Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's wrong with my neighbourhood?

I've talked before about the uniqueness of the bit of Riverside where I live. It's a relatively dense area, with quiet, complete streets (both major arterials have sidewalks and bike lanes, residential streets all have sidewalks), and it's all built around a very nice central shopping centre, within about 10 minutes' walk of any of the nearby apartments. Buildings are 3-4 stories, with one complex that's only 2. There are 2 transit routes serving the area, both stopping at the central shopping centre, with daytime headways of 20 and 30 minutes, and the only late-night transit service in the RTA service area, running until 12:30am Monday-Thursday. The grocery store is open until 2 am, and the Rite Aid is 24 hours. We even have a small branch post office. Most of the inhabitants are university students or faculty (with a large proportion of graduate students), as we're a mere 2 miles from the university- a 10 minute bus or bike ride. It's a pleasant, tree-studded area, with nearby parks and recreational trails.

I'm telling you all this not because I want you to move here (though feel free), but because I want to lay out that our neighbourhood is walkable. It has all the features that activists want to see in new urban development, with the exception of mixed uses. Despite all of this, though, the level of walking that actually occurs here is minimal. It's higher than in most areas of the IE, to be sure, but there's still substantially more vehicular traffic than pedestrian traffic. Why is this?

My personal theory is this: Despite making it relatively easy to walk in our neighbourhood, it is still ridiculously easy to drive. Parking is plentiful and free, and roads are wide, easy to navigate and well-maintained. The shopping centre is a tiny island of pedestrian walkways in the usual sea of asphalt. The two arterial roads in the area are four to six lanes across, with speeds often exceeding 50mph. And, of course, this is the Inland Empire, car-culture central. People simply aren't used to considering alternative transportation, and we make no effort to encourage them to do so. This is a point I've made before, but I feel that I must make it again- transit-friendly, pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly places are places that are automobile-unfriendly. We cannot continue to pave vast swaths of parking lot and roadway, and then expect that people will not use them. To get people out of their cars, we need to make being in their cars unpleasant, whether that is through a reduction of roadway capacity (by giving right-of-way to bikes, pedestrians and buses), charging market rates for parking, or making the road network less complete for cars (such as on Portland's bicycle boulevards.) The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the political will for impeding the Almighty Automobile is slim to none, and until that happens, we won't see the sort of radical change that we need in our cities.


Eric said...

Very well said! Sounds like you live near the Canyon Crest Town Centre.

JN said...

I do, and I'm quite happy here. As I pointed out, it's probably the best (or among the best) area in Riverside for car-free or car-light living.

A major plus- tons of restaurants of every style and price level within walking distance. I kind of wish the movie theatre was still around, though, but the University Village and the $2 theatre in Moreno Valley are a mere bus ride away.

Eric said...

Yes, and now that bus ride is subsidized.

JN said...

I'm a UCR student, my bus ride has been subsidized for a while. But I'm very glad everyone else's is as well.