Dangerous crossing

This is North Clinton Street at Grove Street here in Fort Wayne. It’s a bit north of downtown, so the lack of pedestrian safety is unfortunately a given.

This intersection is close to a large number of apartments, down Grove to the left, and the last I heard, many new immigrants are placed there. I would guess a new immigrant living in an apartment would be more likely to want to use Citilink buses, especially since so many other cultures are more acclimated to using public transportation than the U.S.

But think about being a pedestrian trying to cross this five-lane road. I estimate it’s about 75 feet across. I have sometimes seen people standing in the center turn-left-both-ways lane, waiting to cross the next two lanes. It’s a natural place to want to stand, but it’s quite dangerous, since it’s a real lane used by vehicles.

Medians are used to good effect on Main Street downtown. Can’t we extend the hospitality to other areas of the city? These can’t be that expensive:

It’s a midblock median island, and something similar would be helpful to the real and perceived safety of pedestrians in the area trying to catch the bus. It seems placing one in the center lane just to the north of Grove Street would help pedestrians immensely without affecting traffic much at all.

But two other problems make this stretch hazardous for pedestrians. First, the sidewalks are rather narrow. Second, have you noticed how easy it is to go above the 35 mph speed limit in this stretch? That’s because the expressway width of the road makes even 50 mph feels safe.

Taking away a foot of roadway on both sides and giving that space to pedestrians or bike lanes would give motorists visual clues that would help keep speeds closer to the posted limit.

Are there other areas in town that could use a little love for pedestrians?

— bottom photo by Richard Drdul on Flickr

Will Harrison Square hate pedestrians?

Will the Harrison Square retail development in downtown Fort Wayne make pedestrians more or less welcome? And why would I ask the question, seeing as how there are so many pedestrians drawn on the architectural renderings?

But there’s a potential problem with the above streetscape, and David Sucher’s Three Rules for urban design (PDF) addresses it directly. Allow me to quote from his book, “City Comforts“:

If the problem is to create a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, much of the answer is architectural. Actually, it is not so much “architectural” in the usual sense of the word, for it ignores style. Site plan trumps architecture. …

The key decision is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk. This decision determines whether you have a city or a suburb.

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Now, at first, it may seem that Harrison Square meets the conditions. It will be built to the sidewalk, the front will not be bare walls, and obviously there’ll be no parking lot in front.

But take another look at the streetscape above. The retail establishments are not at street level; they are maybe five feet above street level, separated from the street and sidewalk by seven steps and a brick wall.

Now, imagine walking by the retail stores. You would not be eye level with the stores. You’d be ankle level. And when you drive down Jefferson Boulevard, you’ll have the same problem of not being able to see directly into the stores. This elevation of the retail establishments reduces the building’s “permeability” — not completely, but partially.

Another interesting wrinkle is that the rendering above seems to show on-street parking on Jefferson, which would require reducing Jefferson’s four lanes to three. Is that really part of the plan? I hope so, because if not, that small sidewalk with a wall on one side and heavy traffic on the other will not feel so friendly to the pedestrian, trees or no trees.

But here’s the clincher: If you are handicapped, how do you enter the stores?

Well, if you have the misfortune of approaching Harrison Square from the west, you’ll have to travel an entire city block to find a ramp that allows you access to the stores.

Now, before my criticism gets criticized for being too, well, pedestrian, please remember that these details matter. City residents will not approach Harrison Square from the air, as in the virtual fly-throughs. We will approach it on foot. And the way we interact with the building as pedestrians is the only way we’ll ever know.

I know that renderings are only plans, and are subject to change. But since construction of the stadium has been underway for some time, bringing the first floor of Harrison Square down to street level is probably out of the question.

— images from the city of Fort Wayne Web site

The 12 traits of a walkable community

What makes a walkable community? Dan Burden gives us the 12 most important things to rate when searching for a Walkable Community. Note how they apply so well to smaller towns:

1. Intact town centers. This center includes a quiet, pleasant main street with a hearty, healthy set of stores.

2. Residential densities, mixed income, mixed use. Near the town center, and in a large town at appropriate transit locations there will be true neighborhoods.

3. Public Space. There are many places for people to assemble, play and associate with others within their neighborhood.

Read all 12 at the Walkable Communities Web site.

— photo via stock.xchng

Creating a pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown

That’s the title of a promising event May 7 at the downtown Cinema Center.

Dan Burden, executive director of Walkable Communities, will be leading an event that hopes to answer these questions:

What are the elements that make up a pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown? Learn what Fort Wayne can do to make our downtown more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. What are other successful communities doing? What are your questions?

Fore more information, check out The Good City’s new events page. When I find out more about what will actually happen at the event — Is it a presentation? A charrette? Very few details are on the city’s press release — I’ll post the information.