Is Huntsville Pedestrian Friendly? No.

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Summary: asks is Huntsville pedestrian friendly (and words it really weirdly). Though close, the votes lean no. Let me explain why.

BLOT: (06 Feb 2013 - 11:50:18 PM)

Is Huntsville Pedestrian Friendly? No.

Let's get this out of the way: I am a pedestrian. By this, I mean my primary method to get to work and to run basic errands is to walk, and that my primary wish is to walk to where I want to go. I do not drive. It has been so long (mid to late 90s) since I have driven with any regularity that I would probably have to relearn it. This is beside the point. I enjoy walking. I enjoy adding in the extra minutes and getting exercise to do basic tasks. It does suck when it rains, but it is also awesome because I'll be out there, by myself, in a little cozy spot under my umbrella, and the world will be wet and gray and shiny. It's something I have done for years, even when it was just to get out and walk a couple of miles to waste an afternoon. I am biased, but also have experiences to help me make this post. had a poll, inspired by two pedestrians being killed in as many weeks: Is Huntsville pedestrian-friendly?. Currently, the poll is split at 55.53% for no, and 44.47% for yes. Close, but technically closer than most recent presidential elections, so take from that what you will. You'll notice that, perhaps to try and split the nays up so that the ayes would win, they worded it really oddly, with the nay-voters having to choose why they thought it was unfriendly (with bike lanes getting chunked in?). I added it back together. For (1) that either an obvious ploy or a poorly designed poll and (2) the choices given are barely half the issue.

For a city to be pedestrian friendly, there are three core components:

  1. They have to have adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, walkpaths, and/or wide enough shoulders on roads where pedestrians are likely. This we will call Access. We will leave questions of quality of Access aside for the moment, and just say: if it can be walked without danger, then it counts.
  2. There must be logical paths that allow pedestrians to be able to take advantage of the Access to get to places they need to go. This will be called Throughput. Not all Throughput has to be peak efficiency, but any severe slack will be deemed to be a lack.
  3. Finally, away from the civil engineering side of things, there is an element of pedestrian Acceptance, where stores are friendly to people who walk up, and pedestrians are not regularly assaulted (including verbally) or treated disrespectfully.

Huntsville tends to fail all three.

Let's go down the list. Access. Huntsville has sidewalks, a fair number, and crosswalks, though the crosswalks can be strangely laid out and the sidewalks randomly end and start based on whims unknown. Huntsville also has a bad tendency of having miles of sidewalks out around Research Park, where people might go walking on their lunchbreak, and then skipping them in vital neighborhoods that might actually use them for everyday business. Look at the UAH area, where I walk the most. There is a sidewalk down Holmes to at least 99% of the way downtown (at one point, there was a break, but I think it got fixed). On both sides of the road. As long as the students are willing to walk a couple of miles to get there. On the way, there is a grocery store (John's Big Brother), a handful of convenience stores, and a couple of eateries (Beauregards, at any rate). The other way, again at the cost of a mile or two, they can go down under Holmes, walk around to Sparkman by kind of a long way around, cross at the University overpass, and then come up the other side and have access to a couple of eateries, an Aldi's, a Kinko's and such. If they continue down the road, they can get to other businesses, but the sidewalk has a way of petering out just a moment too soon and eventually they will have to cut to the grass or the parking lots to get there.

Not too bad, but then you realize there are no sidewalks down that primary strip of Jordan from near Holmes down to I-565 (combining elements of Access and Throughput), despite there being a number of businesses that would appeal to students and despite this being by far the closest businesses to the campus. There are also no crosswalks from Holmes to I-565, a distance of about half a mile, in a community that not only might benefit from encouraging students to eat out and shop along the strip but also has a large number of houses tucked away nearby that might stay more local if they had the opportunity.

If a student wanted to access businesses on University, including the 24-7 businesses at the University/Jordan light, at best they would have go a long way around and then come down University through a couple of places not quite safe-feeling, since there are no sidewalks going over "Jordan Hill". Going down Jordan, away from the residential area, you suddenly get sidewalks leading you to places like Auto-Zones and pawn shops, that no one uses because where exactly are they supposed to start walking from. The crosswalks that they point out that the people avoid using on University are regularly a quarter mile apart. Even if we are talking about seven-lane roads, that is a heck of a side trip just to get across the street.

Continuing more on the Throughput aspect. Bridge Street is near a massive number of houses and apartments, and yet none of them can easily get to a outside, pedestrian themed shopping center because the bridge over Research Boulevard is uncrossable by foot traffic. The other side, where few houses are, are filled with sidewalks (technically allowing the people who live nearer the Target shopping center to get there if they have time, though it would border on the one- to two-mile mark).

And these are just the areas I frequent. This leaves out issues like the way sidewalks were cut away to foot-wide, dangerous strips along Drake and Whitesburg. The way that the Hospital district has crosswalks with too little time for anyone not able to scoot kind of fast across to complete. The way that downtown is full of crosswalks and sidewalks, but within just yards outside of that strip you suddenly have to walk on the street. Or, bringing me to the last point, Acceptance, the way people regularly dump trash or park on sidewalks and force pedestrians to walk out in the road.

Because the root of both of the above problem is that many Huntsville sorts simply don't seem to like pedestrians. They look down on them, are confused by them, and see no real need to make way for them. Tonight my wife and I were glared at and followed around by a gas station clerk who felt the need to keep an eye on us since we walked up, despite the fact that the place is surrounded by two neighborhoods, is within walking distance of a handful of hotels, and is about half a mile from a college campus. This, by the way, is the Shell Station owned by Minit Man on at the University/Jordan intersection. Avoid spending any money there. Yes, the same Shell I was once kicked out of because I was walking home from work and the attendant shat herself in a panic to make me leave. They are fairly rude. They charge too much for gas. And nearly any gas station within half a mile, even the ones that look crummier, are actually staffed by nicer people and have better selections. Seriously. If it wasn't for the fact that it was saving us about twenty minutes, we wouldn't have stayed.

Does it sound like I am being defensive? Sure. But then go and read the comments. A bunch of people who drive to the end of their yard just to check the mail screeching about how no one ever uses crosswalks or the pedestrian bridges, and somehow makes it sound like a pity-the-taxpayer "let's blame Obama" issue at the same time. Yes, people use crosswalks. No, not enough, but that depends on the crosswalks. You can fix this by getting out there and fining jaywalkers. We need it. Even $10 - $20 a pop with potential child endangerment charges tossed on will go a long way to helping this issue. Then, when people are using the road correctly, we can start talking about what pedestrians need without it turning into a moralizing whinge to deflect the question. A whinge let out by the kind of driver who wants to think of him- or herself as the real victim (much like the comments talking about they feel bad for the drivers that hit a pedestrian) and yet who never is going to pay attention to a person on the crosswalk. On Holmes, near the campus, you can see people swerve past students on the crosswalk almost daily. Probably on their way home to type up nonsensical rants about runners being in the road "for their knees". Whatever that is supposed to mean.

Just FYI, if the cops did start giving out jaywalking tickets, they had best also ticket the huge number of Huntsville drivers who also run through red lights or use the turn lane as a passing zone, which frankly causes way more wrecks than pedestrians ever do.



Written by Doug Bolden

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