Archive for the ‘Urbanism’ Category

Support street improvements on Park Boulevard!

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition is campaigning for street improvements on Park Boulevard, including the addition of bike lanes and possibly a reduction in car lanes. I wholeheartedly support this effort. In the first month of this blog’s existence, I wrote a post about why Park Blvd is such an awful street for a densely populated neighborhood (oddly, I did not advocate for bike lanes in that post, even though I get almost everywhere by bike). There have been minor improvements to the street since I wrote that in January of 2009, including new traffic signals and sidewalk bulbouts at the intersection with Newton and East 20th, allowing people to cross over to FM Smith Park with less risk of bodily harm. The main problem, however—a road which feels more like a freeway than a city street—remains.

The dangers of Park Boulevard are not theoretical. I live near the intersection of Brooklyn, Spruce and Park, and the sounds of squealing tires followed by a crash are common. In August 2010, there were two accidents on consecutive days at that one intersection; first a driver lost control on Park and swerved straight into a wall on Brooklyn Ave, then the following day a driver rear-ended an AC Transit bus:

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I wish those were freak occurrences, but in fact collisions on Park are routine. Another accident at the same intersection in 2012 involved three cars:

Those are just a few of the many incidents I have heard or seen on that one little piece of Park Boulevard, and presumably many more have happened when I wasn’t around to witness them, or occurred on other stretches of Park. Indeed, just today the bike coalition tweeted this photo of a car overturned in a Park Blvd crosswalk:

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With the Parkway Theater still sitting dormant after closing four years ago, Park Boulevard needs all the help it can get, and some local merchants seem to appreciate the benefit to the community that a more livable street could bring. For those who live farther afield, relatively flat Park Boulevard would be an ideal bicycle route for many commuters, but in its current form it does not feel like a safe space for cyclists or pedestrians.

Changes to street designs are almost invariably fought by some neighbors, who fear slower traffic or fewer parking spots (or who are just wary of change in general), so advocates for safer, more ped- and bike-friendly streets need to make their case clearly, loudly, and repeatedly. Nearby Lakeshore Blvd has been dramatically improved by cutting the number of full-size lanes from 4 to 2 and adding bike lanes on either side. A road diet and bike lanes on Park Boulevard would be an improvement as well, making the road safer not only for cyclists and pedestrians, but for drivers as well (see above photos). You can find out more about the Bike Coalition’s Park Blvd campaign here at their website, and take a short survey to give your input about how Park might be improved.

 

Oakland’s painted gnomes get some national press

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Oakland’s painted gnomes, which I wrote about in March, were mentioned in a column on “DIY Urbanism” in the October issue of Governing magazine, accompanied by a photo I took of one of the little dudes:

The full column (sans photo, I’m sad to say) can be read at Governing’s website.

Navigating the Strait of Caña

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I’m all for new businesses opening up in vacant storefronts in nearby neighborhoods, and I’m all for sidewalk seating in front of restaurants and cafes too—almost anything that encourages people to be out and about on the streets and sidewalks of our neighborhoods seems like a good thing to me, whether they are walking to the post office or sipping mojitos with friends at a sidewalk table.

That said, I was a bit taken aback when I saw the outdoor seating area for the (not yet open) Caña, a new cuban restaurant and cabaret:

My first reaction was, “WTF? Could you have made your sidewalk seating area any more obtrusive and obstructive?” More than half of the sidewalk is blocked, right next to the bus stop and garbage can, so there is only a 30-inch gap through which people have to pass—in the 2 minutes I was standing there gaping at this new fence, I saw several pedestrians stop to let oncoming walkers pass through this Strait of Caña before they themselves could proceed. A woman pushing a regular stroller through the gap used careful navigation, since there were only a few inches on either side.

My second reaction was, “Well, I know that they are going to be widening this section of sidewalk soon as part of the Lakeshore complete streets project, so this fencing off of a public walkway for private use will presumably be a lot less obtrusive once the sidewalk is larger.” Of course it might have been nice, I told myself, if they had waited for the sidewalk expansion before they blocked a busy pedestrian strip with a fence for a seating area which isn’t even being used yet, but whatever, it will only be temporary, and it might be nice once the sidewalk widening occurs.

My third reaction came after I got home and saw that they plan to expand the sidewalk seating area from 6 feet to 10 feet after the sidewalk is widened. So the current fencing was apparently designed for the currently configured sidewalk, not the more commodious sidewalk of the future. I returned to my first feeling of “WTF?”

I note that Lanesplitter Pizza, which is right next door, also plans to expand their outdoor seating. But Lanesplitter seems to be waiting for the sidewalk expansion before fencing off a large part of a moderately sized sidewalk in a fairly busy pedestrian area. For now, Lanesplitter has simply been placing a few tables out on the sidewalk during business hours, and the pedestrian right of way remains clear (until, of course, you hit the Caña property line, where you suddenly run into a metal fence).

As I said, this problem is probably temporary, because (I hope) the expanded sidewalk will be wide enough and presumably designed to accomodate the outdoor seating at Caña and Lanesplitter and other restaurants on that strip, and once the sidewalk is wider and Caña actually opens, the benefits of outdoor seating will probably outweigh the impediment to pedestrians. Even if I might prefer a less obtrusive seating area without a big fence around it, the streetscape redesign will surely be a big improvement over the status quo.

I don’t mean to pick on Caña, which I hope will be a lively and valuable addition to the neighborhood, but it’s still somewhat galling that a business which hasn’t even opened yet can erect a fence which indefinitely blocks pedestrian traffic, while a business such as Farley’s East can’t appropriate a small piece of the automobile’s turf for customer seating for a single day without being forced by the police to remove their temporary seating area from the street.

I see that “Caña Outdoor Seating” is listed on the agenda of the Grand Lake Neighbors’ monthly meeting tomorrow (as is the contentious proposed dog park next to MacArthur Boulevard), so I wonder if I’m not the only person who was a bit surprised by how obtrusive the sidewalk fence is.

When the Dog Bites. When the Bee Stings.

Friday, September 17th, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things: coffee, bikes, music, and the reclaiming of public space from the tyranny of the automobile. Imagine how delighted I was, then, to be able to take a picture of a coffee shop, a bike shop, a record shop, and a (temporary, alas) parklet installed on 40th Street in Oakland today as park of the annual Park(ing) Day takeover of curbside parking spots:

Coffee, Bikes, Music, Parklet.

I rode up to Berkeley today, so I swung by a few of these spots. I love the idea of Park(ing) Day, but I have to admit that seeing it in practice made me a bit sad. These parklets are sort of cute, but they were all surrounded today by the ugly, charmless streetscapes which pervade Oakland. Instead of being little oases of green, the seating areas in front of Subrosa (above) or Actual Cafe were unused at lunchtime until I plopped myself down and had my cappuccino or bagel or egg cream. Rather than giving me a small glimpse of how nice streets such as 40th or San Pablo could be someday, they just reminded me of how inhospitable to human beings those arterial streets are, and how dramatically they would need to change in order to feel like they were made for people instead of for cars.

Two other places I rode past which were supposedly participating in Park(ing) Day (Tip Top bikes in Temescal and Good Chemistry bakery on Grand) did not seem to have taken part after all, and Farley’s East on Grand, which looks like it had a great and well-used setup this morning, had moved everything up onto the sidewalk and given up the parking space to a car by the time I rode past in mid-afternoon. Given how low-density most parts of Oakland are, I have some real doubts about whether any amount of improved streetscaping or road diets or redevelopment or reclamation of public space will ever make it feel like a truly pedestrian-friendly city, except in small pockets here and there.

On a less pessimistic note, I was riding to Berkeley because I have wanted to check out Waterside Workshops in West Berkeley since I first heard about it a couple of months ago. It’s a non-profit which runs a boatbuilding workshop, a bike shop, and a cafe. They have local disadvantaged teens serve as interns, teaching them how to craft wooden boats, fix up old bikes for resale, and serve customers at the waterfront cafe. Obviously the main point is to instill good work habits, pride of workmanship, and collaborative and customer service skills, but who knows, boatbuilding and bike repair may end up being in demand if we start to run out of oil in the next few decades.

Waterside Workshops

It is very Berkeley, and very awesome. Sadly, it was also very closed today, due to a water outage caused by a nearby construction project. My visit will have to wait for another time, but I’ll probably take some photos and write about it more after I finally get to take a look around.

Under the Freeway and Through the Parking Lot, to Amtrak’s House We Go

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

If you want to walk from historic (and tourist-oriented) Old Town Sacramento to the train station, you are directed across a parking area, under two or three freeway ramps, and then through another parking lot. (The yellow sign says “TO AMTRAK STATION” and the sign on the parking lot booth behind it says “PAY HERE.” Indeed, we are paying dearly for the privileging of the automobile in the last century).

To Amtrak Station

(Ironically, this photo was taken about 50 feet from the entrance to the California State Railroad Museum.)

Pedestrian access from the direction of downtown and the capitol isn’t much better—you have to cross this wide boulevard designed to be a freeway feeder, and there’s only one crosswalk at one corner of one intersection. And of course there is a parking lot to traverse on this side of the building as well (the Amtrak station is the brick building visible behind the trees):

I don’t know why I’m continually surprised by all the little ways that American cities have been designed to accommodate cars at the expense of other modes of transportation, but I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve been lucky to spend most of my life in cities which retain a lot of their pre-automobile design. (In fairness to Sacramento, much of it seems like a fairly livable, walkable city, at least in the neighborhoods surrounding the city center, and its flat terrain makes riding a bike easy too.)

Walk at Your Own Risk

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

It’s been a terrible week for pedestrians around here. On Tuesday alone, a woman was killed in an Oakland crosswalk by a hit and run driver, a woman crossing the street in San Francisco was killed by a city utility truck (she appears to have been in a crosswalk too), and yet another woman was critically injured by an SF Muni bus as she walked across a crosswalk. Then yesterday, two teenagers were hit by an SUV in Santa Rosa as they walked across a crosswalk, and one of them is critically injured.

Seriously, enough is enough! If it were swine flu or a defective Toyota part or al Qaeda which was causing this level of ongoing slaughter in the United States, then it would be considered a national crisis. When it’s stupid or reckless or inattentive drivers who are causing this mayhem, however, the problem is mostly dismissed with a shrug and the explanation that these are just “tragic accidents.”

I understand why these individual incidents don’t make big headlines. (The Oakland hit and run death was relegated to the “News Briefs” on page 6 of yesterday’s Oakland Tribune; homicides sometimes get the same treatment—when these tragedies become routine, then they no longer qualify as big news.) And I also understand, legally speaking, why drivers who hit pedestrians (or bicyclists) are rarely held responsible for their negligence—these are, after all, “just accidents,” as the police often say when they explain why no one is being charged in these cases. Despite what it may feel like when one is walking or biking around American cities these days, the overwhelming majority of automobile drivers do not actually want to hit anyone. And the fact that responsibility for all these pedestrian deaths and injuries is borne by a diffuse array of individual drivers, rather than a single entity like a car company or a terrorist group, makes it seem less like a systematic problem and more like a random set of unavoidable tragedies.

It is a systematic problem, however. I don’t know precisely what perverse set of historical developments got us where we are today, but the fact is that we as a society have taken most of our public space and turned it over to millions of absent-minded or distracted or careless people who are each controlling about a ton of fast-moving metal. In my opinion, this is completely insane. It’s no wonder that so few people walk anywhere in most parts of the country!

And not only have we turned over most of our urban public space to people in cars, but we then do a lousy job of ensuring that they drive responsibly. Any 16-year-old who can do a three point turn can get a license to kill—excuse me, I mean a license to drive. Drunk drivers, who are essentially broadcasting to the world the message that they do not really care if they take the life of another human being, are usually allowed to get behind the wheel a few months after getting a DUI—and we usually don’t even take their cars away, so these people who have already displayed a lack of concern for obeying the law and for other people’s safety can easily get behind the wheel and drive to their favorite bar again, suspended license be damned.

It’s not just pedestrians and bicyclists who are in danger from this absurd set of circumstances—we just happen to be the most vulnerable, since we aren’t ensconced in protective metal cages ourselves. Roughly 40,000 Americans die in car crashes every year, and many, perhaps most, of those crashes would not occur if drivers simply slowed down a little bit and watched where they were going. I don’t believe that most automobile drivers are more indifferent to human life than other people, but they just happen to be piloting very dangerous, fast-moving objects with minimal training. (Auden wrote that “indifference is the least/We have to dread from man or beast,” but if he had spent a few hours riding a bike around a modern American city, he might have changed his mind about that.)

It’s about time that politicians (aided by the police, prosecutors, etc.) undertook a serious effort to make people realize that recklessly endangering the lives of other people will not be tolerated anymore. Even baby steps would be a nice start, such as aggressively ticketing all the oblivious drivers who blithely cruise through intersections while people are in crosswalks, forcing the walkers to jump back to the curb—if the risk of killing pedestrians isn’t enough to make drivers pay attention, then maybe a few moving violations will start to do the trick.

These Feet Were Made for Walking

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I certainly didn’t set out to circumnavigate the city of Piedmont last Saturday, or to walk a half marathon through Oakland’s hilly northeast quadrant. One thing leads to another, however; that’s just the way life works—or my life, at least. You put one foot in front of the other, and then you do it again—a step, and another step, and then another, and the next thing you know, you’re aimlessly wandering the streets of Oakland, California.

My walk began routinely enough: I thought I’d take advantage of a break in the rains to walk the dog up to beloved Sausal Creek, hoping to see it in full flow after all the storms last week. It was somewhat anticlimactic—even my dog, who doesn’t take naturally to water, was unfazed by the current and waded right in.

Sausal Dog

The clear weather was holding, and I wasn’t in the mood to turn heel and walk back down the hill yet, so I decided to check out the walking and biking trail that leads from Montclair Village up into Shepherd Canyon. It’s a bit surprising that I’ve never been there before, since I walk up to Montclair occasionally, and have even trekked from my apartment up to Redwood Regional Park at the top of the hill a couple of times. I’m glad I finally took a look. The trail was laid where Sacramento Northern tracks used to run, so it curves nicely—and not too steeply—about a mile into the Canyon before ending at a cul de sac off Shepherd Canyon road, near where the train used to enter a tunnel through the hills.

Shepherd Canyon trail

A few panels posted alongside the trail have some interesting history about the railroad and the canyon, including the astonishing fact that CalTrans proposed building a highway up Shepherd Canyon to the east side of the hills. Thankfully, there was enough opposition that the idea never became reality. Oakland is already so criss-crossed with freeways that it’s frightening to imagine that if CalTrans had really gotten what it wanted, then we would have even more. The state legislature permanently protected the canyon from freeway development in 1972, and a few years later the city council set aside land for parks and trails, bequeathing us the Shepherd Canyon that we know today. (You can read the informational panels in pdf form thanks to the Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association.)

Shepherd Canyon trail

The trail is a pleasant enough place to take a walk, but with truly glorious parks like Joaquin Miller and Redwood and Sibley just up the street, I’d be surprised if it’s used very much for recreation except by people who happen to live in the neighborhood. So it was heartening to see how well-used the trail is for quotidian, utilitarian purposes. In my half hour walking up the trail and back, I passed at least a dozen people who were clearly walking home from the grocery store, or biking home from errands, or walking down to Montclair Village to go to a coffee shop or the bank or wherever. That’s more people than I sometimes see walking around in my own denser, more walkable neighborhood! Since there are no sidewalks on most residential streets in Montclair, and the curvy and steep roads can make for tiring, long, and dangerous walking, I doubt that most of those people I saw would have been walking to and from Montclair Village if they didn’t have the trail. (There are some public stairways around Montclair which serve much the same function.)

After I got back to Montclair Village, I basically had two options: either retrace my steps back down Park Boulevard to home, or make some kind of loop. Park Boulevard is plenty interesting, at least to me, but I always prefer loops, so I headed north on Mountain Boulevard toward Lake Temescal, where two optimistic little girls were using the fleeting sunshine as an excuse for pretending that summer was already here.

I was about nine miles into the walk by then, and beginning to wonder why I had walked to a point in Oakland which happens to have no direct route back to my apartment. Spontaneous rambling is fun and all, but the benefits of planning ahead were starting to sink in. No matter—I still had plenty of fuel in the proverbial tank, and I had planned ahead enough to bring some snacks for the dog and some water for both of us, so onward we went, first down to Rockridge, then down Broadway to MacArthur, and then finally to home.

It seems like I end up taking a long walk like this once or twice a year, when I have a free afternoon and a hankering to see some streets that I haven’t seen before.  Not only is walking the best way, hands down, to get to know a neighborhood, but it also clarifies the relationships between neighborhoods, both geographically and sociologically. The architecture changes, the years and models of the cars parked in driveways change, sidewalks disappear or reappear, or a freeway blocks ones path and forces a quarter-mile detour. Strangers on the street greet you cheerfully, or eye you warily, or flaunt their indifference. Front yards have barking dogs behind chain link fences, or obsessively manicured landscaping, or kids’ bikes left on the grass next to driveways. All these things determine the character of a place.

I wrote a post in June about how great it is to get around town by bicycle, but for me, riding a bike is really a sort of compromise, between the speed and distance possible in a car and the benefits to one’s health and one’s soul that walking brings. As far as I’m concerned, the ultimate in human transportation is not anything designed by Bianchi or BMW or Boeing, but rather a technology devised by evolution, nature’s master engineer. You put one foot in front of the other, and then you do it again—a step, and another step, and then another, and the next thing you know, you’re not so worried about where exactly you’re going.

It’s seen fire and it’s seen rain

Friday, January 15th, 2010

I mentioned, back in mid-December, my amusement at finding an abandoned couch blocking 12th Avenue—whoever dumped it apparently couldn’t even be bothered to leave it on the side of the road. The sofa was moved to the sidewalk within a few hours, but there it has remained ever since. More than a month later, it is still sitting by the side of the road minding its own business, mostly ignored except by mischief-makers.

Have a seat

We’ll see if it’s still there in mid-February.

Debacle on 34th St.

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

This is the view to the north as you pass down 34th Street in Oakland between Telegraph and MLK, which I finally got around to photographing today:

Cathedral

If you look at aerial photos of Oakland from the 40’s or 50’s, before these freeways and BART tracks were built, then you will find that the land shown here used to be blanketed with small houses. These days many of the surrounding blocks, especially on the western side, are even more depressed—and depressing—than average in Oakland: vacant lots and vacant buildings outnumber inhabited lots on some blocks of MLK, and with a few exceptions, the only extant businesses to be found nearby are liquor stores. It’s no wonder that one neighborhood abutting this thicket of freeway overpasses is known as Ghost Town. (The Telegraph side of the freeway is somewhat healthier, but thanks to these barriers which divide Oakland into pieces and attract blight to the gaps in between, improvements in one neighborhood often have trouble spreading organically into other neighborhoods which sit less than a hundred yards away.)

Interlocking Interchange

As consolation, perhaps, for the razing of hundreds of homes, the empty land under these interchanges was leased by CalTrans to the City of Oakland for use as city parks. And what lovely parks they are!

Grove Shafter Park

When I pass by trash-strewn Oakland parks-cum-homeless shelters like these, then I am reminded yet again of how smart it is for Oakland to ban our dogs from city parks. God forbid that any gamboling dogs should damage the beautiful lawn or disturb any of the families picnicking here, right? (Incidentally, I hope CalTrans has checked the structural integrity of that first column. I know they have their hands full with the Bay Bridge falling apart, but I wouldn’t want to be atop that cracked concrete during an earthquake.)

I was reminded by a column in the Contra Costa Times today that construction of a fourth tunnel for Highway 24 under the Oakland Hills is scheduled to start next year. The BART Board of Directors also gave final approval to the redundant, ugly, expensive and slow Oakland Airport Connector last week, so construction on that will start next year too. Both construction projects are scheduled to last through 2013, so for three years, Oakland will be bracketed by two large public works projects, one at our northern tip and one at our southern tip, both of which are intended to serve the needs of suburban commuters and travelers. Meanwhile the city spread between the two projects will continue to suffer, as parks go unmaintained, bus service is reduced, library hours are shortened, and so on. The story is always the same: cater to suburbanites and drivers, screw the urban poor, and justify it by citing job creation. Job creation is used as a trump card in a city with a 17% unemployment rate, but you can also create jobs paving city streets or increasing bus service or building infill BART stations instead of expanding highways and building elevated cable cars to the airport.

I’ve wondered in some of my earlier posts whether our new New Deal would leave a legacy of enlightened infrastructure like enhanced bike paths and more extensive mass transit infrastructure. How naive those musings seem now: it should have been obvious that CalTrans and BART and the other relevant authorities would use much of their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds ($197.7 million in the case of the Highway 24 tunnel, $70 million in the case of BART’s airport connector) to fund long-planned projects that will either encourage car commuting (the fourth tunnel for Hwy 24) or duplicate an existing airport shuttle at the expense of local bus and rail service while creating additional overhead eyesores over the streets of Oakland (the airport connector).

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave

As it happens, both Highway 24 and the BART tracks leading from suburban Contra Costa County toward the Oakland airport are shown in the photos above. While those freeway drivers or BART riders speed from Walnut Creek to the airport under the 34th Street crossing, bypassing Oakland almost entirely, people will continue to be shot to death on that blighted stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and few people will feel any need to take notice.

Give me your trash, your junk…The wretched refuse of your living room

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

One of the delightful things about living in Oakland is that if you get tired and want a rest as you walk or bike around the city, there’s bound to be a sofa nearby on which one can take a quick nap, left there by a helpful fellow citizen. I pity those poor folks who live in places where people take unwanted furniture to the dump, or give it away on Craig’s List. How do weary travelers in those sorts of places ever rest their legs? Whoever left this couch on 12th Avenue was especially considerate, leaving it right in the middle of the street so as to save passersby the trouble of pulling over. Thanks, secret Santa, whoever you are!

Street Seat

(At least the couch was easy to steer around, unlike the opening car door with which I had an impromptu dance a few blocks later.)

“To Whom it May Concern”

Friday, November 27th, 2009

I certainly won’t defend people who neglect to pick up after their dogs (in addition to contributing to filth in our city, they give the rest of us dog owners a bad name), but I’m not sure this is the most effective response:

To Whom it May Concern

(I blocked out the author’s name and phone number in the image.)

That sign is posted to a tree in a smallish park wedged between Park Boulevard and 5th Avenue which has informally become used as a dog park by a lot of people in the neighborhood. It is currently illegal to take one’s dog there, as it is illegal to take one’s dog to most Oakland city parks, but the law is mostly unenforced at this location, and many people let their dogs run around on the grass off leash despite the lack of fencing and the busy streets nearby. (In case anyone is wondering whether I have ever done such a thing myself, I invoke my fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination).

Some local dog owners are trying to get a fenced dog park built there, or to have the whole park designated as a legal dog park, so that dogs can at least be legally allowed in the park on leashes. (Pat Kernighan, who represents my district on the Oakland City Council, is taking an online survey to gauge community interest and opinion regarding a fenced dog park or a dogs-allowed policy in that park.) Naturally, some neighbors are strongly opposed to turning even one end of the park into a dog park, and I wonder if the person who nailed the above note to the tree is part of the backlash against the dog park supporters.

As I said, I can’t defend inconsiderate or irresponsible dog owners, but I wish some of the dog-haters would appreciate the benefits that responsible dog owners bring to their neighborhood. Oftentimes the only people I see walking around the streets in my neighborhood, especially after dark, are other neighbors walking their dogs. All of those “eyes on the street” make everyone in the neighborhood safer against muggers, burglars, car thieves, and so on. And most of the people I know in my surrounding neighborhood are people that I have gotten to know by walking my dog around every day (this includes people who don’t own dogs, but who recognize me and say hello when I’m walking past their homes). Those community benefits may be less quantifiable than a pile of dog shit on the sidewalk, but they are real nonetheless.

Going Back to College for Some Lessons on Livable Space

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I went up to Berkeley on Tuesday to remind myself of how the other half lives, and as I rode through the UC campus, I was reminded of something that came up in the comments on one of my earlier posts: college campuses are among the few places where pedestrians, bicyclists and low-speed motorized vehicles mix freely in “shared space” in the United States, and they offer prime examples of how mixed-use, unsegregated roads and paths can be safely used by slow-moving cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchairs, skateboards—whatever—as long as everyone is paying attention.

Indeed, the fact that all those modes of transportation are forced to coexist on the paths and roads of a campus such as Cal’s is what causes everyone to pay more attention, creating places where people can get where they are going at whatever pace they choose, with almost no conflict or inconvenience. It’s part of what makes a nice college campus feel so utopian compared to your average city street. In most cities, the majority of public space is devoted to moving or parked cars, with pedestrians segregated onto narrow strips of concrete on either side and cyclists uneasily mixed in with the cars (uneasily because many drivers perceive the roadway as “their” turf, and see slower-moving bicycles as obtrusive obstacles). On a college campus, the pedestrian tends to be the privileged one, while cyclists are expected to proceed with caution and automobiles are heavily restricted. Shuttle buses, utility trucks or other motorized vehicles that share the pathways have no choice but to travel at safe speeds and yield to pedestrians.

Another principle of the shared space philosophy that I was reminded of is the importance of making the space truly shared. Even a subtle division of the space by painting a strip on a path and telling walkers and bikers to stay on opposite sides of the line can have unintended consequences, especially if there is a limited amount of space, causing people to stray from “their” territory. The lovely path over the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, is divided into a bike lane and a walking lane, and back when I used to commute over the bridge by bike, the division of the space seemed to cause as many problems as it solved—inevitably, pedestrians would cross the dividing line and enter the bicycle side, either because they wanted to pass a group of slower pedestrians, or because they wanted to pose for a photo next to the opposite railing, or because they just hadn’t noticed that the path was divided into a ped lane and a bike lane. Cyclists would be irritated by the incursion into “their” space, so they would angrily swerve around the pedestrians at high speed, often having to cross into the pedestrian lane, which would cause other pedestrians to feel threatened by having a high-speed cyclists suddenly invading “their” space. The number of conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians may be reduced, but the unpleasantness of those conflicts when they do occur is greatly increased.

Given the fairly narrow path on the Brooklyn Bridge, the large number of pedestrians who walk across the bridge at certain times, and the desire of commuting cyclists to be able to ride at high speeds across the long bridge, that path may not actually be a great candidate for truly shared space, but it does demonstrate that dividing space so that each mode of transportation has its own territory doesn’t eliminate all conflicts—it might reduce their number, but when conflicts do arise, they may not be as smoothly negotiated as they are on, say, the paths of the UC Berkeley campus.

There is some effort to keep bicyclists off of some Berkeley campus areas, but in my opinion, it’s a good thing that those rules are so widely ignored—if bikes stayed on the paths that are marked as bicycle routes, then I think there would be worse conflicts between walkers and bikers at those places where they need to interact. As it is now, bicyclists tend to ride among pedestrians nearly everywhere on campus whether they are supposed to or not, and everyone seems to negotiate their way around each other just fine, because walkers and bikers alike are very alert to the possibility of encountering a faster or slower traveler at any time.

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