The Importance of Pedestrian Friendliness: A Photo Essay

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While I live in the most location efficient neighborhood west of the Hudson and thus haven't owned a car since 1986, I still need to drive one from time to time. So I still need a drivers' license. It has been 15 years since I visited the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and my identification photo on the license is so old that I got challenged at the airport because the TSA official didn't think I looked like the picture on my license.

I guess the Department of Motor Vehicles has that problem figured out, so they required me to appear in person to renew my license with a new photo.

To get there (without a car) required a 20-minute BART ride and a seemingly easy (according to Google) 1-km (0.7 mile) walk on city streets.

This turned out to be far more trouble than I thought.

First, the signage to the west exit at the station was confusing:

 

Figure 1: Where is the sign for an exit to the street? (All I see is "Parking Level")

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photographs © David B. Goldstein 2015

 

 

Should I exit into the directly into garage (parking level 1) or go up the escalator? Trying the escalator, on arrival at the higher floor the situation is no clearer: it still looks like the only choice is which level of the parking garage.

When I navigate further I still find no signage to indicate that I am heading toward the street that I want: I just see a long corridor that does not more than assure me that I am exiting the parking garage in the right direction compared to the Google map.

 

Figure 2: Does this lead to a real exit?

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First you have to walk through the garage, not the most charming atmosphere for a walk.

 

Figure 3: Getting through the garage

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And as you traverse the garage, there are still no signs indicating where you are going to end up. Unless you are driving--in this case there are signs.

 

Figure 4: Signage for drivers only

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As you exit the garage, there is a long pedestrian bridge.

 

Figure 5: It's a long walk across the bridge!

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At the end of the bridge, there is still no indication of where to go. Nor even a sidewalk!

Pedestrians have to walk down the traffic lanes of the surface parking lot.

 

Figures 6-7: No sidewalk, no signs

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I finally find the street on the other side of the parking lot, and it has a sidewalk. [But only on one side of the street, and not the one I am on.]

I get to the first intersection. It only allows me to cross in the direction I am heading, but only on one side of the cross street, so I have to wait for 2 signals to cross, not one. Oh, and they are the type where you have to press a button to get a walk signal: one more irritation and delay.

 

 

Figure 8: Slow work to cross the street! Only the left side has a crosswalk or sidewalks

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The walk is boring and unprotected from the sun, next to construction equipment.

 

Figures 9-10: The view from the sidewalk

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The next intersection is also a need-to-cross-twice-to-get-across-one-street version. Again requiring manual push buttons.

 

Figures 11-12: Push button intersections that only allows crossing on one side of the street

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I don't know why I find these push buttons so irritating. I do know that I am not the only one.

 

Figure 13: They don't appreciate push buttons in Amsterdam, either

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Perhaps it is because pedestrians have to take an affirmative step just to go forward, while drivers just show up and are accommodated. So walkers feel like second-class citizens. Also, how clean are those buttons? When is the last time they were washed? The last rain storm? (That was in February.)

Now we get to a bridge over the freeway. It also only allows pedestrians on one side of the road.

Good thing I didn't cross the street before the bridge: I would have to cross back again!

 

Figure 14: One side only for walkers (see green sign)

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Figure 15: beautiful view from the bridge

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Now I am getting close! I need to cross both streets here. But behold, the second crossing is blocked by a sign "sidewalk closed".

 

Figure 16: The only legal crossing is blocked

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This is a problem because it is the only path available to cross legally to get to the DMV

So a cross mid-block far from the crosswalk. No problem: I am fit and have fast reflexes. But what if I needed a cane or a wheelchair?

 

Figure 17: Required but illegal crossing: DMV is white one-story building with big parking lot across the street

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I can't end this story without a personal note: the reason I am going to Daly City for the renewal is that:

1) the DMV doesn't let you do anything to renew until you receive a notice in the mail no more than 60 days before the old license expires

2) I was away on vacation then and didn't return till 3 weeks later

3) when I called DMV the day after my return, the first appointment they had was for late July, more than 3 weeks after my license would have expired, so

4) they offered me a more timely appointment in Daly City, about 10 miles from my home.

5) This sent me on the expedition

When I left the DMV office, I thought, "oh, great, I get to navigate this obstacle course again!" Too bad I didn't try to make a video of this...oh, wait, I have a good pocket camera in the briefcase I am carrying." So on the way back I took pictures of many of the obstacles.

I hope you appreciate the results of this unplanned experiment.

Note that this was not a trip where I was setting out to make a point. It was a fortuitous exposure to lots of symptoms of ignoring pedestrian issues.

In concluding

What is the meaning of this little story of pedestrian/transit inconvenience?

"Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation. Yet some measures needed will not prove easily acceptable to society unless substantial improvements are made in the systems themselves, which ...force people to put up with undignified conditions due to ... inconvenience... and lack of safety."

This last statement is in quotes because the sentence was not written by me, but by the Pope.

The Pope's encyclical also ties environmental concerns to taking care of the poor and the vulnerable. The problems I observed would be even more disturbing if I had faced them with mobility issues. They would be unavoidable if I couldn't afford a car and had to live with them all the time or stay at home.

It is unrealistic to expect people to turn from cars to walking and transit if the experience is inconvenient, unattractive, and potentially dangerous. Cities and suburbs need to take the pedestrian's needs for access more seriously.