I went out yesterday morning, along with Rob from Bull City Rising
, to accompany these young folks on their daily walk to Club Blvd. Elementary school. I wanted to follow this route in particular because of the special significance it holds for me: 17 years ago, my then 8 year old daughter was attending Club Blvd. school, and we attempted to have her walk along this route. At the time the city and county districts had not yet completed their merger, so Club was still a neighborhood school for the Northgate Park and Duke Park neighborhoods. It took me all of about 5 minutes of walking down Washington Street to make the determination that there absolutely no pedestrian safeguards, especially to make it possible for a school age child to walk unaccompanied. It didn't take that much longer to determine that Durham Public Schools bus system was unreliable enough that i couldn't simply leave her at the bus stop, and go to work, secure in the knowledge that the bus would actually arrive*. So, i ended up joining the ranks of parents who drive their kids, barely a half mile trip in my case, to elementary school.
So, what's changed in 17 years?
Why, not a blessed thing.
So, as mentioned previously, i met up with Michelle and Tammy and their children, on Englewood Ave. just east of Washington.
Because there are no sidewalks along the east side of Washington, Michelle has gotten her neighbors' permission to cut through their yard.
There's really no need to document the litter along the non-residential portion of Washington. This is Durham, and like anyplace in Durham, people throw their trash wherever they feel like it. Including used condoms. Here, crossing the old Brookline Ave. turnout, which is now, supposedly, a pedestrian trail**, vehicles often duck in for a quick U-turn without checking for pedestrians. In the evening, judging from the detritus in the area, it's a party spot.
You can get a sense from this photo just how wide Washington Street is at this point - almost two full lanes in each direction. This unnecessary width is a major contributing factor to the speeding problem on Washington. It could have been addressed by the city of Durham using a little common sense when drawing up its sidewalk plans for Washington Street. Sidewalks on both sides of the street, into the centerline from the curb, along with striped bike lanes, could have narrowed the road to 12 foot lanes with no problems. Instead, we're going to get a sidewalk along the west side of the street only, out from the curb and into peoples' lawns further south on the street, with no bike lanes currently in the project.***
This is the first notification that anyone driving north on Washington Street has that there's a school nearby, and that there may be students walking in the area. It's about 25 yards south of the intersection. Maybe there are state and federal guidelines as to how far away you're allowed to notify drivers about schoolkids, i don't know. I'm pretty sure, though, that you get them a lot farther away from, say, George Watts school in Trinity Park neighborhood than this.
Doesn't really matter, though, if school zone speed limits are never enforced. There have been several conversations regarding speeding through the Club Blvd. school zone on the PAC2 email list this year. I didn't see any patrol cars in the area yesterday and i don't really recall seeing any enforcement of school zone speed limits during the entire public school careers of my children. Both Brogden Middle and Riverside High had law enforcement officers on foot at the actual entrances directing traffic, and traffic often backed up enough to make speeding impossible, but there are plenty of missed opportunities to remind drivers that pedestrians, especially those on their way to school, need to be respected.
**I want to post one additional photo looking south along the east side of Washington. On the left side of the photo is the trail head for the Brookline trail. Brookline Ave. used to connect Acadia Street with Washington Street. NCDOT claimed it for use as a staging area during the I-85 widening project, and with the new sound wall ald all, it was no longer suitable for vehicle traffic. So it got turned into a trail.
Which, wonderfully, empties out onto Washington Street with no pedestrian amenities or signage indicating that the Ellerbe Creek trail, which leads all the way to downtown, is only 100 yards or so to the west. In fact, if you want to cross over to pick up the trail head at the southwest corner of Club and Washington, you can see that there's a blind curve to your left, and with the 26 foot wide lane at that point, you can be sure that no one coming around that turn is doing less than 40 mph. The other option is to turn right and walk along the east side shoulder to the corner. But since it's unsigned, how would you know to do that?
*If you go into the Herald-Sun archives for, i think, September 1995, there's a front page Section B photo of me and my two daughters sitting on the hood of my truck, taken on the first day of school around 9:30 or 9:45 am, waiting in vain for a school bus that simply never arrived.
***I spent about 2 years as the InterNeighborhood Council representative to the advisory committee that helped steer the development of the Durham Walks! pedestrian plan back in 2005 or so. I was influential in getting the criteria for establishing priority sidewalk projects weighted in such a way that proximity to schools and parks counted more than, say, number of people in a neighborhood requesting sidewalks. My reasoning is that some neighborhoods are better able to organize requests for city services than others, but that this was a subjective factor, whereas proximity to venues used by children was a need regardless of neighborhood activism. specifically, I argued against installing sidewalks on only one side of the street on approaches to schools and parks. In the Washington/club case, putting sidewalks only on the west side of Washington now creates two additional crossings of Washington by people who live on the east side, one of which has to take place mid-block, with no pedestrian safety features at all. It is a recipe for a traffic fatality in the worst case; at best, it creates a pedestrian amenity which will simply not be used.
There are a lot of other reasons why Washington Street should have had a more extensive pedestrian and bike friendly overhaul, which i'll get into at another time. For now, though, the best you can say is that as much as some segments of our city leadership may talk the talk on bike and pedestrian friendliness, when the rubber hits the road, they sure don't walk the walk.
Labels: Pedestrian safety
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