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Blocking Walking: When Pedestrians are Forced to Find Another Way

Blog by Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Reconnect board member and the creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog focused on conversations around the elements that create healthy cities, neighborhoods and communities today. Arian covers walkability, public transit, financial solvency, bike infrastructure, smart development, public space, public pride and ownership of our futures. While he discusses issues of public policy, legislation, statistics and money, The UP specializes in addressing public perceptions and how they affect the way we see our cities.


Your heart sinks when you see that orange symbol of uncertainty. You grip the wheel tighter, curse, and check your watch to see if the impending redirection will inevitably make you late to your destination. We’ve all experienced this frustrating dilemma, brought about by that never-welcomed sign that reads “DETOUR.”

While detours encountered on the road may be frustrating, fear not! The Department of Transportation has outlined the most convenient alternative navigation for you to traverse instead. Abundant signage will guide your new direction, showing you exactly where to go in order to continue along your new route. Your safety on this detour has been considered. The new route will accommodate all vehicles, from small cars to big trucks. While inconvenienced, a tremendous amount of thought has gone into ensuring that your detour will be as impact-free as possible.

But what happens when you’re walking down a city sidewalk and you see a sign like the one below?

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What happens when you’re rolling down an urban bike trail and you encounter a piece of construction equipment blocking your path?

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This piece of machinery was blocking a trail in Buffalo, NY while the operators were on a lunch break. “Oh sorry, I was about to move that” one of the workers said as I snapped a photo…

Or maybe you’re making the trek home from the bar on foot, only to encounter this blocking your path…

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Finally, you and your family are taking a winter evening stroll in your neighborhood. While the street you’re on is perfectly plowed, you can’t help but notice that your children are struggling to stay on their feet while traversing the icy sidewalk.

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Walkability is something we talk about with regard to healthy communities and neighborhoods these days. And for good reason… areas that are more walkable have higher property value, and have shown to be better for business growth and proliferation. But even with all the positives that come from strong pedestrian connectivity, construction projects, infrastructure maintenance and good old fashioned Mother Nature can lead to sidewalk closures and/or unsafe walking environments. Most of these can be remedied with proper planning and foresight, but that foresight is often lacking. Developers and workers don’t always understand the importance of pedestrian prioritization, and this is, to some extent, understandable. It is only just now that we are beginning to realize the importance of giving pedestrians welcoming, connected, comfortable and safe environments to traverse neighborhoods on foot.

When sidewalks are closed due to nearby construction, pedestrians must find a way around. This either means backtracking to the last crosswalk, or worse, venturing out into the a potentially busy street in order to cross, or walk in the road along the blocked sidewalk until they pass the construction area. It is important for everyone to understand that people on foot, like drivers, will often choose the most convenient option, even if it is not the best or safest.

This cement truck was not only parked in a crosswalk leading from Rochester’s Genesee Riverway Trail, it completely blinded pedestrians from being able to see oncoming traffic on South Avenue

Construction companies should do everything in their power to ensure that a pedestrian right-of-way is not impeded by their work. Actions should be taken to ensure that pedestrians don’t have to find an alternate route. Sidewalk sheds and scaffolding, much like the ones we see in larger cities, should be built to keep the sidewalk functional and protect those on foot.

Furthermore, construction site and maintenance workers should be trained to ensure that equipment, machinery and other barriers never block a sidewalk or path. Workers may not realize that blocking a sidewalk, even for a short while, could put pedestrians in an inconvenient, or even dangerous situation.

Even plow companies need to appreciate the negative impact of moving snow out of our streets and into the direct path of our pedestrians.

This sidewalk leading to Rochester’s new Amtrak station is completely blocked by
plowed snow

Failing to mind these amenities is even more detrimental to the safety of persons with disabilities. A closed sidewalk can make for a precarious situation for those in our community with mobility issues, and/or folks in wheelchairs or motorized scooters.

Finally, blocking sidewalks is not just inconvenient and unsafe for pedestrians, it sends a message that this vital piece of infrastructure is not important. When car traffic is moving smoothly while the adjacent sidewalk has been blocked, torn up or interrupted, it clearly signals that those who choose to walk or have to walk are not welcome, and seen as less important.

While Rochester’s Nathaniel Apartments were being constructed, pedestrian access was accommodated on the building’s north side with a pedestrian tunnel. The East side of the building, however, did not effectively accommodate foot traffic during construction.

Meaningful accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists are out there. In our most dense urban areas where walkability is more appreciated, these accommodations are plentiful. But even in our smaller cities, there are excellent examples of developers making every attempt to ensure sidewalk use is unaffected during construction.

This construction project not only accounts for pedestrians and cyclists, the circled signage clearly instructs both on the appropriate path to use while traversing this stretch

Sidewalks are the connective tissue in our urban communities. They are the final link between homes and public transit. They are the needle the weaves the fabric of our neighborhoods together. They are are the highway for those who cannot afford a car, or make the choice not to own one. In our cities, sidewalks have a level of importance that often goes unrealized and under appreciated in our car-centric world.  Accommodating and maintaining their convenience, their appeal and their safety is of paramount importance to creating a healthy, walkable environment for all of our citizens.  

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Opinion: Driving’s Dehumanizing Effect

Guest blog by Arian Horbovetz. Arian is the creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog focused on conversations around the elements that create healthy cities, neighborhoods and communities today. Arian covers walkability, public transit, financial solvency, bike infrastructure, smart development, public space, public pride and ownership of our futures. While he discusses issues of public policy, legislation, statistics and money, The UP specializes in addressing public perceptions and how they affect the way we see our cities.

Not long ago, a professor at Brockport Central School teacher was struck and killed by a pickup truck about 25 minutes from my hometown of Rochester, NY. The driver was ticketed for “failing to safely pass a bicycle…” a far too familiar slap on the wrist for a deadly crime of negligence.

This is the latest in a rash of similar pedestrian and bike related deaths in my area over the last several months, a tragic but predictably dismissed epidemic that is simply accepted as “the cost of doing business” in American car culture.

This afternoon, I was riding my bike home from work when a speeding pickup truck flew by my just a foot and a half or so away. The driver was trying to make the light up ahead while avoiding the oncoming car in the opposite lane.

As is often the case, the driver missed the green light, stopping before the intersection. I rolled up behind him, calling to his open driver side window, “hope that was worth it!” I received an aggressive hand gesture in response.

This was far from the first time this has happened… I can’t count the number of times a driver has made an aggressive pass on me at an unsafe distance and speed, only to sit at a light or next several lights with me alongside just a few seconds later. But this time, I had a thought that I never did before. I’ve heard so many cyclists and urbanists talk about how many drivers see cyclists as “less than human.” Indeed, I’ve written articles talking about the lack of respect for cyclists because of the inability for drivers to see bikes as viable forms of transportation. Instead, drivers see cyclists in the road as a recreational nuisance impeding their commute, nothing more.

Today, I realized it’s even worse than that. In order for drivers to see cyclists as sub-human, they have to acknowledge humanity in the surrounding environment in the first place. Even to see someone as less than you is to see them and be aware of their existence. I truly now believe, based on everything I’ve seen in driving behavior, that most drivers don’t see the cars, bikes and other vehicles around them as being piloted by living things at all. I believe the average driver sees other motorists and cyclists simply as video-game-like obstacles that need to be overcome in order to advance in a game of speed and power. In other words, there is something about the automobile that disconnects drivers from the reality that anyone else on the road or in the surrounding environment is worthy of their respect as human beings with spouses, families, jobs and dependents. It’s not that drivers see cyclists and pedestrians as less-than-human, it’s that aggressive motorists will stop but nothing to reach their destination in timely fashion, seeing all others as sand traps and water hazards, cones and barrels, or any other inanimate barrier to success and “freedom.” It is a level of self-absorption rooted in a century of individualistically auto-centered American behavior so ingrained that it blinds the power-infused driver to the presence of potential human impact.

This might seem like an extreme assumption, and perhaps it is. But I can think of no other explanation for the incredible disregard for the physical safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers that motorists routinely display. In our eyes behind the wheel, people become objects, cyclists become hazards and other drivers become enemies.

We can’t solve the problem of pedestrian, cyclist and auto fatalities unless we get to the root of the mindset that enables their frequency. Next time you pass a cyclist, think of her family. Next time you enter a crosswalk without looking both ways, think of the young man trying to get to work or to class. Next time you move aggressively around another car, think of the children that might be strapped in the back seat. Think of the lives these people live, the people who love them and depend on them instead of the 10-30 seconds that putting them in danger may save you. We’re all in this together out there, so let’s start driving like it! Or better yet, take the bus, get on a bike or walk to where you need to go whenever possible!


We can all do our part to make our community safer by paying more attention behind the wheel.

Check out the Drive 2B Better campaign website to learn how. Watch some super cool ad videos. Test your knowledge of the rules of the road. Take a pledge and commit to doing your part.

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Complete Streets Series (Part 3 of 3): Safer Rochester Streets, An Intersection at a Time

In this final installment of our Complete Streets Blog Series, guest author David Riley will highlight a sampling of intersections and trouble spots that were nominated for the Complete Streets Makeover project, and share his ideas for how they might be made safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

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Complete Streets Series (Part 2 of 3): Re-Designing Our “Finalist” Streets for People

 

Back in May, we launched our Complete Streets Makeover project by asking the general public to help identify the intersections and trouble-spots where you live, work and play that could be redesigned to make them safer for everyone. We received over 90 nominations, and after a careful process to examine each and every submission, we selected the following locations:

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Complete Streets Series (Part 1 of 3): A Neighborhood Intersection Transformed

In the U.S., pedestrian fatalities have skyrocketed, increasing by 46% from 2009-2016. According to our Crash Map, over 4,000 crashes in Monroe County from 2010-2017 involved bicyclists and pedestrians. Eight people die on our streets every year as a result of these crashes.

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2014 the Safest Year to Be a Pedestrian in NYC Since 1910

In June, the New York State legislature passed a bill to let NYC lower its default limit to 25mph. Lowering speed limits is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero plan. [PHOTO: Michael Tapp, Flickr]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

This month marks the one year anniversary of New York City’s ambitious Vision Zero campaign external link, a plan to eliminate traffic fatalities by the year 2024.

As part of the effort external link, traffic calming and street design measures were implemented, bike lanes were expanded, speed cameras were installed in school zones, the citywide default speed limit was reduced to 25 mph, arterial slow zones were established, public education and awareness were ramped up and the NYPD significantly stepped up enforcement and ticketing for traffic violations. It’s an effort that requires all people, regardless of how they traverse those streets to rethink how they drive, walk and ride about their daily lives. It requires a shift in the culture of getting about in NYC, which is no easy task.

So, one year later, is the campaign making a difference?

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