Bicycle and Pedestrian Design
Automobile-centric transportation systems have left a significant portion of California’s diverse population at a disadvantage. In 2003, 37% of the state’s residents did not have a driver’s license — placing California 45th among states for its low percentage of drivers (http://www.statemaster.com/graph/trn_lic_dri_tot_num_percap-drivers-total-number-per-capita)
As gasoline becomes ever more costly and commute times more lengthy, Americans yearn for more and better alternative transportation options. A 2003 study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project found that fifty-five percent of Americans would prefer to walk more for transportation(1). The study also found that sixty-eight to eighty-six percent of Americans wanted government to devote more transportation budget monies to making pedestrianism safer and easier.
Federal, state and local governments are taking an active role in creating a more balanced transportation system. The U.S. Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation and the California Assembly have adopted policy language that recognizes the importance of accommodating bicycling and walking infrastructure in transportation projects(2).
An integral step in encouraging people to walk and ride bicycles is that of retrofitting and building “complete streets.” Complete streets are streets that “are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street.”
However, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and street furniture are not enough to create truly walkable and bicycle-and transit-friendly communities. Destinations must be accessible at reasonable distances via safe, pleasant routes if people are to choose walking or biking over driving. Residents of neighborhoods where stores, schools and homes are within walking or cycling distance of each other make trips by foot almost twice as often as those in sprawling areas(3). Every time a neighborhood doubles in compactness, residents make 20% - 30% fewer trips by vehicle — and more by walking(4). This translates into less local and regional traffic congestion, noise and smog, as well as more active and healthy children and adults: making one or two extra trips on foot each week can burn the caloric equivalent of nearly two pounds per year(5). Routine, moderate physical activity, such as bicycling or walking to work or school several days a week, helps reduce our risk of obesity — a national health problem of epidemic proportions.
Traffic calming — road design strategies that reduce vehicle speeds and volume — contributes to walkability by encouraging slower traffic speeds, increasing pedestrian safety, lowering the prevalence of crime and increasing property values. Traffic calming strategies — such as roundabouts, chicanes, bulb-outs, and raised crosswalks — have been used throughout Europe and North America to calm traffic and create streets that work for cars, bicycles and pedestrians. These strategies are also being used to design or retrofit Safe Routes to School for youth.
Pedestrians are an indicator species of healthy, livable communities. Creating places for people, not just cars, benefits everyone by strengthening local economies, providing clean transportation options, and strengthening the social fabric of the community.