“Four score and seven years ago…” Ok, maybe it was just five years ago… when Purdue Extension brought together area leaders in Plymouth for an Active Living Workshop. During the workshop, we learned about many options to increase mobility, health, and safety via smart urban design. The bulk of the focus was on increasing walking and bicycling rates.
I also had the privilege of meeting the indefatigable Angela Rupchock-Schafer of the Marshall County Community Foundation (she now serves as Director of Community Impact and Communications)! Which is not the point of the story, but in the subsequent five years we’ve collaborated on many community initiatives. Angie knows seemingly everyone in town, so she graciously helped me get connected.
Since that workshop, I’ve served on the Plymouth Complete Streets Committee, which helped craft and adopt a Complete Streets ordinance which states, “All facilities owned by the City and in the public right-of-way shall be designed, constructed, maintained, and improved to allow all users of all ages and abilities to travel safely and independently… including pedestrians, bike riders, motorists, people with disabilities, emergency responders.”
No small feats! We have some great collaborative teams in the county. However… planning and publishing are relatively easy compared to actually building and changing the built environment.
So after many conversations and plans, our team launched a temporary crosswalk enhancement this month in a style called “Tactical Urbanism.” The idea is to install a temporary feature quickly and at low/no-cost, gain feedback from users, and use that data to install long-term investments. We can’t expect to get everything perfect the first time, so better to be able to tweak the design before pouring concrete.
Rather than repeat all the details of the project, I’ll link to the press release here.
We installed the crosswalk enhancement on Saturday morning and were happy to watch it being immediately used:
Instead of having to cross 36 ft of traffic, it is now just 24 ft wide (a reduction of 1/3).
Also by a child on a bicycle crossing by himself:
I took some time to count traffic as well. By narrowing the road and placing a radar speed sign, only about 10% of eastbound traffic was traveling in excess of the posted 30 mph speed limit. Previously, 40 mph+ traffic was common. Near-fatal crashes with pedestrians are common here. At the beginning of the school year, a child was struck by a vehicle east of this intersection. Having traveled this path many times with children in tow, I can vouch that it is stressful and unsafe.
We were riding high on watching five years of work finally come to the smallest amount of fruition when we got the tragic news that a pedestrian was killed by a driver near the Plymouth hospital (on the opposite side of town). The crash occurred in the dark, at 6:30 AM, soon after the man was released from the hospital.
Something perverse in our brain might jump immediately to assigning fault or blame. Was the driver on her phone? Why was the man in the road? Etc.
But we are trying to shift the conversation back towards design. Looking at an aerial photo of the hospital, what options did the man have available to him? The hospital is surrounded by a state highway with no shoulder to speak of. State highways are designed to move maximum cars and maximum speed. It is just not possible to safely reach the hospital unless you have access to a car, creating a dangerous situation for both pedestrians and vehicle operators.
People understand this. In a recent survey conducted during the creating of the Trails Master Plan, Marshall County residents pointed out that fast vehicle speed, lack of sidewalks, and lack of safe routes keep them from cycling or walking more.
It’s important to remember that not everyone has the choice of picking their mode of mobility. Below is a picture I took while biking home the other day. People are walking on the road at dusk, returning from the grocery store. Of our four major grocery stores, only one is safely accessible via sidewalks. I could highlight several more of these features from my travels around town, but we need to wrap this blog up…
I met this gentleman at the farm market. His is visually impaired and so not able to obtain a driver’s license. Because of the built environment in most places in the United States, that can be a recipe for solution isolation. “This electric bike has been my savior,” he told me. The bike has special sensors that alert him to obstacles. In Plymouth, he can at least ride on the sidewalks and get around.
Lastly, Angie and I had the opportunity to come on the radio this week to discuss the project as well as equity issues around our transportation system more broadly. I was very pleased with the conversation and it renewed my hope that with some leadership and courage, there is enough common ground for us to build a safe and equitable transportation system for all users. Click here for a recording of the show, and you’ll have to skip ahead to the 33 minute, 55 second mark