Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Baby Steps Across the Crosswalk

Dateline: 2:33 pm August 5, 2011 Filed under:

In May I caught some flak for a post on my website that discussed the merits of a broken traffic light and how it made crossing a major intersection on foot more palatable. Let’s just say not everybody was amused, particularly those stuck in traffic as pedestrians got to cross the street.

Needless to say, the traffic light was fixed, and the silver lining in this story is the improved Walk signals since that time. The intersection in question is 38th Street and Hiawatha Avenue (State Highway 55). This is a treeless, ugly expanse of awfulness where two streets meet and nobody paid attention until seven years ago when a light rail station began service immediately adjacent. Now, on any given day, hundreds of people (and nearly as many bicycles, it seems) cross this intersection going to or coming from the train.

Prior to “the fix,” reliably getting a Walk signal to cross either 38th or Hiawatha was impossible. Now, it seems the walk signal is automatic. (And I cannot be sure if the improvement is accidental or intended.) This is wonderful news, particularly given the 200 housing units and mixed-use development about to begin construction across from the station. But I must temper my excitement, for this is the bare minimum given the $800 million investment in light rail with no attention paid to the pedestrian conditions outside the station platform.

If a car accident taking out a signal box is the way to improve the pedestrian environment, then we are indeed headed down the wrong road (tongue firmly in cheek). But I remain positive. Now we just need some better street trees, curb bumpouts, reduced speed limit along Hiawatha, a woonerf….

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