Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Foot

In the New York Times online, I was interested to read an article by Nicolai Ouroussoff that a stretch of streets in New York City between 42nd -47th were now closed to traffic in order to shape a more pedestrian-friendly Times Square. What I found most poignant was the last paragraph:

What’s most encouraging about [transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan's]vision is that it reasserts the positive role government can play in shaping the public realm after decades of sitting by and watching private interests take over. Now she has to prove that she can be as nimble in her design choices as she is at imposing her ideas on a skeptical city.

Years ago, Downtown Seattle had a section of Pine Street by Westlake Center closed to traffic. I lived in Seattle during that time, as it was my "gap year" between college and graduate school when I worked as an assistant teacher in a daycare center for children of homeless parents. At the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, these were the days before the Convention Center blocked the view of Elliot Bay and the Pike Place Market Sign. Since then, some decrepid buildings have been torn down, but so have a number of beautiful old houses to make way for tall, expensive townhomes.

In 1994, I appreciated the fact that there was one street where cars could not go. It was easy to meander around the plaza and listen to busking musicians. I was only there for a year and therefore not eligible to vote in 1995 against Nordstrom opening up that street. Nordstrom basically said that if they couldn't open up that street, they wouldn't take over the former Fredrick & Nelson building.

From the beginning of its Westward Expansion history, Seattle has rarely taken the long-range view of anything. People who participate in the infamous Underground Tour learn that lesson pretty quickly. I was going to recount some of the high points (or rather, low points), but I decided to link to this article instead where you can read about some of the mishaps and mistakes. For those who don't want to follow the link, I'll give you a cryptic summary of one of the historical vignettes: "exploding toilet syndrome."

Given our history, it's highly unlikely that Seattle will ever again close a stretch of street for pedestrian use. We can't even agree on what to do about the Alaskan Way viaduct, a stretch of highway that will most definitely not survive the next major earthquake. After voting 4 times in favor of a monorail, the city has said, "No monorail" and "Sorry, we can't give you back your monorail tax money because we already spent it." Our bus system has gone from being one of the best in the country to something really subpar because people voted on a flat-rate license tab renewal fee that took money away from public transportation.

One of the reasons why the House of Glee continues to live where we live is because currently, we can make it work to have just one car. We live on a busy street with a major bus-line, and we can walk to grocery stores and banks within a two mile radius. It would be a long walk, but we could in theory walk to Lucia's school, as it's two miles away. Our local library is six blocks away. If we were to move to a quieter part of town (for a moment, I'll pretend we can afford to do this) or I were to expand my storytelling business, we would definitely need a second car.


Yorkshire Pudding said...

Cities should first and foremost be for citizens. I am pleased that all major British cities have found ways of pedestrianising what were once vital inner city roads. In America, the car still seems to be godly. Even Rodeo Drive in Greater LA remains a thoroughfare for motorised vehicles. I found this post most interesting Farida.

Lone Star Ma said...

Texas spreads things out so (spoiled by our space, but it is also nice to see and have space, you know?) that it is hard to imagine much of it being very pedestrian-friendly. Austin, however, had really good public transportation when I lived there in the summer, fall winter of 1993 and the spring of 1994, even though it's very big.

Saints and Spinners said...

I'm thankful that we still have our parks and bike trails! It's a bit of a challenge for people to bike in Seattle because of all the rain, but there are stalewarts who do it. I'm still a fan of getting around on foot when I can.

Phil said...

The city's parks department is considering reducing Bell Street, from Fifth Ave to First, down to one lane of vehicle traffic, a parking lane, and turning the rest into a pedestrian park:


Timothy Carter said...

In my former home city, Ottawa, we have Sparks Street, which is exclusively for pedestrians. It's a nice street to walk on, especially during the Busker Festival.

I took that Underground Tour of Seattle a few years back with my sister. Our guide was great, and I learned all about the "exploding toilet syndrome" (or, as one kid apparently coined it, the Poop Geyser)!