December 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm #155808
I’m a big fan of European style shared streets an the woonerf concept, and am always pleased to see it in the US. Apparently they’re doing one in Alexandria now: http://wamu.org/news/morning_edition/12/12/21/alexandria_street_to_be_equal_opportunity_for_cars_bikes_and_pedestrian
The article does not have a lot of details about the design. It just says they are planning to put the sidewalks and street at the same level. I kind of hope they plan to go beyond that, though, and put in a few oddly placed planters to keep drivers paying attention (as they should be).December 28, 2012 at 8:20 pm #155813
As someone who is intimately familiar with S. Union Street, I can say this is a HORRIBLE idea on this particular street. South Union is the main street that is closest to the Alexandria Waterfront and has access to various parking facilites in the area, so there is a great deal of vehicular activity. It is at the very heart of the ‘tourist’ area with it’s intersection with King Street, so in good weather and on weekend, there is a great deal of pedestrian traffic. As well, it the main bicycle path through Old Town on the Mount Vernon Trail. Union street links the bicycle only portions of the trail on either end. Ihave ridden the Mt. Vernon trail on a regular basis, and in my opinion, the Union Street portion is by far the worst part of the ride. There is often so much vehicle and pedestrian traffic that gridlock forms as they fight each other just to move a few feet at a time. The pedetrians dart out into traffic at the crosswalks without looking and against traffic protocal (I’ve almost hit a few and have seen a few hit by bikes), and cars try to make whatever hole they can to squeeze through as the intersections are not signalized. It is a very tight street as well, with barely enough space for all to function together peacefully. The curb line plays a very important space defining role keeping pedestrians ON THE SIDEWALK where they belong and out of the bike and car traffic. This isn’t Europe, and most of what “works” there doesn’t work here (remember pedestrianized streets?) and it will take away from the historic appearance of the area. This can only make the situation even worse and more dangerous than it already is. It will do absolutely nothing to increase pedestrian traffic as some business owners have wished for, as only the addition of something people actually want (and in Alexandria, something they can afford) can do that. There really isn’t all that much to the waterfront there, anyway.December 28, 2012 at 10:54 pm #155812
Is there no other access to the parking on other streets, Jason? I am not familiar with the area, and have never been to Alexandria.
Your description makes it sound like the perfect area for this ,except for the issue with the access to the parking. The street is already narrow, which means it is not great for cars anyway. If this were a highway we were talking about, then I would agree with you that pedestrians should stay out of the street. But this is a downtown street that is already full of pedestrians and bicyclists. It may have a place for driving and it may connect the two parts of the bike path, but the main purpose is as a place for shopping and tourism. If you just want to pass through at a high speed, this does not sound like the right street for you. Drivers and cyclists should be slowing way down so that they have time to take stock of the situation and make the best decisions. The design of the street can play a role in that by making it seem more dangerous than it really is. That is as true here as it is in Europe. You said you almost hit people. Think how much worse it would have been if you were speeding through and did not EXPECT to have people crossing. Bicyclists are a different animal. They always think they can dart through crowds without hitting anyone. Think about how much safer it would be if you designed the street to make it hard for them to speed through there.
I think “shared street” is not really the best term for this situation. You should be calling it a “pedestrian priority street”, because it sounds like that is the true goal here. It is not possible for everyone to share a street equally. If the goal is to encourage pedestrians, bikes and cars need to slow down and yeild to pedestrians. This seems harsh only because drivers are spoiled over here. Get over it. You still have most of the space elsewhere. The space was already full of pedestrians, anyway.December 29, 2012 at 9:31 am #155811
Alexandria is filled with one way streets, and the main commercial street, King Street, ends on South Union and delivers vehicles who then go park in a garages a block north on and Union several surface and garages south on Union, and a large marina is also accesed from Union. There are also numerous alleys that can only be accessed from Union where businesses, service, and parking are located. There are also quite a few residences along Union…and they pretty much all have cars (townhouses that have garages). There is on-street parking on King as well, as there needs to be in the commercial district here. The big waterfront building (the Torpedo Factory), food, and the small public waterfront is very easily accessed by simply crossing Union from King, and then the waterfron it is one small uninterrupted space. I can tell you, nothing moves quickly through this area. Due to the traffic, pedestrians, and the stop signs, bikes are not speeding through, and neither are cars. The pedestrians (tourists) just don’t look where they are going and think they can just walk out into the intersections whenever they feel, They don’t follow the protocal for a four way stop intersection. They walk out right in front of the bikes, which have stopped at the sign, and even the cars. Sometimes there is a cop directing traffic and yelling at the tourists to stay on the curb until he tells them to cross at the intersection of King and Union, but I’ve only seen that a few times on especially heavy days. And as for the ‘spoiled drivers’, because of jaywalking pedestrians and pedestrians not waiting their turn to cross according to traffic laws, drivers can sometimes wait five minutes or more to make a simple turn onto King. Thats why it gridlocks…then nothing moves.
The curb here acts to prevent mid-block jaywalking and creates a physical separation between moving vehicular and bicycle traffic, as there are no parked cars along most of the retail frontage on Union to act as a buffer, parallel spaces are on the other side of the street. I don’t think planters would work here, and would just take up more of what limited sidewalk space there is. If they really wanted to improve things for pedestrians, they would install sidewalk bulbs at the corners of King and Union to make more space for pedestrians and actually put in signals with walk cycles. They could also remove some of the on-street parking directly adjacent to King and widen the sidewalks a few feet on each side. This would also help by actually widening the street a bit for cars and bikes, as with the parking present, there is a bit less than two full lanes. Its a tight squeeze.
What also is interesting is that there is no retail or dining establishments one block to the north of King and maybe two blocks South from King, so there isn’t much that would benefit from this expenditure that could not be accomplished by other less expensive and safer means. This “shared street” concept really isn’t addressing the problems with the area at all.December 29, 2012 at 10:04 am #155810
Here is a photo of the area:December 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm #155809
Are they planning on making all of Union into shared space or just part? Are there more cars or more pedestrians or more bicyclists in the area? Or is there just one part of the year when pedestrians dominate the space?
I guess I don’t know enough to really tell whether this would be a good place for a pedestrian oriented street. But shared space is a concept that has been proven to be safer and more efficient outside the United States than the way we normally do things. It would not work on a highway with very high traffic volumes, but in a space where pedestrians are already dominant there is no reason to not use it. If you don’t believe me then look up the work of Hans Monderman or Ben Hamilton-Baillie. There is no magical barrier around the US that makes it impossible for the same principles to work over here. It is very simple stuff that only seems counter-intuitive till you read about it.
And I still say drivers are spoiled.
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