After nearly two years of blogging about transportation, I had to create a really obvious category just now: Walking.
Clearly, I haven’t written about this enough, if at all.
Remember walking? It’s how we Baby Boomers used to get to school, or to the bus stop.
But that was a different time, a time when there were a fraction of the number of cars on the road, when there weren’t so many head cases wandering the streets and when weight loss wasn’t a multi-billion-dollar industry.
And here in California, we barely even use school buses anymore. My son rode a bus to school in Central Maryland and on Long Island. When he started fifth grade in Southern California, I was dumbfounded to discover that nearly all the kids at his elementary school were dropped off by a conga line of minivans, SUVs and station wagons.
Luckily, the local middle school in our tony hilltop neighborhood was on the same boulevard that ran past our apartment complex, so my son was able to walk home from school during sixth and seventh grades. Sometimes, we could even chase him out the door early enough to walk to school.
Today, after a half-century of neglecting the way of the foot, we’re finally taking baby steps back to where we started.
Today I received notice that our fair state’s transportation department, Caltrans, was giving out $52 million for a program called Safe Routes to School. It spreads out grants in the vicinity of $300,000 to $500,000 to create things like crosswalks (there’s a concept!), pedestrian crossing signals that count down and “radar feedback signs” that tell motorists how fast they’re going Ocean View Elementary School in Albany.
A couple months back, I heard about this in a presentation by the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority, which is using some of its half-cent transportation sales tax to match Caltrans’ funds.
For Caltrans and even ACTIA, it’s a drop in the bucket. For the parents of Ocean View students, its a major improvement.
And there will be a $350,000 check to pay for half of a project to put in sidewalks, create a bicycle boulevard and impose traffic calming measures near Springhill Elementary, Stanley Middle and Acalanes High schools in Lafayette.
My favorite improvement is the pedestrian “refuge,” such as the one planned as part of a $900,000 project near Oakland Technical High School, the Castlemont Community of Small Schools, and the E.C. Reems Academy in Oakland. It’s basically a median island where kids crossing the street can stay if they don’t make it all the way across before the light changes.
I know that I tend to think of pedestrian-only downtown shopping districts as the prime examples of how our society is moving back to a time when cars did not rule our lives. Those are big improvements, to be sure, but connecting our homes with schools, transit and local services so we can start walking again have a much better shot at changing and improving our lives.