People want to walk
It’s been a good week for pedestrians. Last week was Bike to Work Week – and no, MPC did not top the list of winners of the Bike Commuter Challenge, but yes, I did ride in and enjoyed the requisite exchange with an impatient driver who didn’t appreciate my presence in Roosevelt Road’s bike lane. Also last week, the Urban Land Institute noted the findings of three surveys that walkable communities are growing in popularity. They all agreed that people increasingly want to be able to walk to stores and restaurants, or just take a walk with no particular destination. People, in other words, want to walk.
Finally, last night marked the kick-off of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian Plan public meetings. We at MPC were excited to be there to support the plan, make connections between pedestrian planning and Placemaking, and learn what residents of different communities are doing to create more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly public spaces. Here is a smattering of what we learned:
A soft-spoken gentleman stopped at my table to take several Placemaking guides back to his community group, the Martha Gonzalez Memorial Committee. The name rang a bell, and as he continued to talk I realized why: She was the woman featured in Monday’s Chicago Tribune article about the Pedestrian Plan meetings. She was struck and killed in a Pilsen intersection two years ago, and this committee is working to ensure that the safety conditions leading to her death are addressed. This gentleman is particularly committed, since Martha Gonzalez was his wife.
The intersection where Martha Gonzalez lost her life is far from the only unsafe intersection in Chicago. Indeed, one person from the Active Transportation Alliance noted that even though she is young and able-bodied, she cannot safely cross the Ogden/Pulaski/Cermak intersection in North Lawndale due to its extreme width and cars turning from the usual four directions as well as an angled street and service drives. Having worked 100 feet from that corner for years, I couldn’t agree more. I used to arrange my trips to the post office – located on the other side of the Great Divide – for days when I had my running shoes with me. This young woman is already organizing people and institutions around this intersection to begin raising awareness, and was excited to learn of MPC’s past work with North Lawndale residents, stakeholders and businesses along with CDOT to redesign Ogden Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly, traffic-calming thoroughfare. We look forward to working together to get the redesign implemented!
Walking while aging
Have you heard of “the Village?” An elderly woman educated me about a movement to create communities where residents can age in place. And no, this does not mean a separate retirement community. Groups such as the Lincoln Park Village work to build a vibrant, caring community that embraces all residents and enables them to stay in the communities they love as they grow older. Part of embracing the broad spectrum of our population is ensuring that everyone from an eight-month-old to an 80-year-old can safely navigate an area. Curb cuts and shoveled snow, to pick two examples, allow people in wheelchairs and babies in strollers to still get outside and be a part of the community. If people who have children or grow old feel they cannot easily move around in their community, they will leave – to the detriment of those left behind. In the words of Jane Jacobs, “In our American cities, we need all kinds of diversity.”
Walking to celebrate community
A young staff person from The Resurrection Project (TRP), a community development corporation in Pilsen, stopped at my table to remind me of the importance of creating public spaces to walk to – those interactive spaces where we meet, mingle and create community. TRP has re-created and nurtured the traditional Mexican town square, El Zocalo, right outside of their offices near the southwest corner of 18th and Paulina. Often throughout the warmer months, the square fills with music, dancing and performances that draw people from the entire metro region. TRP’s deliberate programming of El Zocalo demonstrates the importance of creating and strengthening community through the use of public spaces. People go, as the saying goes, where people are.
So let’s create more reasons for people to be pedestrians because, as reinforced over the past week, people want to walk.