A pedestrian is struck every other day in the City of St. Paul.
To the city's credit, unlike many places, St. Paul understands this is a problem. Local police have launched a year-long campaign called Stop for Me that increases enforcement of drivers not yielding to pedestrians and the running red lights. Chuck Marohn will be speaking in St. Paul next week in conjunction with this very campaign. The City has also launched a program based on Gil Penalosa's ideas called 8-80 Initiative.
These programs are a good step forward, but I feel they will fall short unless they are eventually accompanied by infrastructure changes. While they acknowledge the problem, they often don't go beyond a kind gesture, such as a local county's Step To It program.
Notably, a mother and daughter were killed outside of the Minnesota History Center, the exact location where Strong Towns will be hosting a Curbside Chat early next month. It is an area scarred by the follies of urban renewal and Interstate 94. The remains are primarily a collection of important buildings, big parking lots, bigger roads, and the "green space" between interstate entrance ramps:
Getting even modest pedestrian improvements can be an uphill battle. We have a design bias and process that is inherently unfriendly to pedestrians and bicycles. While we've made great strides in the last decade, it's still a constant battle against the norm.
The default design is auto-based. That's the starting point for most places. As a result, even the most modest tweaks can spark outrage. Want to reorient your downtown's one-way streets? Want pedestrian bump-outs to limit crossing distance and slow down turning vehicles? Want to remove an unnecessary turn lane? Or add a bike lane? Or remove 1 off-street parking space? All of these require more advocacy than they should.
In the long run, we need to design our streets to a lower speed. This takes time, and, in the interim, I think St. Paul is making strides forward. To do this, we should follow the advice of Jeff Speck, who recently wrote in City Lab, that we should be designing more streets like the streets we already love.
Speck's idea isn't radical. It's actually common sense: find what works, repeat. In the article, he lays out design elements that need to be repeated:
- Walkable streets do not have swoops, slip lanes, pork chops, and other features that encourage drivers to make fast turns;
- Walkable streets have narrow lanes, typically 10 feet wide—even for buses;
- Walkable streets place continuous shade trees in any medians;
- Walkable streets have parallel parking along every curb, to protect pedestrians (and potentially bikes) from moving traffic; and
- Walkable streets are lined by buildings that give them life, and in urban locations these buildings are tall and sit directly against the sidewalk.
If you look around the City of St. Paul, it won't take long to notice that streets with these design elements are the one's that people love. These are the places that pedestrians frequent, and where you're likely to see the highest property values. Let's repeat this.
Strong Towns need to be accessible for all residents, not just those who can afford and drive cars. We need to start building better places and we need to simplify the processes that will allow us to do so.