July 15, 2006

Oregon town’s downtown ’serves people, not cars’

"The thousands who stream into [Sherwoood, Ore.] this weekend for the annual Robin Hood Festival, billed as a 'Renaissance faire,' will be entering a downtown undergoing another kind of revival. A $6.5 million streetscape project, paid for with urban renewal money, is remaking Old Town into an example of what's commonly referred to as 'new urbanism.' The twist is that what's labeled new is actually a reflection of an earlier time, when city development was done to accommodate people, not cars," according to the Oregonian.

Along with new lights, traffic barriers, benches and bike racks, the article says, several downtown blocks have "curbless streets," designed to "broaden the function of a city street and slow traffic."

"Instead of viewing streets as a mechanism to move cars, we're viewing streets as a public space," Rob Dixon, Sherwood's community development director, told the Oregonian.

"The design of the curbless street says this is public space for pedestrians, bicycles, strollers and SUVs also. The more traditional street says this is a road for cars, and you take your life in your hands if you're in anything other than a car."

What a great thought: Streets are public space shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motorized vehicles.

Is it that way in your town? If you try walking around most local suburbs -- and by "walk," I don't mean a well-defined, "safe" exercise or dog-walking route, but walking to actually get somewhere you need to go -- you'll soon agree with the "take your life in your hands" part.

If I try to walk to the bank from my office, in theory less than a 10-minute walk, it's almost always harrowing, because it involves trying to cross Rte. 30 on foot. Ever try that? Yet there's absolutely no reason why crossing a multi-lane east-west thoroughfare should feel so frightening. I do it all the time on Beacon Street in Brookline around Coolidge Corner, and there are well-designed crossings that let pedestrians feel comfortable while traffic still gets through. It's all about design -- but if you don't design with the idea in mind that pedestrians are as important as through traffic, you end up with the type of pedestrian-hostile major roads seen in too many American communities.

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear!

    I have a similar post on my blog at http://fullyarticulated.typepad.com/sprawledout/2006/07/roads_communica.html