Sunday, December 27, 2009

Planning lessons from a blizzard..

Interesting video. The basic concept is that whenever there is a blizzard, even in places that are used to snow such as New York and Minnesota, the roads shut down. As we've seen in OKC, no major city really has the resources to instantly plow and sand every single street, even the major ones. I have relatives to the north of Omaha who have told me their streets haven't been plowed because there is too much snow and plow trucks have gotten damaged trying to get around, with their plow down. There's not a solution for clearing roads after a blizzard, but people still have that natural desire to want to get out of the house, even when weather's bad. In OKC it seems very restrictive when the TV stations are in DEFCON 1 mode and telling people not to leave their houses for days at a time, because there is NO other way to get around in OKC besides cars.

In NYC, which is actually a very walkable city when you remove the throngs of cars from the roads, the roads become littered with pedestrians getting around with more space. There is almost a peace of mind in NYC, as shown in the video, when cars are taken off the streets for the most part. Tons of people are playing out in the streets, families are safely getting some R&R outdoors, and life is great in the Five Boroughs. Pedestrians just naturally fill in the space that cars aren't taking up.

The video also brings up what a ridiculous amount of space is given to cars, even in the middle of cities. Not talking about Memorial Road, this is talking about streets like Park Avenue or Sheridan surrounded by dense environments. Do lanes really need to be "extra-wide" everywhere you go? No doubt that making all city streets accessible to large utility trucks and other trucks has compromised the environment for everything that's not a large truck. When it snows you can clearly see how wide the paths of cars are--and it's not that wide. The tracks that cars have formed from driving over the snow take up, what, half the width of the lane?

Anyone who's familiar with Tulsa knows how skinny roads are in that city. And yeah, you do kind of have to slow down in Tulsa when you're driving an SUV and the lanes are skinny, and there are pedestrians on the side, and for some reason everyone in a city known for skinny roads drives these Hummers and Land Rovers like a bat out of hell. So while you do have to slow down and drive more carefully, it is a better environment for pedestrians. So think -- do lanes really need to be as wide as they are? Do intersections need to be as wide as they are?

The wider the intersection, the harder it is to cross. A viable option that some cities have done is narrow the intersection, which psychologically affects drivers to drive slower, and extend the sidewalk. In OKC we call those "bump-outs" but I think in the video he just calls them sidewalk extensions, which is basically what they are. Think of crossing an intersection like jumping over a cliff (or imagine the street as being made of hot lava), and the bump-outs shorten the distance of lava you have to "jump" over. The shorter the pedestrian has to cross the intersection, the safer it is. Also another added benefit of bump-outs is that they help clearly define the space designated for pedestrian crossing much better than paint lines can. Damn jaywalkers!!

Just some interesting thoughts..


Mark said...

Very interesting indeed. I see that in Norman as well some of the arterials still aren't open their full width because of snow or an abandoned car still.

Though I have to wonder can the width of OKC's streets be "blamed" on cars? The street grid was laid out well before the car was widespread after all. Here I'm assuming the lot sizes and setbacks and all of that haven't changed significantly from the original plats, and I think that's a pretty safe assumption given how things look in Bricktown in that regard.

For instance Main Street in the original township of Norman is very wide indeed. Similarly for Purcell where there is middle of the street parking even.

Now why they were laid out that wide in the beginning, that I have no idea.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

Well when townships were first platted the streets weren't really used for cars. There was no such thing as traffic until about 1910..

Mark said...

Exactly my thought.