Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Market" solutions to traffic congestion.

In today's New York Times there is an interesting article on some solutions being created to ease traffic congestion with private toll-express roads that literally parallel the "free" highways.

What I find interesting about this article is the use of so-called market forces to solve a public service failure. Can we name any money making transportation modes that don't rely on government-funded infrastructure or incentives? Highways? Airlines? Barge traffic? Railways?

Friday, January 06, 2006

"Crosswalk Respect" letter published!

Out letter to the editor of "The Daily Times" was published on Wednesday, January 4. I have checked the paper's website for a link, but they have not posted it. The paper's heading for our letter was "Drivers need to be pedestrian conscious."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Crosswalk Respect

My wife and I have written a letter to the Editor of the Maryville Daily Times in response to a December 26 article about upcoming downtown Maryville crosswalk "enhancements." In summary, the letter asks for an additional emphasis on driver education and awareness about pedestrians to be placed over new signage and line painting. On the other hand, the tone of the Daily Times article indicates that poor pedestrian education and awareness is the problem rather than poor driver education and awareness in a car dominant locale.

If the letter is published, I'll post a reference.

Text of letter below:

Dear Editor,

A hallmark of a great city is its “walkability.” We were encouraged to read your article on December 26, 2005 about the City’s effort to “enhance downtown crosswalks.” While this is a positive step in the City’s recognition of a serious problem in pedestrian safety, which exists in not only the Downtown area but in the rest of the City of Maryville, improvements for pedestrian safety must not overlook the most important facet of pedestrian safety, driver education.

We have seen complete disregard for the laws regarding crosswalks, which state that “if there are pedestrians in the crosswalk or about to enter the crosswalk, [the driver] must wait for them the cross before you proceed” (page 55 of the Tennessee Driver Handbook). We have seen city school buses move through crosswalks by the middle school while we stood at the curb with a baby carriage; we have been honked at when we stop our cars at crosswalks on Lamar Alexander; we have had to flag down drivers to cross the downtown sections of Broadway on foot.

These driver behaviors at crosswalks are both dangerous and show a seeming lack of respect for the law and each other. A traffic study concluded that 95 percent of pedestrians who are hit by a vehicle going as little as 45 mph will die from the collision. Because of driver behavior at crosswalks, pedestrians in Maryville walk in fear for their safety even though laws should secure their safe passage in crosswalks.

In Maryville a pedestrian waits in complete frustration for the rare driver who will stop and allow the pedestrian safe passage in the crosswalk. The pedestrian may feel, as we often do, that pedestrians, whether exercising on the Greenway or walking to the library, are not acknowledged or respected by those in vehicles. To be fair, we do think that much of the driver behavior at crosswalks is less about disrespect and disregard for the law and each other and more about habits that form in a town where more people drive than walk. While people who have spent time in an urban downtown often better appreciate the give-and-take relationships between pedestrians, vehicles, and mass transit, we believe that people who are used to a suburban environment focus more on vehicle-to-vehicle relationships. Maryville drivers need to change their habits.

We call for better driver education and better law enforcement as they relate to pedestrians. Driver educators and license examiners should highlight laws related to pedestrians. Police officers need to demonstrate and enforce laws related to crosswalks. Finally, and most importantly, all drivers in Maryville who read this letter need to stop and yield when they see a pedestrian standing at the edge of a crosswalk. By being an example of a courteous and lawful driver, the reader can help re-form the habits of Maryville drivers.

A successful, vibrant city includes a mix of pedestrian and vehicular activity. Today, Maryville is a good city for drivers but not for pedestrians. The new pedestrian bridge, the Greenway, and a revitalized Downtown are all steps in the right direction for balancing the needs of pedestrians with motorists. Efforts to make sidewalks and crosswalks accessible and improving the streetscape are also positive steps for our city. These concrete improvements illustrate our city’s desire to make the Maryville more than just a parking lot or pass-through road to another destination. Drivers now need to do their part to make our city vibrant by changing driving habits at crosswalks.


Kit and Sumter Tisdale

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Southern Pedestrians, Look Both Ways. Southern Drivers, Read Up On The Law!

From Today's Knoxville News-Sentinel:

Crossing street can get you killed in South
Pedestrian deaths high in Dixie, especially among Hispanics
December 4, 2005
ATLANTA - Eriberta Mota crossed the unlit, four-lane highway with her two little boys so she could call home to Mexico from a nearby business. As the family crossed back with Mota holding her 18-month-old and grasping her 3-year-old's arm, a car hit them, killing the older boy and fracturing the skull of the younger.
This scene played out on a recent evening in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, but such tragedies have become all too common across the South.
Since many Hispanic immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries have limited access to vehicles or public transportation, they walk where they need to go. At the same time, pedestrian infrastructure in the South is often lacking, officials say.
The result has been deadly, with Hispanics accounting for the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities across most of the region.
"You end up on the road because there's no side of the road you can walk on," said Stephanie Bohon, a University of Georgia demographer who studies immigrant issues. "These people are walking under hazardous conditions. They know they're taking a risk, but they haven't many other options."
In Georgia, it is estimated that nearly 80 percent of non-Hispanics drive to work, but only 34 percent to 58 percent of Hispanics do, Bohon said. Standing in the way for many are immigration-related issues, such as the difficulty of getting a driver's license, but also a more basic issue - poverty.
"It's more of a socioeconomic issue and lack of planning than a Latino issue," said Jerry Gonzalez, spokesman for the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
While that may be true, Hispanics are disproportionately victims across the South. They die in pedestrian-vehicle accidents at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group in every Southern state except Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, where only blacks die at a higher rate, according to 2002 data reported by states to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The highest pedestrian fatality rates for Hispanics were in Mississippi with 4.72 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 Hispanics, Alabama with 4.71 per 100,000 and South Carolina with 4.62 per 100,000.
Nearly two out of every five pedestrian-vehicle deaths in the United States occur in the South.
Critics blame poor urban planning. As Southern cities and suburbs expanded rapidly in recent decades, planners have focused more on resolving traffic congestion and other growth issues than ensuring pedestrian safety, said Sally Flocks, president of Atlanta-based Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety.
"Northern cities are better designed for pedestrians because most boomed before vehicles became the main mode of transportation. That didn't happen in the South until after cars became dominant. Sidewalks then became an afterthought," Flocks said.
Experts say Hispanics are struck by vehicles at a higher rate because they tend to walk more than other demographic groups. Another factor is car culture. In Mexico and other countries where people have emigrated from, most communities are not built around traffic patterns like they are in the United States, so they aren't fully aware of the rules of the road.
Advocacy groups and government agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have distributed brochures, flyers, posters and radio public service announcements in Spanish aimed at educating Hispanic immigrants on U.S. pedestrian traffic rules.
Copyright 2005, KnoxNews. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mama, can we walk to the new Wal-Mart?

I apologize for the absence of posts this past month as I have been working on some major deadlines at work and at church Vestry.

And it has been quite an exciting time from this blog's perspective: gas prices have made their climb as a result of Katrina and Wal-Mart is coming to Maryville!

I still see the big cars and trucks whizz past my house every day and wonder when some of these people will start to get the picture. I will include myself in that category as I drive 60 miles roundtrip to work every day in a vehicle that gets 21 or so miles to the gallon. Fortunately I only work four days a week(10 hrs/day) and some of us are now talking about carpooling. I don't think everyone out here in Blount County has that option. I work at a place that has several thousand employees and the probability of car and van pool start-ups is high. The guy/gal who works at a small business won't have that option because 1) fewer employees to can't spread the benefit and 2) the low-density office space we have built over the years makes central drop-off/pick-up points impractical. When will it be when "hoofing it" or "thumbing it" will be more cost effective? But what good is it if the grocery store is 10 miles away in a strip center?

Speaking of strip centers, the local press last week gleefully announced the arrival of Wal-Mart to the City of Maryville. The structure is supposed to conform to Maryville design guidelines which means that it won't look like the one in Alcoa. Changing the facade is great but it is what it is, a facade. Is it reducing our dependence on getting in a car to do everything? No. Is it bolstering the local economy? No, it all goes to Bentonville(this argument has always fallen on deaf ears). Will it be a worthy, stately structure in 30 years? No, it will have worn out to be a cement pad wasteland. Will the prices be the lowest? No, once fuel prices catch up to their logistics network and suppliers, Wal-Mart will have to raise their prices accordingly.

In fact, Wal-Mart's distribution model is based on cheap fuel. Can those $15 UT orange lounge chairs make it all the way from Ghangzou, China when the price of fuel has effectively doubled and still cost $15? Our reliance on Wal-Mart as a low cost outlet to maintain our lifestyles is in question. Are there local businesses to take up the slack? A generation has about passed us by when people once knew something about being a local shopkeeper. Wal-Mart is not the only one in this category; we know the names of the other "big boxes".

I have refrained from writing about James Howard Kunstler's newest book, The Long Emergency, for several months mainly because the book depressed me deeply about the future of our nation. My comments above reflect some of that sentiment. The book has little positive to say, but I think the author is exasperated for good reason. Out nation needs to be shocked or beaten to change its directions on some things; otherwise we continue do what we want as individuals and to hell with what others say or think. He expounds on the pain that will ensue with the lack of affordable petroleum, and the only positive outcome he mentions is that we be forced to learn to become better neighbors-at many levels.

I hate to see suffering, but I do want to be a better neighbor. Read the book and it will provoke some thought.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Coming Speed Hump Scourge

The Daily Times had an article yesterday that warned speeders to beware of speed humps that may be cropping up across Blount County. Here we go with with one of the more short-sighted, quick-fix solutions to dealing with traffic problems in the area.

I live on the corner of a very busy street and a neighborhood "cut-through" that commuters heading home to the ever-sprawling Montvale area regard as their personal drag strip that gets them home ten seconds sooner. Nothing would delight me more than to somehow slow these people down. Folks in our neighborhood get the "finger" when they call out to cars to slow it down. (See my other posts on road rage; I don't make this stuff up).

The installation of speed humps would certainly slow traffic down, but at the expense of discomfort to drivers at lawful speeds, cyclists, and pedestrians(Waller Ave has no sidewalks-another issue). These things aren't exactly monuments of civic pride; they're ugly. Their attractiveness lies in their low cost and quick installation.

Other traffic calming alternatives include sidewalks, islands, traffic circles, chicanes(landscaped areas that jut out into the street), monuments, etc. These alternatives mainly slow vehicles down by creating obstacles that prevent the driver from reaching high speeds, and perform some functions that benefit the neighborhood and its inhanitants in other ways. Sidewalks give pedestrians access to a pleasant walking experience and traffic circles provide areas for more tree cover and common space. In other words, beauty is brought into the equation. The more sought after vacation destinations are cities that are dense and orderly in appearance, and the better traffic calming measures can provide some of that structure to make our own town attractive and sought-after. Speed humps, on the other hand, remind me of the barricaded mazes at the entrance to the Green Zone in Baghdad that prevent car bombers from getting too close to the compound. I don't care to emulate that ambience. Do you?

Again, the alternatives may cost more but the reputation of Maryville's livability is further harmed by making hasty decisions to install solutions such as speed humps. Conceivably, the whole city could be "humped" if we all separately demanded that our street get this treatment. The baby would then be out with the bath water.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Rules of the Road

Kate(our dog) and I went on a long walk Friday evening through downtown Maryville with the new Blount County Library pedestrian bridge construction as the highlight. The missing link in the usefulness of our already very accomodating library will be completed hopefully soon.

On the way back home via Broadway, Kate and I decided to cross Broadway at the Harper Ave intersection. I pressed the button on the lightpost to indicate that I wanted to cross the street. Once the light changed and the pedestrian signal changed to "WALK", Kate and I stepped off the curb to cross Broadway. We were then suddenly stopped in our tracks because a woman in her car decided that the pedestrian "WALK" signal didn't mean anything and proceeded to turn right onto Broadway and ignored the fact that a pedestrian was crossing Broadway at the same time. She saw me press the button and was looked right into my eyes as she made the turn, so I can't say that she didn't see us. Was she drunk, careless, ignorant of the law, or just spiteful of the fact that a pedestrian was in the way of her trip over to the nail salon?

The law is fairly obvious about yielding the right-of-way to pedestrians if you read chapter 9, page 59 of your Tennessee Driver Handbook. I don't mean to single this woman out as we all have broken traffic laws at some point or another. However, this incident is just another personal example of the car dominant culture in this area. I have seen police cruisers not yield to pedestrians at crosswalks in this City on several ocassions, and my wife has seen a school bus(!) roar on through a crosswalk as she was about to cross.

This tells me a couple of things--we obviously have forgotten that people still actually walk around town and don't have respect from the people that are paid to protect us from the drivers that break the laws.