Walking, the original and most basic form of human transportation, is staging a comeback in Minnesota. Bike Walk Twin Cities reports that it increased 17 percent in the metro area from 2007 to 2010. But our growing numbers of pedestrians still face a built environment designed for car travel and little else.
It’s not only discouraging for an economical, healthy and earth-friendly mobility trend, it can be downright deadly. Witness the recent deaths of four people trying to cross busy Hwy. 10 in Anoka County. This has prompted calls to turn the four-lane road into a freeway with no access for foot travelers.
As we’ve noted before, that seems like a totally backward approach to the problem. Why not focus on ways to get walkers across the road safely instead of blocking them off?
Bike Walk Twin Cities has just put together a handy guide to walkability solutions costing tiny fractions of the $300 million estimate for a Hwy. 10 freeway. They include sidewalk bump-outs and median islands that reduce the distance across driving lanes, traffic calming and “road diets” that slow cars down in crossing zones, and hard-to-ignore pedestrian-activated flashing signals at crosswalks. Even tall buildings and foliage flanking roadways create vertical sightlines that induce drivers to ease off the gas pedal.
“These infrastructure approaches can help increase the number of people walking, improve pedestrian safety and comfort, and create a safer environment for all users of our transportation system,” said Benjamin Waldo of the Community Design Group in Minneapolis.
After decades of near-exclusive public focus on the needs of motorists, Minnesota and many of its local governments have formally adopted “Complete Streets” policies that recognize the importance of other transportation modes. Those are great first steps. The proof will be in how well our autocentric infrastructure is remade to serve human-powered transportation as well as cars.