Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bad design kills

The Huffington Post reports, "Grieving Mother Faces 36 Months In Jail For Jaywalking After Son Is Killed By Hit-And-Run Driver," about a tragic story in Marietta, Georgia, about how a mother (Raquel Nelson) whose child was hit by a car and died while crossing the street after getting off a bus is being charged with jaywalking and could serve more time in jail than the possibly drunk driver who committed the hit and run and who later spent months in jail for the death.

From the article:

Nelson had taken her children with her to shop for groceries and supplies for her upcoming birthday party. The working mother and college student regularly took public transportation, but she and her kids missed their intended bus that night, putting them an hour behind schedule. The bus they caught pulled up to their stop after nightfall, and Nelson stepped off, clutching her kids' hands through the shopping bags wrapped around her wrists. Nelson's apartment complex sits across the street from the bus stop, but the nearest crosswalk is three-tenths of a mile away. So Nelson did what everyone who uses that bus stop does, and what the other disembarking passengers all did that night: She crossed one side of the divided highway to the median, where she waited for a break in the traffic.

Three tenths of a mile is 1,584 feet. In DC that would be a little less than four blocks in distance. The round trip then from the bus stop to the intersection and back to the apartment complex would be 8 blocks. Imagine making that trip with young children, when you're tired, etc.

The problem here is in large part one of design, that the bus doesn't stop at a crosswalk, or that a mid-block crosswalk hasn't been put in a location of high demand.

As it says in the State of Maryland Bike and Ped Design Guidelines section on roadway crossing design:

The locations of bus stops and marked crosswalks should be coordinated. ... Convenience: Crosswalks should be located to provide the most direct connection between destinations.

A couple of years ago, when discussing a similar kind of death in Florida, when a teenager was running across traffic in order to reach the bus before it left, the then director of the Baltimore County Office of Planning made the point that given often infrequent bus service, people will take risks to get to the bus, in order to not have to wait. He was a lot more empathetic than I expected him to be, but these are the kinds of issues that ought to be addressed in considering these problems.

As said on the SF Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission website:

Pedestrians are unlikely to walk to an intersection if it is a block or more away from the bus stop. Therefore, it is important to provide pedestrian crossings at bus stops, especially if there are pedestrian generators across the street.

Raquel Nelson could well be going to jail because of design failures committed by the local transit system and local and state highway departments.

But given that the Georgia DOT refers to sidewalks as "accident recovery zones" where drivers of out of control cars have the space to get their bearings, this shouldn't be seen as a surprise.

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