Villages are funny places. When we think of our Chicago villages we often view vibrant downtowns surrounded by stores, a central green, and people strolling brick paved streets. Village planners, working with architectural firms, often create mockups of how a community will use a village center. What is funny is an overwhelming majority of the physical space that comprises a village is not in its downtown. Most of a village’s physical space will be taken up by residential housing, following by streets, parks, schools, etc. There are perimeter areas on the outskirts of a village’s boundaries that often do not immediately come to mind when creating a mental model of a village.
A great example is the school walking routes as defined by the Village of Wilmette (View map as provided by village). At first glance there is an abundant amount of pedestrian intersections and school crossing guards available to get students to school. When looking a bit further to the west, we begin seeing less crossing guards with none assigned to the middle school, Marie Murphy. Even worse is that west of the Eden’s highway we see no planning taken into consideration whatsoever. Loyola Academy does not even show up at all on the map, well it does show up but only the word “ACADEMY”. Avoca West Elementary which is listed on Wilmette’s own site under education does not have a plan at all, even though as posted on the site, “The greatest number of our students live in Wilmette”. On final inspection it turns out that at the bottom of the map the village has included the following disclaimer, “Schools west of the Eden’s Expressway not included”. To which one can conclude that the village is aware of the western boundary but decided not to include it in plans for safe walking routes.
As we stated in our opening, villages are funny places.
Orlando Florida is considered one of the worst cities in the United States for pedestrian safety when it comes to roadways. Roads in Orlando were enlarged in the 70s and 80s, when Disney World prompted the rapid expansion of the roadways with pedestrians treated as an afterthought.
Our own area has also gone through a rapid expansion over the past three decades. I am often shocked to discover that most residents do not know that Lake Ave in Glenview, IL was once a two lane road. When time came to expand it, no thought was given to how pedestrians were using Lake Ave to go to parks, walk to school, or grab a ice cream at the local Dairy Queen. Pedestrian crosswalks were placed at extremes, up to a 1/2 mile away between Laramie and Harms, which separated adjacent subdivisions. A pedestrian crosswalk and traffic signal on a path to the local elementary was inexcusably not incorporated into the traffic plan. Traffic speeds now regularity exceed 40 mph on Lake Ave at all hours of the day; a speed at which a pedestrian struck by car would only have a 15% chance of living.
Back in July, National Public Radio (NPR) did a report bringing to the light the problems with Orlando’s traffic and there are many parallels to the present growth with Glenview. You may listen to the full report here, Orlando Steps Up To Make Its Streets More Pedestrian-Friendly.
You will not hear much about walkability at your local village planning meeting. Conversations of street facing parking, road expansion, and assurances that strip malls blend into the 1920s architecture 1/2 a mile away tend to dominate the discussion. Even though walkability is not often discussed, it is precisely walkability that gives a village character. Seeing those human beings walking around and enjoying the village provides the very fabric of community.
Jeff Speck gave a wonderful Ted talk back in May where he shared his theory of walkability. Jeff’s theory breaks down walkability into four principles that he argues makes a village a destination rather than a high-speed pass through zone. The four principles are:
- a reason to walk
- a safe walk
- a comfortable walk
- an interesting walk
Think of these principles when driving around our villages, taking note of places where additional care needs to be provided to fix the haphazard planning of the 1950s.
Months ago we posted about the crosswalk lines being in horrible condition along Lake Avenue in Wilmette, IL (See How Responsive is your community? – June 2014). A letter had been written to the village of Wilmette in November 2013 bringing attention to the horrible condition of the crosswalks lines on a route to the local elementary school Avoca West. It took 9 months and today we are happy to report that the Village of Wilmette repainted the lines 5 days before the start of the 2014 academic year. Please be sure to contact your local village when you notice areas in need of repair as it does make a different – even if it takes awhile to get completed.
What is the most walkable city in the US? Immediately some famous ones enter our mind: New York, San Francisco, our very own Chicago. Would you be surprised to learn that Washington D.C. was recently ranked most walkable?
Yes, Washington D.C. is the most walkable metropolitan area in the U.S., according to a report by George Washington University and Smart Growth America. (http://mobilitylab.org/2014/08/14/suburbs-the-secret-to-d-c-s-soaring-walkability/#sthash.04) Most striking was that it was the redevelopment and planning of D.C.s suburbs that placed it over the edge.
Look around your neighborhood, have you witnessed behavior being taken to make your areas more walkable and safer for pedestrians? Or have you seen the expansion of road widths, the deterioration of sidewalks, and the inflation of speed limits in communities where families, schools, parks, and small business reside?