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Sunday, August 30, 2015

TN is the LEAST Active State in the Nation. 88% of Nashville's Roads are UNSAFE for Pedestrians...See the Connection?

Tennessee is the LEAST active state in the nation and 88% of Nashville's roads are unsafe for pedestrians and bike riders...

Tennessee's obesity rate is over 30%.  

If you see the will understand why it is critical to ask local and state leaders to fund the highest quality sidewalks possible.

The Nashville Area MPO: Linking transportation & public health

How setting criteria for project selection transformed a regional transportation plan

Over the last several years, Nashville’s regional leaders have been trailblazers in using health indicators as one key screen for choosing projects marked by their 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. The focus on the connection between transportation and public health transformed their plan; where in the previous plan approximately 2 percent of projects incorporated features to provide safe walking and biking, in the most recent version nearly 70 percent include those elements.

The journey toward identifying and adopting the criteria they would use to select projects involved blazing their own path in an emerging practice.

They went beyond the typical practice of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in considering health only in regards to air quality and road safety. Instead, they began to also recognize a much broader interplay of transportation and public health by considering the role of transportation in increasing physical activity and access to destinations (e.g. employment centers and healthcare facilities), and in improving overall quality of life.

Flickr photo by Prayitno.
A public health crisis and a clear public vote of confidence

The story of how the five-county Nashville Area MPO (pop. 1.5 million) became a leader in using health-related criteria to shape its Regional Transportation Plan begins in the late 2000s with a recognized public health crisis.Tennessee is the least active state in the nation with 61 percent of adults failing to get adequate physical activity. Safe streets and sidewalks for walking or bicycling are in short supply across the broader Nashville region. A 2009 study by the MPO found that 88 percent of the region’s roads were unsafe for people on foot or bicycle.

The eye-opening results of a 2010 MPO attitudinal survey of residents helped push the The Nashville MPO toward this eventual shift in policy toward using health-related criteria to shape their long-term plan and select projects, revealing deep public support for increasing opportunities to use public transportation options and safely walk or bike around the region.

In this survey of 1,100 randomly selected households, Nashville region residents voiced the greatest support for providing more public transit, followed by increasing active transportation (walking and biking) options, and also for preserving existing roadways and adding sidewalks. The MPO then moved on to developing a process to score and select transportation projects to address the desire from the public for having more of these facilities, with improving residents’ health as a central component.

Photos courtesy of Stacy Proctor, The Shade Parade.

When the MPO began considering goals for its 2035 plan (adopted in 2010), the staff and leadership considered health concerns beyond obesity to include asthma and other air-quality related diseases, traffic injuries and health conditions associated with lack of exercise. In considering health along with other quality of life goals, they found substantial overlap with solutions for economic and environmental sustainability.

The MPO developed four desired outcomes from transportation investment with links to public health and well-being: (1) levels of physical activity, (2) air quality, (3) safety and (4) and addressing disparate impacts on vulnerable or disadvantaged populations, including children, the elderly and low-income neighborhoods.

The MPO then zeroed in on several core objectives:
Investing in communities to provide a safe and convenient option for walking and biking.
Investing in building a modern regional transit network.
Adopting a “fix-it-first” approach that emphasizes repair and improvement of existing roads before constructing new ones.
Shifting investment strategies towards a diversity of transportation options, rather than sole focus on road capacity.
Use transportation improvements to develop a sense of place (not explicitly referred to in the 2035 plan, but a focus of the MPO’s ongoing efforts).

All of these changes in process came from the understanding that the way communities are designed and their transportation systems have substantial impacts on the health and well being of their residents.
Matching funding to new priorities

Over the course of the next 25 years a substantial portion of the MPO’s $7 billion transportation budget is targeted towards expanding the active transportation network in Middle Tennessee.

The MPO’s largest source of federal funds comes from what’s known as the Surface Transportation Program. The Nashville Area MPO is dedicating 15 percent of those STP funds to their newly-created Active Transportation Program (ATP) for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, another 10 percent to match Federal Transit Administration funds for supporting transit investments, and additional STP funds toward projects that incorporate Complete Streets elements.

All told, under the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, 70 percent of the adopted roadway projects include active transportation infrastructure.
Scoring and evaluating projects

In scoring projects for possible funding, MPO officials are assigning more points to those that promote physical activity in existing communities, as well as those that provide multimodal access and connections, and that improve the conditions for people on foot.

In calculating project benefits, areas with more vulnerable residents (health-wise) benefit the most from having new opportunities to walk or bike safely. Health disparities tend to be highest in areas that are more economically disadvantaged, which the MPO measured by determining the areas that have a larger percentage Hispanic and minority populations, higher rates of poverty, physical disability, single parent households, zero-car households, and areas with higher percentages of people that have limited English proficiency.

Under the scoring system, 60 percent of the criteria relate to elements of active transportation, health, the environment, safety and congestion. The congestion score is weighted in favor of project that can improve health through additional non-motorized road capacity (i.e, sidewalks and bike lanes, etc.), safety (i.e. crosswalks, bump-outs, etc) and navigation enhancements for people using non-motorized modes.

To measure progress and assess what’s having an impact and where on the health of Nashville residents, the MPO is collecting data to provide baseline evidence for policy benchmarking and, over time, provide a measuring stick.
Giving the people what they want

Nashville area residents react positively to the idea of safer and more convenient walking and biking infrastructure. Even with current inadequacies in walking and bicycling facilities in the MPO’s area, 92 percent of the surveyed public would be willing to use bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to exercise or go to a park; 66 percent to shop or eat out; 65 percent to run errands; and 55 percent to bike and walk to work if it were safe and convenient, according to this survey from the MPO.

The Nashville Area MPO’s new criteria for scoring and choosing projects have transformed the project selection process by providing a far more holistic analysis of the benefits created by each transportation project and how projects compared to the hundreds of others competing for federal funds. With limited resources available to support transportation investment, the Nashville Area MPO elevates projects that score the highest on multiple objectives, with health and equity serving as important components in that evaluation process.

To view the Project Evaluation Criteria that the Nashville Area MPO used in the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, visit the following link:

To view the entire 2035 Regional Transportation Plan:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

All too Common Scene in Nashville - The Issue with Right Turns

All too common scene in Nashville:  picture a beautiful day.  Woman walking briskly down the street approaching an intersection.  White car, also moving briskly down the street in the same direction (same side of the street).  Walker starts to cross the street - takes one step off the curb as she is going straight through the intersection.  Woman in white car turns right, directly in front of the pedestrian (who has already taken a step into the road).  Walker leaps backwards and throws up her arms.   White car continues her turn and then pulls into near by parking lot.   


Yield to walkers when turning your vehicle.
Right turns are particularly problamatic, most notably at green lights, as both the walker and the driver are getting the walk sign and green light respectively.

Me:  ' Excuse me, sorry to bother you, I volunteer with a walking advocacy group (Walk Bike Nashville) and I noticed that you turned directly in front of that woman back there trying to cross the street'.

Woman in the White Car: 'Oh, I just thought she was standing on the corner'.

Me: (under my breath) 'Who just stands on a corner'?  (more audibly) 'No, she was trying to cross and you turned directly in front of her.  I just wanted you to know that she had the right-of-way'.

Woman in the White Car:  'I thought I had the right-of-way since I was driving'.

Me: 'No, the pedestrian always has the right-of-way'.


I would argue that Nashville needs 2 things desperately:

1.  Drivers need to know the law.  
---If a pedestrian is in the road, you are to yield to them.  It is a drivers job to anticipate the moves of pedestrians.  Think about it:  in regards to safety, as a driver, you are thousands of pounds of metal hurtling through space with the only effort being putting your foot on the gas.  A walker, is skin and bones and is locomoting by their own muscle.  Be aware of them!  Give them space!  Yield to them!  Anticipate their movements!  If they are walking briskly towards a corner, expect that they are crossing and slow down!
---Improved knowledge of the law could be accomplished by an agressive public awareness campaign
---This should also be a significant part of the exam to get a license

2. Drivers should be ticketed if they endanger or hinder pedestrians
 ---Now, I am not talking about risky moves made by pedestrians such as darting out from inbetween cars.  This is definitely the action of someone who is taking a big chance that a driver will see them and be able to slow.  
---That being said, if you are driving in a residential neighborhood or active business district with obvious pedestrians (i.e.:  people walking, signs that say Drive Like Your Children (or Pet) Live Here) - drivers should expect pedestrians and slow down!  This kind of activity is fair warning that a driver needs to be on high alert.
---Drivers should be ticketed for not using their turn signals at intersections as this limits communication between the driver and the pedestrian (and is the law)
---Drivers should be ticketed for driving too fast when pedestrians are present (this is also the law)
---Drivers should be ticketed for parking in crosswalks (this is, yet again, the law)
---Drivers should be ticketed if they do not yield to pedestrians.  A major job of anyone behind the wheel is to be observant and anticipate the moves of others (particularly vulnerable pedestrians!  Once more, the law people)
---One thing that should be added to the law:  giving pedestrians 3'  of space (at least) if they are in the road without proper pedestrian infrastructure (this is critical in Nashville!)

I watched a man out walking his dog have to wiggle around this vehicle in the middle of the crosswalk and peer around the trailer in order to cross safely.  Like a fire hydrant, you cannot park in or near a crosswalk.  It is a drivers job to know this!

If you see something like this PLEASE call non-emergency police and they can come out and ticket.  If enough people call, we can raise needed awareness and start chipping away at this very important barrier to walkability in Nashville.

---One quick note to pedestrians:  you are supposed to walk AGAINST traffic if on a road without sidewalks for your safety!

  Shade Parade Nashville advocates for better walkability mostly through high quality well designed sidewalk infrastructure. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Easy Way to Improve Traffic in Nashville!

Just a gentle reminder
Nashville...Sidewalks and Crosswalks are for pedestrians

Please be mindful and do NOT block pedestrian walkways when you park.  This is a very basic courtesy.  Public Works stated that they do not need to add signage because 'people should know better'.   It is the law, after all.  

If you see something, Public Works recommends calling the Non-Emergency Police line so they can service a ticket.  They will need the color, make and model of the vehicle plus tag number.

Non-Emergency number is: 615-862-8600

Nashville:  if you want to improve traffic, you must not discourage people from getting out on foot.  One way to do this is to remember that pedestrians have the right of way.  Do not block their way. 

Dedicated to high quality sidewalk design in Nashville in order to improve walkability!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Other Cities are Creating Avant Garde Sidewalk Sheds...Nashville Cannot Even Get Them...

Nashville is becoming a proper city before our eyes.  Building is rapid and has taken over whole blocks of what used to be either open space or smaller, less desirable properties.  I encourage you to check out Crane Watch (link below) for details of our growth.  

The growth, to me, is exhilarating!  I love that Nashville is becoming a proper city.  Density means walkability but not if you don't actually put in sidewalks that are of high quality.  I am worried that we are building so fast that 10 years from now we will all wonder why we didn't insists that the developers put in a high quality sidewalk with a shade lined green buffer of trees.  For those who live in neighborhoods where there is rapid development, I strongly encourage you to consider this now.  With all those new homes comes people.  If you don't give them a way to walk, then they drive.

Particularly downtown, many sidewalks are seemingly spontaneously closed. 

Safety is a concern.  Many cranes suggest overhead building and the sidewalk, instead of being closed, should have a sidewalk shed placed.  A routine practice in other major cities.

I thought this pieces, sent to me by Trish Mixon yesterday, was startling.  Nashville has trouble getting sidewalk sheds at all - other cities - are putting up sheds designed by famous architects.

The architect Zaha Hadid’s 112-foot-long sculptural installation, “Allongé,” which also serves as a sidewalk shed, on the High Line in Manhattan. CreditBryan Thomas for The New York Times

Zaha Hadid has designed some of the most remarkable buildings of this generation. Whether a striking factory for BMW, daring Olympic venues or museums in Rome, Glasgow and Cincinnati, the work of the Iraqi-born, London-based Ms. Hadid has brought her global renown and a Pritzker Prize, considered architecture’s Nobel Prize.

Now she has tackled one of New York’s most intractable building problems: the ubiquitous and unloved sidewalk shed.

Construction is underway on Ms. Hadid’s first project in New York, 520 West 28th Street, and with it comes the inevitable shed, as emblematic of the city ’s landscapeas the Empire State Building — though the only souvenirs they produce are mysterious stains and ripped clothing.

Building Blocks: On the Sidewalks, Structures That Serve to Protect and ObscureAUG. 27, 2014

The city is entombed in nearly 200 miles of metal bars and plywood decking that protects pedestrians from falling debris and construction material — a claustrophobic labyrinth that could cover the sidewalks on both sides of Broadway several times over. Even the High Line has them, in six spots, including Ms. Hadid’s project.Photo

A man sat under more utilitarian scaffolding on 10th Avenue in Manhattan last week.CreditBryan Thomas for The New York Times

Given the location, the developer of the 39-unit condominium project, the Related Companies, sought to do something different here, and asked Ms. Hadid to create a special wrap to help hide the shed.

“Zaha is an artist as much as an architect, so we thought it would be interesting to see what she could do with our shed, too,” Greg Gushee, a Related executive vice president, said.

Equal parts civic gesture and promotional material, the shed is made of a taut swoop of diaphanous white and silver Serge Ferrari fabric. It resembles an oversize light reflector like those seen on the movie and photo shoots that also block sidewalks across the city.

“I think it quite looks like a spaceship,” Karen Reinhard said admiringly last Thursday, out for a stroll on the High Line with her family while on vacation from Manchester, England. “It enfolds you, and sort of creates a view and blocks the view at the same time.”Photo

The Urban Umbrella, winner of a city design competition. CreditNYC Department of Buildings

Exactly as Ms. Hadid intended it.

“The fabric is distorted, it blends and stretches and creates its own world while giving an interesting play of orthogonal versus amorphous structure,” she said in an email. “It creates a fluid four-dimensional world whilst the translucent fabric allows views to the city beyond.”

Installed two weeks ago, her shed will come down when the project is finished in a few years. But this summer has also brought hope for a more permanent solution to this nuisance overhead.

The New York Building Congress, an advocacy group for some of the city’s top contractors, engineers, architects and landlords, this summer held a design competition for a better sidewalk shed. The idea was to create something aesthetically pleasing with improved retail visibility and sidewalk mobility — no more webs of crossbeams, for example — without sacrificing safety.Photo

This new approach on a sidewalk shed was entered into a competition sponsored by the New York Building Congress. CreditNew York Building Congress

“These sheds are so pervasive, so many of them stay up for so long, and they’re horrible, by and large,” Richard T. Anderson, president of the Building Congress, said. “If we, as an industry, can do something to make them even a little bit better, it could have a huge benefit throughout the city.”

Submissions were due last week, and more than 30 firms responded. Winners will be announced on Sept. 25, and the Building Congress plans to create prototypes that will be installed on some of its members’ buildings.

But many developers said that little will change unless the city, through mandates or incentives, gets involved. Most building owners do not have the budget for a well-designed shed, and given that the run-of-the-mill version does its job well, city officials have not considered shed beautification a priority.

“Street sheds are obnoxious, albeit necessary, features of New York’s sidewalks,” Douglas Durst, a third-generation developer and a sponsor of the Building Congress competition, said in an email. “A safe and economically viable alternative that will improve pedestrian flow and won’t be dark, dank and drippy is desperately needed.”Photo

Another design submitted in the competition seeking a new look for a sidewalk shed.CreditNew York Building Congress

Sheds are something even his grandfather would have dealt with. City scaffolding laws date back at least 120 years, according to Christopher Gray, founder of the Office for Metropolitan History and The New York Times’s former Streetscapes columnist. The first of many mentions of sidewalk sheds in the newspaper appeared on the front page in 1899, and, like the umpire who gets attention only when he blows a call, the shed did not come out looking good.

“Girl Crushed to Death,” declared the headline over an article about an 18-year-old woman killed by a collapsing shed piled with tons of bricks and plaster in Manhattan.

City Hall did try to develop a better shed in 2009, through a competition co-sponsored by the American Institute of Architects. The winning entry, Urban Umbrella, was celebrated around the world, but ultimately the system proved too expensive to fabricate and deploy widely. A small pilotwas installed at 100 Broadway, near Wall Street, in 2011, but that was it.

Frank Sciame, a top construction manager in the city who is leading the Building Congress competition, is particularly fond of construction canopies that cantilever off buildings. He has deployed them since the 1990s for landlords who want to eliminate any sidewalk obstructions, though they, too, tend to be more complicated and expensive.Photo

Pedestrians walked beneath Ms. Hadid's "Allongé" on the High Line last week.CreditBryan Thomas for The New York Times

He and others acknowledge it would be unreasonable to expect every landlord to adopt new sidewalk sheds tomorrow, but perhaps they could be phased in, or targeted, he said.

“Maybe if your scaffolding will be up for more than three months or your building is over 30 feet wide, or you’re in Midtown versus the outer boroughs,” Mr. Sciame said.

Arguably, more attractive sheds are most important during real estate downturns, not boom times, when stalled sites, and their scaffolding, can languish for years. “These sites can become real blights on the city,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, chief executive of Forest City Ratner.

Without endorsing the Building Congress’s competition explicitly, Rick Chandler, the city’s buildings commissioner, has expressed enthusiasm for it.

In a statement, he said, “The department looks forward to reviewing the plans of the winning applicant for code compliance, which may allow developers to incorporate a unique and more aesthetically appealing safeguarding structure into their projects.”

And who knows: Build a nice-enough shed, and people might be sorry to see them go.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if they kept this one,” Martin Goodman, a Bronx-born California transplant, said while sitting on a bench beside Ms. Hadid’s High Line shed. “It’s quite pretty, and I like the shade.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why Don't Nashvillians Walk?

Again, I apologize for the wholesale copy & paste of an article but this one touches on some very strong points that I think every Nashvillian should consider - particularly as we head to vote this Thursday.

Thanks to Mike for sending it my way!

Americans Don't Walk Much, and I Don't Blame Them

Posted: Updated: 
  south of Atlanta (courtesy of Stephen Lee Davis)

(Today’s article is excerpted and adapted from the 2014 book People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, distributed by Island Press.)

This won’t be breaking news to most readers, but Americans don’t walk very much. Periodically, National Geographic publishes a 17-nation “Greendex” study on, among many other things, transit use and walking. In 2012 we Americans came in dead last on both indices, and it wasn’t close.

In particular, only 34 percent of Americans reported walking to destinations (jobs, shopping, school, and so forth) “often” or “all of the time.” Spaniards and Germans walk about twice as much. The rates for Britain and even notoriously cold and dark Sweden were substantially higher than those for the US. Speaking of cold, even the Canadians walk more than we do. We are also dead last in bicycling.

According to census data, the share of workers who commute to work by walking in the US is a measly 6.5 percent; bicycling adds another 1.3 percent. A slim majority of Americans drive alone to work, which also isn’t exactly breaking news. (Transit comes in second at 26.5 percent.) Yet research out of Portland State University on “commute well-being” finds that bicycle commuters enjoy their trips to work the most, and those who drive alone enjoy their commute the least.

Inconvenient and dangerous

I suppose there are a number of reasons why we don’t walk very much, particularly compared to residents of other countries. But surely a big one is that, for most Americans in most places, walking – that most basic and human method of movement, and the one most important to our health – is all but impossible. Maybe not literally impossible, but inconvenient at best, and tragically dangerous way too often. Except for traditional downtowns, few American communities even have things to walk to within safe and easy walking distance.

Walking is downright dangerous along many suburban commercial roads. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that sprawling, Sun Belt metro regions built completely around the automobile are statistically the nation’s most unsafe places to walk. A report released by the nonprofit National Complete Streets Coalition earlier this year analyzed traffic fatality data over a ten-year period; the report found that the country’s top four “most dangerous” metro regions for pedestrians are all in the state of Florida. Rounding out the top ten are regions in Texas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama and Arizona. (The National Complete Streets Coalition is a program of Smart Growth America; I am a board member of SGA but had no connection with the report.)

Here are the ten most unsafe metro areas in which to walk, according to the report:
Orlando-Kissimmee, FL
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
Jacksonville, FL
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
Memphis, TN-MS-AR
Birmingham-Hoover, AL
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC

The organization also reports that more than 47,000 pedestrians were killed in the United States from 2003 through 2012, the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing roughly every month. On top of that, more than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, a number equivalent to a car or truck striking a pedestrian every 8 minutes.

The effect of roadway design

While pedestrian deaths are usually labeled as accidents by local authorities, the Complete Streets Coalition believes many are, in fact, attributable to poor roadway design that fails to safely accommodate walkers. Because walking is proven to be good for our health, lowering obesity rates, many people in these unsafe areas are forced to choose between an unhealthy lifestyle and an unsafe one. Children, older adults, and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in pedestrian fatalities.

For example, consider Woodbridge, Virginia, about 25 miles south of downtown Washington, DC. The Google Earth satellite image below shows a section of the area’s main drag, the US Route 1 corridor.

Home to the Potomac Mills discount mega-mall and not far from the Quantico Marine Corps base, Woodbridge is a diverse “census-designated place and magisterial district” whose population is 42 percent white, 28 percent black, and 32 percent Hispanic. It consisted mostly of farms and light industrial complexes until the 1980s, when it began to attract more suburban development. What you see in the satellite view are, among other things, several auto dealerships and automobile service facilities, some single-family homes, some apartments, a trailer park, and a self-storage facility. All seem sort of plopped down by happenstance.

What you don’t see are any but the crudest accommodations for walking. No sidewalks, no crosswalks other than at long-distance intervals; this part of Woodbridge is a place for being either indoors or in a motor vehicle. (There’s not much transit, either.) If you were, say, an employee at the Pep Boys auto parts store on the west side of Route 1, your spouse had dropped you off and kept the car for the day, and you wanted to grab a sandwich for lunch at Wendy’s right across the street, you’d have to walk nearly a mile, round trip, to cross the road with the benefit of a traffic signal. You would lose at least half your lunch hour getting there and back. Even then, half your trip would have no sidewalk.

What many people with limited time would understandably do in that situation, instead, is attempt to cross the road using the shortest and most direct route between Pep Boys and Wendy’s, despite intermittent traffic, and hope their instincts, quickness and powers of observation would enable them to do so without getting hit. Some people do exactly that, without consequence.

If a pedestrian does get hit by a motor vehicle, though, under Virginia law the pedestrian is at fault. In this place, cars come first in the eyes of the law, and anyone who fails to respect that axiom takes chances in more ways than one.

I mention all this because it’s more or less what actually happens on this stretch of Route 1. Indeed, in late 2012 two men were hit by motor vehicles while trying to cross the road in separate incidents near the section of Route 1 that I marked. Both pedestrians were evacuated to the hospital, and both were charged by police with “interfering with traffic.” The drivers were not charged.

A tragic case

A working single mother in suburban Atlanta named Raquel Nelson wasn’t so lucky. In April of 2010, Nelson was charged and convicted of homicide after losing her four-year-old son while trying to cross a busy road after getting off a bus. My friend David Goldberg, who works for the national nonprofit Transportation for America (also a program of SGA), described the facts in a Washington Post opinion article:

“After a long bus trip with her three young children in April 2010, Raquel Nelson did what other bus passengers did that day, and had done so many days before: She attempted to cross the road from the bus stop, which is directly opposite her apartment complex, rather than walk a third of a mile to a traffic light, cross five lanes and walk a third of a mile back, lugging tired children and groceries.

“The family walked without incident to the three-foot median in the road. As they waited on the median for a break in traffic, Nelson’s son A.J. followed other adults who crossed ahead of them. He was hit by a motorist who fled and later admitted to having been drinking and taking painkillers. The driver spent six months in jail and is serving the remainder of his five-year sentence on probation. Nelson was sentenced last week to 12 months’ probation, fines and community service.”

Wow. I haven’t studied the details of Georgia law or all of the facts, but Nelson’s conviction is stunning. Whatever her legal culpability, I find it shocking that Cobb County (northwest of Atlanta) officials chose to exercise their discretion to prosecute her for homicide. Goldberg continues:

“Nelson was found guilty of killing her son by crossing the road in the 'wrong' place. But what about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land-use regulators who placed a bus stop across from apartments but made no provision whatsoever for a safe crossing? Those who ignored the fact that pedestrians always take the shortest possible route but somehow expected them to walk six-tenths of a mile out of their way to cross the street? Those who designed this road — which they allowed to be flanked by apartments and houses — for speeds of 50 mph and more? And those who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work or carrying groceries despite having no access to a car? Are they not culpable?”

(Nelson was granted a retrial and, after further legal proceedings, prosecutors dropped the charge of homicide in 2013. She agreed to pay a $200 fine for jaywalking. )

What’s the remedy?

For someone who cares about safe and healthy communities, what’s the remedy? Jeff Speck’s excellent 2012 book Walkable City provides terrific answers for some places, but they work best in downtowns and established cities. His “ten steps of walkability” to create urban environments that are more conducive to foot travel include such contextually effective measures as placing more housing downtown, restricting free parking, and running transit through dense urban corridors. If we do these things in downtown Boise or Houston or Greensboro or even Bakersfield, it is likely that we will, indeed, make the city more walkable.

But what the heck can putting a price on downtown parking do for people like Nelson in residential Cobb County or anyone in Woodbridge? Can we have a walkable city where we don’t have a city in the first place? What if the location is just a “census-designated place” with a bunch of uncoordinated and unplanned properties that somehow ended up near each other along a high-speed road? The stretch of Route 1 in Woodbridge, in particular, is not remotely ready for more urban measures. The tragedy is that it’s “urbanized” enough to have some foot traffic, but not urban enough to protect it.

I suppose one answer is that, as the economy allows new businesses and homes to be built in and around the bad stuff, we can gradually make the newer land uses better and more “walk-ready” over time, so that the place can function better for pedestrians when the good stuff reaches critical mass. Meaningful transformation might take a while, though, because many of these places are not the kind of prosperous communities where change is likely to occur rapidly and with the degree of investment necessary to do it right.

Back to Orlando, the region found most dangerous in the country, local officials told New York Times reporter Lizette Alvarez in 2011 that “the data is [sic] somewhat skewed by the number of tourists who visit the state, which inflates traffic.” Nevertheless, Alvarez reported that local officials were taking the matter seriously, building sidewalks, installing audible pedestrian signals, increasing traffic calming, modifying bus stops, creating overpasses, and improving lighting.

Whatever the approach, it matters: a lot of places in America are like Cobb County and Woodbridge. And, if we don’t start exercising more, including by walking, the prospects for our collective health are daunting. The single most alarming public health trend in the United States today is the dramatic rise in overweight and obesity, bringing serious risks of heart disease, diabetes and other consequences leading to life impairment and premature death.

While these health challenges are complex, with many factors at play, our country’s sedentary lifestyle is an important one. In a massive study of half a million residents of Salt Lake County, researchers at the University of Utah found that an average-sized man weighed 10 pounds less if he lived in a walkable neighborhood – “those that are more densely populated, designed to be more friendly to pedestrians and have a range of destinations for pedestrians” – versus a less walkable one. A woman of average size weighed six pounds less. Other research has found that men and women age 50–71 who take a brisk walk nearly every day have a 27 percent reduced death rate compared to non-exercisers.

I have some hope for places like Orlando and even suburban Atlanta. As sprawling as they are, there is enough critical mass of residences and businesses to build upon, at least over time. Bus stops and businesses can be much better coordinated with crosswalks at reasonable intervals, for example, and measures such as those cited for Orlando can be put into place.

But I have a hard time seeing a near-term healthy solution for the Woodbridges of the country. In the meantime, I don’t blame people outside of downtowns and larger, more conscientious cities who choose to get around on wheels rather than their feet.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Huffington Post and in other national media. Kaid’s latest book, People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, is available from booksellers nationwide.

Related posts:
How Transit, Walkability Help Make Cities More Affordable
Let's Not Pronounce Sprawl Dead Just Yet
In US Cities Where Walking Is Safer, It's Also More Popular
Indy's Remarkable Pathway to Sustainable Renewal

Follow F. Kaid Benfield on Twitter:



Monday, August 3, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Urban Trees...

Sorry for the wholesale cut and past but this article addresses a lot of questions I have about creating tree lined sidewalks in Nashville.  In particular, I have wondered if our abundance of overhead power lines was a primary reason that Public Works seems to be designing more sidewalks than not without the preferred green buffer.

Sidewalks to the road as above vs sidewalks with a green buffer & trees as below...

As many Nashvillians know, getting a sidewalk in your neighborhood is very difficult.    If we allow the foot print  to be sidewalk all the way to curb, without a green buffer, I am afraid we will be stuck with that design for many years to come. If you know of a sidewalk that is planned for your area, consider discussing the addition of the green buffer to allow for trees.  This beautification step has numerous benefits as discussed below.  

The Case for More Urban Trees

In many areas, trees are under siege. But our cities need them, for all sorts of reasons.
Image LeahI00/Flickr
I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with many large, mature trees. Our bit of urban forest is one of our community’s greatest assets, if you ask me. But, loved though they are, trees are getting to be a little controversial in and around D.C., and that worries me. I’ll get to that a bit later in the post, but first I want to share some of things I have learned about city trees in the last few days.
In particular, last week I spoke at a forum hosted by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, and after the program I was approached by someone from an initiative called San Diego County Trees. The initiative is the urban forestry project of the Energy Center, and they have all sorts of information extolling the benefits of urban trees along with a crowd-sourced inventory of street trees in San Diego.
I just spent time on the website, where the coolest feature is an interactive map of the whole county showing very specific tree locations and information, including quantified benefits to the region stemming (pun unintended but acknowledged) from its trees. As you can see in the image, these include carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved, and air pollutants reduced.
You can even click on a specific tree and get detailed information on its species, size, and annual economic benefit to the community. San Diego County Trees invites its readers to add to the inventory with information on additional trees not presently counted.
If you’re interested in the subject of the community benefits of trees, you can get additional information from the websites of the National Arbor Day Foundation and the US Forest Service. Among the tidbits I learned on one or the other of those two sites are these:
  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12 percent.
  • One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.
  • A number of studies have shown that real estate agents and home buyers assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property.
  • Surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls.
  • In one study, stands of trees reduced particulates by 9 to 13 percent, and the amount of dust reaching the ground was 27 to 42 percent less under a stand of trees than in an open area.
Photo by Kaid Benfield

Several years ago, walkability guru Dan Burden wrote a detailed monograph titled 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees. Among other things, he calculated that "for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree." Burden cites data finding that street trees create slower and more appropriate urban traffic speeds, increase customer traffic to businesses, and obviate increments of costly drainage infrastructure. In at least one recent study (reported after Burden’s analysis), trees were even found to be associated with reduced crime.
I think some of the most important benefits, though, are felt emotionally. Burden puts it this way:
Urban street trees provide a canopy, root structure and setting for important insect and bacterial life below the surface; at grade for pets and romantic people to pause for what pets and romantic people pause for; they act as essential lofty environments for song birds, seeds, nuts, squirrels and other urban life. Indeed, street trees so well establish natural and comfortable urban life it is unlikely we will ever see any advertisement for any marketed urban product, including cars, to be featured without street trees making the ultimate dominant, bold visual statement about place.
That is extremely well said.
The DC area also has an extensive tree inventory hosted by the nonprofit Casey Trees, which has done much praiseworthy work to increase both plantings and awareness in our area. Among the several informative maps on the organization’s website is one marking trees recently planted in the city directly by the foundation. There’s also a map showing trees recently planted by the city. As with the San Diego maps, you can zoom in and click on a particular tree and bring up a popup window (see below) of tree characteristics.
Casey also publishes an annual Tree Report Card evaluating how the area is doing with respect to such performance measures as tree coverage, health, planting and protection. For 2011, for example, the organization found that tree planting has been robust and that the health of the city’s forest is strong. But the organization expressed concern about weak enforcement of the city’s tree protection law and urged both legislative and administrative changes to strengthen the city’s aggregate tree canopy, which has remained constant for several years at 35 percent coverage of the city, short of the goal of 40 percent.
Which brings me to the controversy. The Washington region, like many others in the U.S., has many neighborhoods (including my own) with above-ground utility lines strung overhead along our streets. We also have a lot of thunderstorms, which in some years cause significant treefall and power interruptions, most recently for the better part of a week during a severe heat wave. Utility workers strive heroically to restore service, but there are not-entirely-unfounded complaints that some of the local utilities lack sufficient preparation and have cut budgets in the wrong divisions of the company. This became a major news story, as some electricity providers performed significantly better than others in restoring electricity.
To try to shorten what could become a long story, some defensive utility executives have pointed to the trees when customers complain (“At the hearing, Pepco officials blamed trees for much of the damage to about 2,400 Pepco power lines, 200 transformers and 240 utility poles that fell during the storm”). This has been refuted by analysis, however ("By far, Pepco equipment failures, not trees, caused the most sustained power interruptions last year, records show").
But it’s not just utilities, unfortunately. As reported by Justin Jouvenal in The Washington Post, a “massive and iconic oak that stood in the heart” of a northern Virginia suburb fell two weeks ago and crushed a car and driver underneath, killing the driver. This has prompted at least one local businessman to ask the authorities to immediately take down two nearby large, mature trees and to “deal more aggressively with aging trees” in the community. Some community members are now claiming that tree lovers “have blood on their hands,” while others believe that some of the area’s grandest trees could be casualties of an emotional rush to judgment in the wake of a tragic accident.
Photo courtesy of Junichi Ishito/Flickr 
Personally, I am unqualified to evaluate risks and benefits in these situations. But one resident quoted in the article appears to be a voice of reason, asserting that it is important that trees be evaluated but that weight should be given to professional arborists as to their health and safety. If a tree is healthy and not posing a hazard, it should stay. I would add that, if some should indeed come down, the affected property should be replanted as soon as possible. And, as for the power lines, let’s put them underground where they belong.
Top photo courtesy of LeahI00/Flickr
This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.