- on January 5, 2015
The City of Lawrence has a critical need for safe pedestrian infrastructure. Too many of our controlled intersections and major thoroughfares are downright hostile to pedestrians. They lack sidewalks, dedicated turn signals, pedestrian barriers and other safety features. The City's plan to fix this problem? Address it piecemeal as intersections are re-built.
It isn't enough to simply fix these problems as we install new roads. We need to go back and update controlled intersections, arterial streets and residential neighborhoods to make them safe for pedestrians now.
Safety is the key. A little over a year ago, I was invited to join the Lawrence Pedestrian Coalition, a group of residents with a goal of making Lawrence a safer place to walk. I also co-chair the Safe Routes to School committee on behalf of USD497. These groups are working toward a vision of Lawrence where it is safe for kids to walk to school and for adults to walk to work. What we've found as we've analyzed our pedestrian infrastructure is that our community has tens of thousands of sidewalk defects and dozens of unsafe intersections.
Here's an example. Take a minute and head out to the Lawrence Arboretum - it is on the bike path that connects Southwest Lawrence to Clinton Lake. As you approach the intersection of K-10 and 27th St., have a look around. Do you think it is safe for kids to ride their bikes to a baseball game? When the South Lawrence trafficway is completed, deaths at this intersection are a certainty. There has already been one adult fatality there and more are sure to follow. Next time it might be a child. That is why pedestrian infrastructure is important. It keeps our children from being struck by cars.
Pedestrian infrastructure is important for other reasons too - health and wealth.
A pedestrian friendly community encourages people to change patterns of behavior and walk more. When it is safe and easy to walk to the corner store people do it more often. This leads to more exercise and better health. With diabetes on the rise and more than 30% of our state classified as obese, we can't afford to wait. It is about community health.
It is also about community wealth. This past week we were treated to yet another report about how Lawrence lags behind adjacent counties in job growth, wages and per capita income. Lawrence's solution? An $8.5M investment in Venture Park and a $1.2M investment in a new water line to the Municipal Airport - two locations completely dependent on motorized transportation. So far neither of these investments has netted the City a single new job and, even if we attract a couple hundred jobs, it won't make up for the more than 800 hundred jobs we've lost in the past 10 years.
According to the Small Business Administration 64% of job growth comes from small business and local start-ups. Rather than investing in large real-estate projects and water lines to nowhere, we should be investing in making our community an attractive place for young people to start and grow businesses. That means improving our public parks, providing access to modern infrastructure, creating a vibrant start-up culture and making our community more walkable. Millennials and techies love to walk and ride to work. They want to work in places that are close to their homes and where they feel safe walking or biking.
If we want a safer, healthier and wealthier community, we need to make our streets more pedestrian friendly. That means protected bike lanes, more sidewalks, dedicated turn signals and, in the case of the Arboretum - a pedestrian bridge. Since pedestrian infrastructure is significantly less expensive than automobile infrastructure, we can pay for this out of existing transportation funds. If we change our economic development focus, we can also pay for it out of increased revenue from a growing tax base of local small businesses.
Lets not wait for another tragedy to take action on this issue. Lets address the problem now and make our community safe for bicycles, pedestrians and - above all - children.