Friday, December 12, 2014

Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer on a Super Wide City Street

Earlier this week I talked about some of my favorite running things, and it got me thinking about my favorite city things. The key to what makes all cities great is walkability. The foundation for a great community is being able to walk safely across the streets and on sidewalks and destinations to visit.

Washington Square in Downtown Lansing is pretty walkable. It's one lane in each direction, has lots of well marked crosswalks, and has angled parking. It could teach pretty much every other street in Downtown Lansing a valuable lesson. Many of the other one-way, five lane streets in our downtown are just absurd. Yes I'm talking to you Grand Avenue, Capitol Avenue, Pine Street and Walnut Street. Santa would land his sleigh on Capitol Avenue at basically any point in the day and hand out toys. There's not enough traffic to sustain that insanely wide street, and that needs to be changed.

I should NOT be able to do this easily in Downtown Lansing.

And please don't even get me started on Michigan Avenue.  You have this beautiful view of the Capitol Building as you drive from East Lansing to Lansing. It's also two lanes in each direction, a turning lane and parking on both sides. It should be a boulevard leading up to the Capitol. I know the City is working on Michigan Avenue, and I'm excited about its great potential. It's a project that should be pushed sooner rather than later. The walkability of Michigan Avenue is critical to expanding downtown towards the eastern neighborhoods in Lansing. 

Traffic engineers will say these lanes are necessary for traffic safety and for public safety vehicles. Shenanigans. Those theories have been debunked in new urbanist texts across the board. What's really detrimental to public safety are wide streets with speeding cars that pedestrians have to dodge to cross.

As I think about cities that have great Christmas vibes, I realize it has everything to do with walkability. People crowd sidewalks in Chicago and New York to look at Christmas window displays. Even here in Michigan cities with dense, walkable downtowns like Holland and Ann Arbor have a great Christmas feel. The key is walkability. The longer we ignore obscenely wide streets like the 10 lanes of Michigan Avenue running through Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, the longer it will take for those communities to be able to capitalize on being places that will grow economically and attract and retain talent.  

The places that I love the most - Portland (Maine), Marquette (Michigan), Boston, Chicago - all have one major thing in common: walkability. It's time to think outside of our cars to how the streets feel to pedestrians. That, my friends, is a real economic argument. If you want people to come and enjoy your downtown, it has to be a walkable place.

As I look for the next cities I want to visit and/or run, walkability is a key factor in why I'll choose it. As an avid walking resident in Downtown Lansing, walkability has become my rallying cry. This Christmas all I want (besides all of the running gear from my last blog) is at least a willingness to tackle some of these wide streets in Michigan but particularly in my town. Traffic engineers are on the naughty list, so how about if we don't reward them with perpetuating the wide street cycle?     

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