“The only way to solve the traffic problems of the country is to pass a law that only paid-for cars are allowed to use the highways. That would make traffic so scarce, we could use our boulevards for children’s playgrounds.”
— Will Rogers, humorist and social commentator, 1879-1935
In too many American cities, the thoroughfares are designed exclusively for cars and trucks.
Walking and bicycling are viewed as alien means of locomotion and are roundly discouraged. In fact, they can be downright dangerous.
One example that sticks in my mind is from our sojourn in Mobile, Ala., during a transcontinental bicycle journey last fall. We were stuck in Mobile as we waited for Tropical Storm Ida to slosh through Mobile Bay.
I and fellow rider Derrik Maude of England were on the cooking rotation during our rest day, and we had to shop for the ingredients to make sandwiches for lunch on the road for the next day’s 65-mile ride to Gulf Shores.
Our motel was on the west side of Interstate 65. The closest place to buy groceries was a Walmart on the east side of the interstate — not far away as the pelican flies.
But in pedestrian-unfriendly America, the shopping trip meant hiking about a half-mile along the interstate service road in a blustery rain, crossing the interstate on a very busy overpass with a sign that said “Pedestrians and bicycles prohibited” and then walking to the Walmart through acres of puddled parking lots that catered to the same big-box stores you see all over America.
A shopping trip that would have taken a half-hour if we had a car took more than two hours on foot.
This may be an extreme example because of the looming presence of an interstate, which discourages walking and biking like no other thoroughfare. But many streets in major U.S. cities suffer the same affliction: no concessions whatsoever to anyone who wants to move about by means other than a car.
“The streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities,” the coalition says on its website.
“They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. But too many of our streets are designed only for speeding cars, or worse, creeping traffic jams.”
Complete Streets is spearheading a movement across the country to urge local planners and engineers “to build road networks that are safer, more livable, and welcoming to everyone.”
A good example of “guerrilla” action to further this aim in Dallas-Fort Worth was carried out by Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood earlier this month.
Called “The Better Block” project, the folks in Oak Cliff chose the weekend of April 10-11 to transform two blocks of North Tyler Street between West Seventh and Eighth streets.
“Armed with about a thousand dollars and some ingenuity, they significantly narrowed the street to slow car traffic speeds, created a protected bike lane buffered from traffic by parking and striping, opened some temporary shops in vacant storefronts, set up sidewalk cafes, and more,” said the Fort Worth blog Fort Worthology. “The end result was a street that was massively more pleasant to be on.”
The blog noted that the project was also good for business: A neighborhood book store, Cliff Notes, reported its best sales day ever on the first day of the event.
The alternative weekly Dallas Observer noted in its blog April 20 that Oak Cliff’s Better Block experiment already is reverberating nationally. A presentation on the project will be made at the 18th annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism May 19-22 in Atlanta.
Here are a couple of videos describing Oak Cliff’s “Better Block” project: