Perils of Unwalkable Streets

Slate’s Tom Vanderbilt wrapped up his series on walking last week with a few points that should resonate in Provo.

Vanderbilt begins his article by recounting the case of a mother who was convicted of manslaughter after a drunk driver hit and killed her son. The case made national headlines last year, and Vanderbilt points out that the problem began when the mother led her children from a bus stop across a busy street. In other words, it was a lack of safe walking routes that set the stage for the accident.

Significantly, this is exactly the same thing I was talking about in this post about Freedom Blvd. The lesson is that whether in Provo or Georgia — where Vanderbilt’s story takes place — people realistically won’t walk long distances to get to nearby locations. Even worse, big arterial roads are dangerous and there is little funding to improve walking infrastructure.

Downtown Provo is probably the most walkable place in the city, and possibly the county. But it still struggles with wide streets and long blocks that are difficult, and occasionally dangerous, to cross. Other parts of the city are struggle even more with the same problems.

Later in the article, Vanderbilt quotes transportation engineer Peter Lagerway as saying that big long blocks with wide streets — a description fitting most of Provo’s major roads and something that has also come up repeatedly on this blog — are a serious problems:

“It’s certainly nice to have sidewalks, but the biggest problem is the width of our streets, the speed of our streets, the high traffic volumes and geometrics of the intersection—you just can’t get across,” he says. “If you have fewer lanes, tighter curb returns, lower speeds, then it works for pedestrians.” Shorter blocks are key too. “We don’t build enough streets,” he says. Rather, we have superblocks.

Reading this article I was pleased that it touched on so many of the issues facing Provo. And as it ultimately points out, the goal isn’t to become Manhattan-esque. Rather, it’s simply to become a safer, wealthier and happier community. More walking, Vanderbilt might add, is one way to make that happen.


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Filed under commuting, driving

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