Feb. 6 in "Guerrilla wayfinding and the Charlotte dilemma" has hit the big-time, so to speak.

Asking, "How to get America to walk?" the BBC's piece on Raleigh features WalkRaleigh's Matt Tomasulo, who was behind what he calls a "self-motivated and unsanctioned" posting of signs telling passers-by how many minutes it takes to walk places in Raleigh. Note, too, that in the video Raleigh's chief planning officer, Mitchell Silver, appears disinclined to call in the sign police to take down the signs. [Update: Silver reported via Twitter that the signs came down Wednesday. He is in charge of zoning enforcement, he said. He talked first with Tomasulo and they are working on a longer-term strategy to make the signs either a pilot project or permanent, Silver said.]

But maybe the best snippets are from the jogging stroller exercise class, where women with children work out, in a gym, with their strollers because they can't, or don't, actually take the strollers out for exercise or a walk. In one great visual, a woman points to a sidewalk that ends abruptly, keeping her from walking to a nearby grocery store.

All of which leads to a question I keep bugging my friends and colleagues with: Why isn't there a pedestrian advocacy group in Charlotte to do what the bicycle advocates have been doing so effectively? Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance (aka was founded in 1997 and has successfully raised the profile of bicycling.  Is this bicycle nirvana? Of course not. But CABA has worked diligently to be at the table for policy discussions, and has clearly made a difference. So where's the pedestrian counterpart?

Yes, the Charlotte Department of Transportation did hire a pedestrian planner a few years back, to its credit. But where are the people who'll hound CDOT about cracked sidewalks and ankle-threatening potholes? Where are the people pushing, pushing, pushing for motorist- and pedestrian-safety campaigns, for more crosswalks and more pedestrian lights and for those pedestrian push-button signals to react sooner than 5 minutes (or so it often seems) after you push them?

(Related news: On Wednesday two young children were killed when they were hit by a truck as they walked with their father to a day care center. They were on a stretch of West Tyvola Road that lacks sidewalks and has narrow shoulders.)  

I know plenty of people who care about pedestrian issues, not least of whom is the city's pedestrian planner, Malisa Mccreedy. But city staff can't be the effective advocacy group that Charlotte needs. How about a Walk Charlotte? Somebody?


John Clark/Dialectic Voyeur said...

Great question and good points, Mary. Your post, however, brought to mind how badly I felt after reading about the death of the man uptown who was hit by a large truck making a turn onto Church Street. The tragic incident was made ever more so by the senseless quality of it. Another reason for increased, organized advocacy group for walkers and potential walkers. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

People might actually walk if Charlotte drivers wouldn't try to run them over. Even in pedestrian friendly areas Uptown, drivers don't follow simple traffic rules and I almost get hit on a weekly basis.

A fellow planner

Smedette said...

When I first moved to Charlotte, I inquired how to get sidewalks in my neighborhood. I then approached my neighbors with the requisite petitions and they all looked at me like I was nuts.

"Sidewalks?! But why? Where would we walk to?"

All attempts to change anything for the better in my neighborhood have been met with the same resistance. That was three years ago and sadly, I've just given up. I know it's apathetic and pessimistic, but I do not see pedestrian life ever improving in this city.

Steve Copulsky said...

With limited funds, I'd prefer focusing on continuing to develop our greenway trail system. Our greenways are very popular and we've got a detailed greenway plan. Let's get it done!

Jumper said...

I called the city about the mess Global Recycling makes on N. Tryon Street. For some reason tons of soil get pushed out into the street to the point of covering existing sidewalk. The other side has no sidewalk per se, just a rut between driveway entrances. Meaning pedestrians must walk in mud either side. Lots of bus passengers embark and debark along there. I told the woman at 311 several issues: blocking traffic, all that soil clogging storm drains, the fact that metal recycling builds up toxic metals and it all was going into Sugar Creek, and said I had no idea if they were buying any stolen copper, etc. But if a construction site was putting that much soil onto the streets the city would make them change their procedures; yet Global Recycling goes on and on, unlike construction which eventually concludes in any one location.
The woman became annoyed at all my complaints.

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