Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Don't walk.

The LAPD is cracking down on jaywalking in downtown Los Angeles, ostensibly to educate the public about its dangers and to promote public safety. Granted that in a confrontation between a two ton steel vehicle and a pedestrian, the unprotected human crossing the street doesn't stand much of a chance, is the solution to put all the burden on pedestrians to stay out of the way of the unrelenting flow of traffic? Is strict enforcement of the "Don't Walk" signals the best way to make the streets safe for walking?

The real problem in downtown Los Angeles, and in most cities, is that we have given about 90% of all the public space to automobiles-- for free-- and we seem more concerned about maintaining the freedom of drivers to hurtle through the streets, than we care about the safety or comfort of pedestrians. Instead we need to re-design the downtown environment to make it more friendly to human beings.

Here's what we would do if we truly cared about pedestrians. We would eliminate all push buttons for crossing the street. Why should pedestrians have to wait through an entire light cycle if they forget or arrive too late at the intersection to push the button? We should create more crosswalks, and make sure the lights are timed to give adequate time to cross. We should refuse to allow sidewalks to be blocked for any reason. If construction requires blocking of sidewalks, we should take a lane of traffic away to make room for pedestrians. And that's just for starters. Next we should remove all the red curbs, and install metered parking everywhere. That provides a safety and sound buffer for pedestrians, not to mention finally collecting some revenue from drivers who think they have some God-given right to use a disproportionate share of scarce public space for free. We should return to two way traffic most everywhere downtown. No more six lane thoroughfares that drivers treat as freeways. We should create more public squares where people would want to sit or stroll.

The object should be to reduce and slow down traffic. The best way to do that is to reduce the amount of space allotted for cars, and return that space to pedestrians, bicycles, busways and streetcars. That will encourage more drivers to park their cars and use public transportation. That will make the city safer for pedestrians, and at the same time to reduce noise and pollution and make the city sidewalks and other spaces more liveable.

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