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Lets Walk Through This

by Jill Walker

October 3,2004

“Pedestrian.” The word has an almost a prehistoric sound to it. Kind of like “amphibian” or “reptile.” In fact, for a time, this species seemed destined for extinction. But there is increasing evidence here in Charlotte (I’ve seen it from my car) that pedestrians are on the rebound. Witness downtown and surrounding neighborhoods; with each new season, there seems to be an increase in our two legged friends, especially on evenings and weekends.

Most of this new generation foot traffic, though, is ‘walking as an event’, versus ‘walking as a means to an end’. We haven’t evolved to the point where it is really practical, enjoyable or even safe to travel most places by foot (from 1998-2000 more than 800 pedestrians were struck by vehicles in Charlotte). I am as guilty as the next person of jumping in the car instead of pounding the pavement. I’ll drive four blocks to the Harris Teeter shortly after completing a five-mile speed-walk through the surrounding neighborhood.

Having confessed my pedestrian sins, let me say that I think developing a pedestrian friendly Charlotte is of utmost importance for many reasons, not the least of which is that we live in a city with one of the highest rates of obesity in the country. But it’s primarily a quality of life issue. Nobody wants to spend the rest of his or her life squeezing in and out of the car, waiting at intersections, or in traffic, breaking for speed bumps, scrambling for a parking spot - over and over again. And, with an astounding increase in aggressive driving, the city needs to actively implement the many design, equipment and pavement marking strategies that will coax more pedestrians out of their cars and onto the streets.

The fundamental elements of a pedestrian-friendly street (wide sidewalks and planting strips, on-street parking, crossing islands, etc.) have always remained the same. What unfortunately changed with time were the perceived needs of people in motion. Our reliance on the automobile drove the design of every mall, strip and housing development. The pedestrian was effectively rendered ancient history.

Times change, and developers change with them. From NoDa to Uptown to South End, we are seeing a more pedestrian- sensitive urban design. No doubt about it, some developers are tuned in to this growing trend. It is when they are not that we need to stand guard.

Charlotte’s Department of Transportation will work with neighborhoods, but it is a time intensive process. Beyond neighborhoods working with CDOT, we need to see a moratorium on ‘suburban’ developments in inner Charlotte.

The revitalization of Midtown Square presents our city increase the pedestrian population. Its position on the greenway begs for a sensitive approach to pedestrian accessibility.

Conversely, the new Bank of America office, across the street on Kings Drive, caters exclusively to the automobile. Please, no more parking lots front and center. If we’re going to talk the talk with this new urban smart growth movement, then we need to walk the walk. And the devil is in the details.

Rearrange the letters in CHARLOTTE and it becomes something we can and should avoid…THE CAR LOT.

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