Wednesday, March 29, 2017

John Allen: Suburban sprawl as it affects bicyclists

Easily one of the best studies you will find on the challenges that bicyclists and pedestrians face in the modern suburban environment. John Allen is one of the most thorough and distinguished advocates in the U.S., and mirrors virtually everything we struggle for at 1st State Bikes. Excerpts:

The large, low building in the top center of the picture is a school. Consider how your child would get to that school if you lived in one of the houses in the foreground. Your child would probably ride a school bus, provided at considerable expense to the community.

Photo by John S. Allen
The major impediment to use of the bicycle for transportation in sprawled suburbs is lack of connectivity. The school would be an easy bicycle ride away -- even an easy walk -- with a reasonably direct route (And there may be something approaching that in this example -- read on.). Much suburban residential development in the United States is like this, with only informal connectivity on dirt paths, if any.

Lack of connectivity reflects a lack of coordination between different developers, and a lack of vision and leadership by local government. This situation also reflects the preferences of residents to some degree, by keeping through motor traffic out of residential areas. But the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak. A house you can see out your back window could be a mile or two away by road, or by any route that avoids trespassing on the private property of strangers.

Arterial streets may -- and should -- have wide outside lanes, shoulders or bike lanes to allow bicycles and motor vehicles to share them comfortably, and have traffic signals that work well for bicyclists. Bicyclists must ride on the arterial streets, or cross them, for some trips, especially, longer trips. But residents should not have to take a long trip around on the arterial streets to get to a neighbor's house they can see out their back window! 
[Cont . . .]

Most of Delaware's modern suburbs were planned as John describes, but you can still find a few older suburbs that were built with interconnectivity. These are usually before WWII until sometime in the 1970s, and closer to town centers and services.

High profile cases of child abduction (i.e. Etan Patz, Adam Walsh), and the unfounded notion that pathways can only facilitate crime also played its part. Hence, the situation we're in today that forces non-motorized users out onto arterial roads.

Fortunately, at least in New Castle County, the Unified Development Code has been updated and now calls for developments to include -- at minimum -- a pathway connection to existing communities. But with the County almost entirely built out, this amounts to a few drops in the bucket. Unless challenged, NIMBY sentiments will also reduce or even eliminate pathway and road connectivity altogether.

A pathway connection in Todd Estates, S. Newark, bridges two parallel streets so kids can safely walk or bike to school. It is a non-issue for these adjacent residents, because they bought their homes after the fact. Bike Delaware has made connectivity their mission, which includes piecing together such streets to create low stress networks. But they have yet to demonstrate how this can be accomplished without violating private property rights and/or invoking imminent domain -- never mind the high costs involved.

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