Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Responses to a Comment

Here are two responses to a recent online comment that pedestrian-friendly streets are not needed in New Haven:


1. I think that the back and forth argument regarding the relative fault of pedestrians versus drivers misses the main point. I would bet that many of the more aggressive drivers cross the street agressively and that cautious drivers also are cautious pedestrians. Also it is not about Yale or Southern students, it is about youth. I see the same behavior when I pass Wilbur Cross when students are arriving or getting out. My guess is that most of us have tried to beat a light either behind the wheel or on foot in our pasts, but that we do it less frequently as we get older. This is human nature and we do need to educate our children not to take silly chances. But, even with the best attempts, kids especially are going to keep doing this. Therefore, it really is the responsibility of the "system" to protect the vulnerable parties in this clash and, sorry to all you irritated drivers, but that will always be the pedestrians. We form societies and make rules to channel human nature into more civil paths after all. So, even if it means more hassle for drivers, speed limits should be enforced rigerously in the city and then lowered if need be. We should convert our wide one-way streets back to two-way traffic and we should get the legislature to change the law regarding video tickets and install the cameras all over the city. As for the intersection in question near the medical school, that entrance ramp onto the 34 connector should be closed or made accessable only to cars coming out of Air Rights garage. That will eliminate the very frequent occurrence of cars accelerating through the intersection to merge onto the highway entrance. These are simple things that can make an impact immediately. This tragedy should remind us to do better and get our community to do better as well.


2. The safe streets petition addresses all road users, not just drivers. An equitable system means making the city more pedestrian-friendly. The most successful cities in the world are pedestrian-friendly; if New Haven wants to grow economically (not to mention in an environmentally and socially friendly way) it needs to become pedestrian-friendly as well.

Would you want to move to a place where oil trucks were speeding down the road in front of your kid's school at 50MPH? It is happening here already -- see the New Haven Register article posted at the Safe Streets website, about Daniels School. Well, most people wouldn't want to live or work there either. Over the past few months, almost everyone we have talked with - hundreds of neighbors throughout New Haven - has been happy with the idea of traffic on their small neighborhood streets being slowed to 20MPH from the current speeds of 30MPH (10MPH may not sound like much difference, but due to the laws of physics, it is actually an extremely significant, exponentially more fatal gap). After all, our streets are supposed to be neighborhood assets -- public "living rooms" where people can meet each other informally; places where their children can play outside without the fear of immediate death by a speeding SUV; places where a private car is not an absolute necessity for getting around (believe it or not); places that reflect on the values of our society as a whole. We have strayed very far away from those goals and it is time to come back to them. Especially in light of insurmountable scientific evidence that shows that unfriendly streets are not just unfriendly in severe ways to walking or bicycling, but even more unfriendly to our children, our health, our air, our economy, and our society as a whole. Speaking of living rooms, would you want someone driving through yours at 40MPH?

Creating a pedestrian-friendly city does not mean 15MPH speed limits citywide with stop lights on every corner. Far from that, in fact. It is not rocket science either. It means a comprensive look at how to reduce traffic injuries by 90% by 2015, as well as increased awareness of traffic safety and traffic responsibility across the board by all road users, which is what we are advocating for. There are many ways to accomplish that, methods that cities around the country and around the world have been using for decades, ever since they realized around 1960 or so that urban streets should never be planned, designed or managed in the same way as interstate highways. We simply need to catch up and stop pretending that we are living in the 1950s. We also need to take urgent and decisive steps to immediately reduce the unacceptable levels of traffic-related deaths and injuries in our fair city.

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