Lately there has been a trend in trying to make cities more walkable and bikeable, similar to how things used to be in many cities 50 years ago, in an effort to reduce traffic and build communities again. Both of these causes are noble and are goals most people believe in.
The problem is that most proponents (or at least the most vocal ones) all seem to be anti-car. This causes a rift between people, with proponents of walkable cities trying to ban cars in places, and not designing enough parking and lanes for traffic, sometimes even taking away existing traffic lanes. Bikers are getting frustrated that there are not better protections for bicycle riders. And drivers are frustrated with sections of the city that are hard to get around in, and bicyclists who break traffic laws but then blame the automobile driver for almost crashing into them.
The reality is that most cities, especially a city like Houston, need multiple modes of transportation and it needs to be easy to switch from one to another. To give you an idea of the area we are talking about, Houston is over 600 square miles. It would take over 7 hours of walking to get from downtown to Spring, which is on the edge of Houston. It takes 28 to 45 minutes by car depending on traffic, over 1 hour by bus, 2 hours by bicycle, and 7 hours 35 minutes walking.
Some of the urban areas, like Downtown, Midtown, Texas Medical Center and Uptown (Galleria area), would benefit from being more walkable and bikeable, since things are closer together and they can become heavily congested at times. But, these areas are a small fraction of area compared to the rest of the city, and people from the rest of the city want to go to Downtown, Midtown, the Medical Center and Uptown.
Considering how long it would take to get to these urban areas from other parts of town, and the fact that taking the bus typically takes 2 to 4 times longer than driving, most people are going to drive there. Once they are there, they may be willing to walk around, rent a bicycle, ride MetroRail or use a shuttle bus, but they have to get there first.
Instead of designing walkable areas as anti-car, by removing lanes, and making it hard to park, they should instead make it so that people from outside the area can arrive, easily park, and enjoy the area. You also have to consider that residents of the area will not always want to stay in that walkable area. They may work elsewhere, or may want to purchase something they can’t get locally.
While the anti-car crowd would say designing walkable cities with cars in mind defeats the purpose of a walkable city, the reality is that with 600 square miles, Houston will never abandon their cars. Perhaps with better transit, we would reduce the cars on the road, but buses can’t be everywhere all the time, and people in remote areas still need to drive to a park and ride to get to the bus or train.
Like or not, cars are part of the transit equation, and not factoring them in means drivers will just avoid areas that are walkable (and anti-car), instead of inviting them to park and get out of their car for awhile.
Image “Crosswalk Road Sign” courtesy of Phaitoon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
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