Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Good, Bad and Ugly revisited

So yesterday I started a little two-day series on sidewalks around here, hoping to share a little knowledge and enlightenment. I started by showing two examples of sidewalks around here, both in Rogers, with one being "awful" and one "slightly better". I should also add that if the AHTD and other road-building entitites are going to continue to just put in sidewalks as footnotes, I would love it if they would just follow example #2 and add a little buffer of grass or something else. I'm not expecting them to ever install either of the examples here, because the bar is set so low on expecting them to do anything with excellence for something other than automobiles.

The top one is great, but I call it an "almost." To me, the second example is one of the best city sidewalks you can find. (not including sidewalks that are bordered/enclosed by two-story or higher buidlings.)

The top example is also on Olive Street in Rogers, not too far east from example #2 yesterday. The thing that kills me is knowing that the sidewalk was built at the same time the neighborhood on the other side of the wall was built, so they could have made it so much better without spending ANY extra money. All they would have had to do is to copy the design of the sidewalk below, from Main Street in Bentonville. (I flipped the photo so they'd be parallel.)

Notice the trees separating the sidewalk from the street. Not only do these provide actual safety for pedestrians, they provide the sense of safety for pedestrians. They make a pedestrian feel like they're walking on a different path from the street, far removed from the cars that travel up and down the street. The trees close off the walkers from the road, making them feel like part of the community of houses and businesses they are passing, rather than part of the street. And the trees provide an added bonus of shade for the sidewalk, not to mention the fact that the overhanging branches act as a wall and a ceiling to give that sense of enclosure that we all crave when we're outside in a city.

And that's what gets me about the section of street in Rogers. All they would have had to do is put the trees on the other side of the sidewalk, and you'd have one of the most pedestrian-friendly streets in Rogers. Those beautiful mature trees are even taller than the redbuds on the sidewalk in Bentonville. They'd give some serious shade to the sidewalk, and combined with the wall, would provide a very secure feeling of enclosure. And if a car managed to jump the curb, those larger tree trunks would stand a much better chance of stopping a car from killing someone.

Most highway departments (AHTD included) steer clear of planting trees or anything else this close to a roadway. In their lexicon, trees are called "Fixed Hazardous Objects", irrespective of the benefit they provide to the pedestrian or the overall aesthetic of the street. The benefit to the pedestrian during a wreck does not outweigh the damage that would be done to a car if no one was walking by and the car struck a tree. The goal for the highway department is moving as many cars as possible as fast as possible, and the rest of the world be damned.

There's tons of great sidewalks in Bentonville and Rogers. And most of you know one when you see one. Maybe you didn't know all the things that make a good one, but I can't imagine anyone choosing the very first AHTD-styled sidewalk from yesterday over the redbud-lined sidewalk in Bentonville above.

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