Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently invited Charlotteans to take a closer look at the streets in South End. Not a casual glance as we rush past on our way to work or to the gym, but a slow and deliberate study of the entire pedestrian experience.
Scott Curry, CDOT's Pedestrian Planner, often says that a good walking experience encompasses three virtues:
It's safe. It's inviting. It's useful.
Keeping these elements in the front of my mind throughout the tour, I found most of this segment of South Tryon to be rather unsafe and lacking inviting features. There were some useful destinations (a rock climbing gym, music hall, convenience store, small businesses, nonprofits) to walk to, but they weren't easy to access on foot.
The walking tours covered four portions of streets including northern and southern stretches of S. Tryon and South Blvd from just south of Uptown to Remount Rd. CDOT is collecting citizen input about these streets as part of a larger study aimed at improving safety and overall functioning for all users including pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, and motorists.
CDOT staff will use public input from the tours to determine where changes are most needed.
When I signed up for the walking tour of South Tryon, my first thought was "Why is it going to take two hours to walk 1/2 mile?" It turned out to be time very well spent. CDOT provided a remarkably educational and even fun way to spend a beautiful sunny spring evening as I chatted with eight other tour participants and three CDOT staff about what makes a street function either well or poorly for pedestrians.
We started at Doggett Ave and walked 1/2 mile to Remount Rd, pausing every block or so to jot down answers to some questions about the experience:
- Was there adequate time to cross the road at the signal?
- Is the sidewalk in good condition without cracked panels or potholes?
- Does this portion of road have adequate lighting, shade, and vegetation?
Here's a very poor pedestrian experience along South Tryon.
In the above photo, note the weeds overgrowing the sidewalk that have made it very narrow, the rough asphalt surface, the utility pole blocking the sidewalk, and the close proximity between pedestrians and cars. It's also not very interesting or inviting to walk past a block of rusted chain-link fence topped with razor wire!
This stretch of South Tryon has a lot of head-in parking (pictured below), which means that cars pull directly off the street and into lots at the front of buildings. It creates a hazard for pedestrians because there are often many driveways that cut across sidewalks.
Charlotte's zoning no longer allows head-in parking for new development, but it remains in older developed areas.
It's remarkable how much I take for granted as an able-bodied pedestrian. I'm glad I brought my dog along because she gave me a frame of reference other than my own body. When she started tugging on her leash and getting closer to traffic, I thought: What if I were a mother trying to walk along the road with small children only a few feet from speeding traffic? When she sat down on the back-to-curb sidewalk and laid her paws over the edge into the road, I thought: What if I had to wait at this spot for the bus with my family and there was no margin for error between us and traffic?
Narrow sidewalks don't offer the safest walking experience for humans. Or dogs.
If you haven't ever gotten out of your car, laced up your shoes, and explored your own neighborhood or the streets you drive everyday, I highly encourage you to. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to identify with the daily reality of people who rely on their own two feet to get from place to place. It's a life-changing experience.
Are you intrigued enough to join a walking tour? Ready to add YOUR voice to the next study so your observations can formally become part of the solution ?
Good news! CDOT is offering two more evenings of public walking tours next week: Parkwood Ave on May 11 and The Plaza on May 12. An RSVP is required, so click here to register for either or both.