“In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks to children learn...the first modicum of successful city life: people must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other.” - Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
I was recently appointed to the traffic commission for my city (Rockford, Illinois), and have come across a dilemma that I could use your input on.
Pictured are sections of East State Street along a three-block stretch. I recently noticed foundations poured for large, auto-oriented, “old timey” streetlights, and reached out to the city’s traffic engineer to see if sidewalks were being poured as well.
The pictures show a couple things: 1) The clear “desire lines” where people are already walking, and 2) the bus stops with no concrete pads, shelter, etc. This section only gets worse in the winter; I have seen mothers pushing their kids in strollers through mounds of snow piled up by the plow trucks. It is literally a de-humanizing experience.
Not surprisingly, this stretch of East State Street has been dangerous for pedestrians. This past July, a visitor from Indiana was hit by the driver of a car precisely within this three-block stretch, and died as a result of his injuries. There are at least two other pedestrian -v- vehicle collisions that I can recall on this street in the past eighteen months.
After reaching out to the city’s traffic engineer I was told that, despite staff being keenly aware of the situation, funds are not allocated within the 2017-2021 capital improvement plan and therefore sidewalks are not being poured in tandem with the streetlights. Searching for a more timely intervention, I asked if I could place an item on the agenda that would include temporary infrastructure (e.g. pea gravel) until a permanent alternative could be installed. I was told that this is a state DOT road, and that any improvements would need to be ADA compliant, therefore no temporary solutions are available.
I am awaiting a response from IDOT to see what options we have here. In the meantime, I would appreciate your input: What does incrementalism look like here, at this stage, in this context? As Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns says, this approach is both smart–we’re not getting actual sidewalks anytime soon–and chaotic, and I’m willing to embrace both. I want to believe that there is room for quick, tactical responses, but it is difficult to assign those adjectives to a state DOT. And the resources alone make even an “illegal” intervention difficult. I can don a vest, throw cones down, and paint a crosswalk. Three blocks worth of pea gravel? A bit more difficult.
We spent $1,400,000 from our CIP for those streetlights, and allocated not one cent for pedestrian infrastructure. So it’s time to step up. What do we do? What’s the next increment here?