Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A more walkable, bike-able Louisiana, or Shreveport, needn't center around big roads and smooth pavement.

Among the techniques for facilitating alternative transportation is converting a 4 lane road to one with 3 car lanes, 2 bike lanes along either curb. That straight, wide swath may be good for automobiles, but it's as enticing for bikers and walkers. Why not forget them the former group, as least while one is trying to figure out what pedestrians like, and what makes certain walks great, and others just tolerable. There's research on just that (see Lyn Lofland's The Public Realm, 1988.)

As ol' Karl Marx noted, of course, too often our professional jobs require such specialization that we become alienated from the way others use the products of our work. Designers are a prime example of this when they feel compelled to design things without an understanding of the user's perspective. There can be little doubt that the sidewalk engineers who designed the one that goes by Centenary and Georges on Kings Highway hadn't done much of that kind of walking themselves.

In place of building from the ground up, using the users perspective to develop a basic understanding, then sets of priorities, then design template and manufacturing specifications, and only then confronting the equally developed but much more established knowledge around automobile transportation to see how they might mesh.

I guess I'm arguing that the State's policy that we're working on with the DOTD group should require planners to design at least one optimal plan for each kind of alternative transportation that might be used beneficially. Those ideal plans for alternative forms of transportation can serve to articulate the desired features of routes to transportation engineers that are otherwise constrained by the of the automobile framework.

My personal problem with using this technique as the default and best option, is partly that's often not the best. And that's because we're contaminating our thinking of what the walker wants with what the biker wants, and what the motor vehicle already has. I bet most of us would agree that it's far worse to walk, or even bike along a road, instead of somewhere better. If you think of all the places you've had great walks--my personal fave's range from big time hiking trails to paths out the backdoor that take you those trails, or the paths that take the family to school and us to work--we can learn what makes them good, and we can create better routes for pedestrians that have those qualities. Whatever makes a route appealing and used, whatever it is about the sidewalk, or even rough trail that goes across a field, through a forest, along a bayou, pond or lake, or one that goes under a bridge or road, or even through a tunnel, should be used by people like us, by the LA DOTD group that's updating the state's master plan for bike-ped needs, and by designers and planners in general, to seek out opportunities other than roads for biking and walking. (It is the era of off-road mountain biking, after all. We're riding those heavy old schwins, anymore, nor just those skinny tired racers.)

For example, if you want to create network of routes between the major cities, would you want to do it by the interstate?


trudeau said...

My solution for making Shreveport bikeable is Ride Early. We don't need bike lanes at 7:15; traffic is light, drivers are accustomed to watching for joggers and walkers.

Rule 2 is use the picturesque back streets.

Btw, there's a sweet traffic lull in East Shreveport from about 4 to 4:45.

Loren said...

I agree with all you said, Robert. Those techniques do make Shreveport more bikeable. But they don't make it as bikeable as it could be.

I think we can make a city so amenable to biking and walking that even those who never thought they'd want to do either would considering doing both.

I guess I'm after an city environment that makes you WANT to walk and bike, not just that allows you to.

And I'm not thinking of that for you and me, but for all the people in our city (and country) who die earlier than they would, had they been walking and biking instead of driving.

('course, you know all that RT, i'm just saying...)