Pedestrian space is really just extra car space

I’ve written before about flex space and other types of street space that is supposed to be shared by pedestrians and drivers. When we have this sort of arrangement, drivers tend to take over, bullying everyone else out. Hell, I’ve even talked about how the city allows cars to illegally take over pedestrian space–like how they’re unwilling to stop or ticket cars that routinely park on sidewalks.

But, you know, it’s not just the scofflaws taking away pedestrian space. It’s the city. The city, by plan, by design and by action treats pedestrian spaces as a reserve of space that can be used to facilitate driving. Right now, I’m thinking of sidewalks and parking meters.

Here’s a picture of Bank Street off of Google Maps:

The city is very proud about how they made the sidewalks wider when they re-did Bank Street a few years ago. Unfortunately, they’re still too narrow. Check ’em out this weekend. They’re way too full.

One big problem is that all that “extra width” is taken up–by street signs, by hydro polls, by bike racks (though those are disappearing) and by parking meters. (Oh yeah, and let’s not forget all the sandwich boards the shops have set up.)

I was looking at one of the parking meters. They’re fairly big. They’re back from the curb a bit. They take up a lot of space that should be used for walking. Basically, they shouldn’t be there. They’re driving infrastructure, and the sidewalk shouldn’t be used for driving infrastructure.

But you can’t put them on the street, that’d be too dangerous.

That’s my first reaction, and probably yours, too. That’s a four-lane road, and we don’t want people standing in the four lane road plugging change into a meter. And then there’s snow-clearing. And drivers would, no doubt, be hitting them when no one’s parked in that lane.

So, obviously, parking meters have to go on the sidewalk. They must take part of the dedicated pedestrian space.

That’s bullshit. It’s hard to break ourselves of this mentality, but make no mistake, this mentality is absolute bullshit.

This is one of the small, insidious ways that we have developed a car-centric city, even in our urban core. We allot a certain amount of space to driving and then a certain amount of space to walking (and then wave in a general direction about maybe have some space for bicycling somewhere nearby). We establish minimums for each or necessary dimensions for each, and we build them.

And then we clutter up the pedestrian space with more driving stuff. And it’s not just meters, it’s street signs, too. Pedestrians don’t no No Stopping or No Parking signs in their space. Those signs are for drivers. Pedestrians don’t need speed limits. Those are for drivers.

And even when we’re talking about infrastructure for everyone, it has to go in pedestrian space. We no longer have hydro poles in streets (though we used to). Further, we’re unwilling to bury hydro lines unless some mystical benefactor pays for it. So those massive poles go on sidewalks. Fuck walking, amirite?

Once again, this is all bullshit. We need to make space for infrastructure, not just force pedestrians to deal with it.

Traffic signs, traffic standards, parking meters–when the city is designing a street, the space for these needs to come out of the space devoted to driving. Yes, it will wind up doubling as a pedestrian space, likely, but it’s barely usable, so it’s not like some grand infrastructural windfall.

(Similarly, Hydro lines are a benefit to everyone. They should be buried. If they’re not, they need a place on the street that doesn’t exclusively hinder walking.)

When we’re talking about Bank Street, there’s not a whole lot of room. There’s no extra space, we’re told (that’s probably why we’re not allowed to safely ride our bikes on this Traditional Main Street). And, sure, there’s no extra space.

And if there’s no space for four driving lanes and associated driving infrastructure like traffic signs and parking meters, it means there’s no space for four lanes.

Bank Street is simply not wide enough to handle four lanes of driving, bicyclists, transit users and the amount of foot traffic it gets. Drivers have been given the vast majority of the space–those four lanes. It is absolutely ridiculous that they also get a foot or so of the paltry area given to pedestrians.

There’s only one sane solution in this type of situation: Two lanes, plus a bit of space for parking meters, two bike lanes, and wider sidewalks. Oh, and bury the damned hydro lines, cheapskates.

There’s another, similar, situation where we demonstrate the drivers are more important than pedestrians, and that’s when we have to put up temporary traffic signs relating to construction.

Occasionally, we’ll block traffic. Usually, we’ll prefer to block sidewalks. Here’s a current situation on Carling Avenue:

On each side of the Queensway overpass, there are staging areas for some (driving-related) construction work, so there are warning signs that trucks will be coming out. The sign in the picture is for the second makeshift entrance way that’s just beyond the overpass.

The sign takes up half the (narrow) sidewalk. For an idea of how high it is, the corner that is jutting out is at forehead level for me (I’m about 6′).

The city could just shut down that section of the lane…there’d still be two more driving lanes. Instead, they’ve chosen to make it dangerous and difficult for people trying to use the sidewalk. I don’t know if strollers can get by. I don’t know what it’d be like in a wheelchair.

But who cares. We can’t use precious driving space for a driving-related sign. Drivers are important. Driving is important. Everything else–everyone else–can just suffer.

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