Sunday, March 25, 2012

More recognition for Raleigh's pedestrian enthusiast

Matt Tomasulo, who instigated a creative way to highlight pedestrian issues in Raleigh, makes the big time. Bigger than the BBC? Well maybe not. But this planning-landscape architecture graduate student at N.C. State University is the (Raleigh) News & Observer's Tar Heel of the Week. I first wrote about Tomasulo on Feb. 6, inviting similar guerrilla urbanism in Charlotte. So far, I've heard of none.

However, what's has happened here has been a tragic string of pedestrian deaths, including two children on a section of West Tyvola Road that lacks sidewalks, and a Garinger High School student at an intersection at Eastway and Sugar Creek roads that lacks any crosswalks or pedestrian lights. I'll write more about that one later, but it's worth pointing out that the deaths at Garinger and on South Tryon Street were on state-maintained and state-designed thoroughfares, and the injury of a Butler High School student was in the town of Matthews.

All those deaths and injuries, including others that don't get much media attention, point to how complicated it is to encourage people in Charlotte to walk more and drive less – for reasons that include health, obesity-reduction, air pollution and saving gas money in household budgets.

We lack sidewalks, of course. But many streets that have sidewalks don't have safe and convenient street crossings, even where bus stops are heavily used or outside places like high schools where people are routinely walking. Another example of that is Wendover Road behind the rear entrance to Myers Park High School.

Drivers are so unused to seeing pedestrians they're often oblivious, and pedestrians have to be extraordinarily careful. I have personal experience with this one. Some drivers are aghast when you make them realize they nearly mowed you down. Others are mad you're there at all and get hostile, apparently unaware state law gives pedestrians in crosswalks the right of way.

In other words, making life safer and more comfortable for pedestrians means using a lot of tools: more sidewalks, more and safer crossings and more driver and pedestrian education.