It has never happened before, till it happens

A common theme heard in older areas originally constructed without pedestrian safety in mind is that people walking on the streets has never been an issue. Often residents will openly discuss how it was fine when their children were younger and there has been no accidents. There are a few problems with this approach.

  1. The view by the resident is not supported by data, it is supported by their single life experience. A good researcher would talk to a statically significant number of residents before making an assumption on safety.
  2. There is a core fallacy that because something has not happened it will never happen. The reason this is poor argument is that it again pulls upon present experience. Think of insurance and risk in general. Insurance exists to protect you against things that usually have not yet happened yet. Be it medical, home, or auto insurance, the point of insurance is to pool money together from multiple sources into a collection to pay out a few people who have an incident. Most people will not have an incident. The same holds true for walkability, most of the time an area will be fine – until it is not. It is paramount that like insurance we design our neighborhoods with low risk in mind.

For one family the poor design cost their young daughter her life. Golf road touches a number of villages in the north Chicago suburbs: Glenview, Morton Grove, Golf and Skokie. There are running and horse riding trails which reside at Harms Rd and Golf Rd. A young woman was walking down Golf at night in a poorly lit section which lacks sidewalks. This forced her on to the street. According to the article in Chicago Tribune a driver unknowingly struck the woman.

Do you think a properly designed sidewalk would have help minimize the risk to this woman?

Suburban neighborhoods can be hazardous to your health

Close your eyes for a moment and picture a midwestern suburbanite.  Really focus on getting an image in your head for that person, the color of their hair, the car they drive, the home they live in, their dog, children, and spouse.  Focus on it a bit.  Not contrast that person with your image of city dweller of similar economic status.  With both these individuals in mind ask yourself, which one is in better shape?  Which one spends more time outdoors walking around?  Which one uses their car less frequently or might not even own a car?  Which one is unknowingly in the middle of a health crisis?

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the person in the middle of a health crisis is the suburbanite.  The person who escaped the city for a better quality of life only to have the unintended consequence of a less active life.  It is not that either the suburbanite or the urban dweller are gym rats; instead it is that the suburbs were designed when gas and land were cheap.  No need to think long-term of how the track homes built to the lowest legal standard, in the middle of nowhere, and only accessible by car would affect future generations.  It turned out that it created a whole bunch of health issues that doctors are only now beginning to understand.

There is a fix.  Suburbs all over the United States are saying no thank you to the failings of the past and redesigning their villages and cities with walkability as the primary form of transportation.  All the sudden the grocery stores and corner markets come back in vogue.  Parks, churches, community centers, schools, and restaurants are now placed in walking distance of one another.  Parking lots take a back seat to places accessible to foot traffic first and foremost.  Drive-through windows close and street side table seating takes its place.  Neighbors starts interacting with one another, build relationships, and everyone’s overall quality of life increases.

The future can look bright, but it starts with closing your eyes or perhaps just looking in the mirror.

Traffic Engineers vs. Designers, future of the Eden’s & Lake interchange?

This might be the best video yet on how well intended traffic engineers can create plans that fail the pedestrian.  The video fully captures the difference between how a traffic engineer views the world and how a designer with an eye towards complete streets views the world.  There is even a funny Star Wars reference 5 minutes into the video.

It is important to keep vigilant on staying on top of long-term engineering plans in the North Shore to assure that poor pedestrians designs are not implemented.  Designing with the pedestrian first in mind and then determining how other types of traffic can flow creates spaces that are not only safer, but also spaces that are pleasing to live in and call home.

Sidewalks, not just for the young

There are life stages that we all go through.  One of the huge life stages that young families look forward to are those precious first steps of toddlers.  Parents anxiously capture those first step moments on video and share them with friends and family.

There is a second huge life stage that we all go through.  The life stage where we hold on to mobility as long as possible to maintain our independence.  As we age, we must exercise our bodies to keep them fit and compete against father time.

Neighborhood walkability has become a benefit for seniors that choose to gracefully stay in the communities that they have called home for decades.  Retrofitting suburban neighborhoods that lack proper amenities for walkability has been gaining momentum across the country.  Below is a link to a blog on a site that rates an area’s walkability with a numeric score (The Avoca area scores a 38 out of a possible 100).  The blog article, Seniors: Walkability Benefits for an Aging Public goes into great detail on the benefits of walkability as a means of staying active as we age.  The blog post is worth reading to learn the trends happening nationwide as well as additional resources to learn more about walkability’s importance for seniors.

Sidewalks are a great resources for all ages and enhance the livability of a neighborhood for decades.

Seniors: Walkability Benefits for an Aging Public (from written by Jocelyn Milici Ceder) 

Seniors walking to church

Seniors walk to church in the morning in Evanston. An area with a walkable score of 73.


What are complete streets?

You may have heard the term “complete streets” in recent discussions.  There have been recent articles written in Time Magazine and Chicago Tribune in regards to complete streets, yet there is probably confusion as to what complete streets really are.

In the simplest terms, complete streets are streets designed for all people to use regardless of mode of transportation.  This means that streets are focused on how people will use them and not merely as a domain for cars.  Complete streets consider not only using streets for getting from place-to-place but that people assemble at the street, exercise on streets, children play in streets and festivals occur in streets.  Complete streets also take into account that streets provide a connection between places.  Complete streets link together the places where people congregate: homes, parks, churches, commerce, and institutions of learning.  Complete streets realize that the bringing together of people is the primary purpose of streets. People move first and foremost through their legs, so walking and biking are incorporated within complete street designs.  People with disabilities and the elderly are also important considerations when thinking through a street’s design.  Finally, there is the traditional transportation options of busing and automobiles.  Complete streets take into account all people, linking them together, and making sure the street can meet multiple uses.

You may learn more through a short video, Complete Streets Planning 101.

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50 plus years of recommending sidewalks

How long has sidewalk expansion been recommended by village planners?  Would you believe that 50 plus years ago there are references to sidewalks being retrofitted in areas that presently lack them as an amenity.  With all the medical studies that have appeared in recent years linking lack of low-impact exercise with the rise in US obesity rates, a person could not be blamed for thinking that sidewalks are a new movement. Instead going back to the 60s, the need to provide accessible, safe, and alternative transportation choices were seen as an infrastructure issue to be resolved.

1960 Glenview Master

Master Plan 1960

2004 Glenview Master Plan

Glenview Master Plan 2004

With planning underway for the next version of Glenview’s Master Plan, there can be no doubt that the issue of filling in the sidewalk gaps in the village will continue to be raised by village planners.  The question has never been will sidewalks be installed and the pedestrian transportation corridors complete, the question has always been will we be alive to see it.

Read Master Plans –

Crossing the Line

The problems with East Lake avenue are not unique to Illinois.  PBS did a report called Crossing the Line where they looked at Buford Highway in Georgia.  About 3:30 into the video, they discuss how 1/2 a mile is too far to space crosswalks for stretches of road where pedestrians would cross.  They even mention that police on foot would not walk 1/2 a mile to cross a roadway.  Yet that is exactly the situation on East Lake Avenue between Glenview and Wilmette where families wanting to go to Wilmette’s West Park, Avoca West Elementary, Dairy Queen, Starbucks, etc on foot or bike would have to do so at Harms road or Laramie.  Of course there are lots of places for those of us driving a car to make a right or left, just not those on foot.

Click to watch the full 8 minute PBS video.