This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
One piece of a transit-friendly city that is often neglected is the experience of walking. Shifting from a world of driving to a world of public transportation usually includes more foot travel. This can be an enjoyable leg (heh) of a journey or a drawn out burden depending on many factors from storefronts to weather to incline. The issue I’d like to focus on here is the interface between foot traffic and car traffic.
A bit over a year ago I left a job across the water for a job in Seattle. Something I’ve noticed since more often becoming a pedestrian is how car-centric our city is. Other than a small handful of areas that value people – the Pike Street Market area being the only one that springs to mind – intersections seem to be designed to let the most cars through as quickly as possible.
Let’s take a few examples. Walk to 6th between Union and University. Someone’s gone through the trouble of installing a mid-block crosswalk and light for the high amount foot traffic coming from a hotel. Great. But when you push the button, you’ll find that you can stand there for a good 2 minutes before it will give you a walk signal – even if there are no cars. Walk a half block south. That intersection is just as cruel – rarely backed up with cars, but always backed up with people. Walk another block south – here’s a crosswalk most try to avoid, as it’s an offramp from a freeway and if you want to cross you’d better have a book handy.
This post isn’t just about my pet-peeve intersections – there are many. It’s the planning that sits behind it. Clearly somone put thought into intersection rules, and have decided that cars should have priority. What would our city be like if the bias went the other way?
If I were king, here’s how I’d run things. If you push a button, the light immediately turns yellow, then red, and the little green walking man appears. To keep things fair, this won’t happen again in this direction for another 2 minutes no matter how often you press the button. I’d make high-ped-traffic areas completely car free. I’d banish high-volume streets to the outskirts of the city. I’d add pedestrian and bike overpasses near freeway on/off ramps – if I was feeling nice and allowing them at all.
We may spend millions of dollars on making our transit systems a few minutes faster, just to have to wait for cars once we step off the train. I know the drivers out there will feel this is unfair, but then they’re in warm weather-proof pods and are probably too distracted with their coffee and radio to notice anyway.