IRI founders come from diverse backgrounds. Today’s post is written by IRI founder and landscape architect, Tom Neppl. He is a lecturer for the College of Design at ISU. Tom’s blogpost today helps us think about downtown in new ways. Our downtowns are about much more than banners and adequate parking spaces! See what Tom has to say:
No place is perfect. Each small town faces individual but similar issues that threaten vitality and character. But, what are the issues? Are there too many cars? Are motorists driving too fast? Is the area unsafe for pedestrians? These questions and others need to be answered to identify and address existing problems.
Understanding the problem or range of problems is the first step in developing effective solutions.
A survey administered by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Street Coalition found that 66% of Americans want transportation options, 73% feel they currently have no choice but to drive, and 57% would like to spend less time in the car. So, there’s a demand for alternatives to driving downtown.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people are willing to walk to destinations but they want safe routes. With that in mind, how can we enhance existing routes and create new ones to make them safe?
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s Design Manual for Small Towns provides the following strategies to address problems in small communities:
Crosswalks. Clearly marked crosswalks indicate to pedestrians the proper locations for crossing roadways. They also contribute to pedestrian comfort and create important linkages in the community’s pedestrian system. Visibility matters! A ladder pattern or a solid pattern of color in the crosswalk is more visible than the commonly used two parallel lines marking the edge of the crosswalk. Lighting should also be provided to increase sight distance at night.
Trails. Sharing the road with vehicles can be dangerous and creates an uncomfortable setting for the pedestrian and the cyclist. Trails provide pedestrians and cyclists a transportation network dedicated specifically to them by removing the pedestrians and cyclists from vehicular traffic. The result is improved safety for all users. Trails can also be used to provide links to parks and other natural areas through the creation of a greenway.
Bike Lanes. Similarly with trails, bike lanes provide a dedicated location for bicyclists to ride and intend to reduce conflicts with cars and pedestrians. The difference is bike lanes are typically integrated within the vehicular roadway. Bike lanes are recommended only on streets where traffic speeds are 25mph or less. Lanes can be between five to six feet wide and can be striped within roadways that have ample right-of-way space. Bike lanes are typically striped along the right edge of the roadway.
Landscaping. Strong landscaping has the potential for many positive effects on vehicular, bicycling and pedestrian routes. Landscaping enhances the street environment by projecting an image that the street is part of a place, rather than a “through route”. Proper landscaping can increase neighborhood ownership, commitment to place and can improve property values. Additionally, landscaping provides separation between motorists and pedestrians can reduce the roadway’s effective width causing drivers to slow down and can increase the driver’s awareness of the immediate environment.
Individually or collectively, these strategies contribute to safe and pleasant routes to a community’s downtown. For other ideas, resources and case studies, visit the Project for Public Spaces and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.