Regular transit users experience the public realm in a very personal way. Instead of cruising through at 30+ MPH, transit users and pedestrians are taking in all aspects of the streetscape.
This time of year, snowbanks start to recede and water starts to fill the sidewalks. If your lucky you’ll be able to slide across a thin layer of ice, praying it holds your weight. Today, my daughter and I walked from the corner to her daycare — she made it over, I broke through the ice like an unlucky ice fisherman.
Walking to my bus stop, I am greeted by piles of half melted snow but thankfully Metro Transit has plowed out a section to enable boarding. I have to be especially careful to stand back pretty far to ensure I’m not consumed by the inevitable tidal wave of greasy water that stands in the gutter of the street. I’ve been sprayed by angry motorists who go out of their way to make being a pedestrian an awful experience. I often wonder if the drivers are unhappy to be caged into their vehicles and end up taking it out on those who are liberated from their cars.
Our public streets are highly engineered to shed water extremely well. They build the streets with a crowned center, allowing automobiles to enjoy a clear surface. Unfortunately more often our sidewalks and cycling infrastructure are an afterthought and are simply thrown in without any thought as to how run off and pooling will affect their usage.
I’m sitting at work today, looking outside to the corner of Lake Street and a prominent cross street. I see small lakes on two of the four corners. Drainage apparently has never been considered for pedestrians. I see clean and dry pavement for cars on most city streets right now. Most segments of our walking infrastructure are poorly engineered and designed for casual walks in the summertime instead of vital infrastructure for daily commutes and errands.
Life as a pedestrian and transit user could be much better if we engineered our pedestrian realm to the same degree we do for automobiles.