BTA: One bad accident puts healthy streets in a whole new light

By Rob Sadowsky, Contributing Columnist

I broke my collarbone and three ribs two months ago. I needed to make significant adjustments to my regular commute to work as a daily bicyclist. Walking and taking transit is something I generally enjoy. I like the extra time it may take to arrive at my destination, for I see new sights, hear new sounds, and experience life from a different viewpoint. But I also carry stuff: a lunch, a book to read, my notebook, a water bottle and often a sweater. I couldn’t carry stuff on my body with a broken collarbone — no backpack, no messenger bag. So, I loaded up my stuff into a rolling backpack I had at home and began a new street experience.

Streets are complicated places designed for many different users crisscrossing their way. When our streets are designed well, we move fluidly with no worries of obstacles. When our streets are overfilled, the flow slows down or stops, or in common vernacular, it “locks.” Our streets do not end at the curb — they extend through the sidewalk experience, and when you do that they get even more complicated. We’ll dance our way through the sidewalk experience in different ways than we might if we were driving a car. We rarely think of our sidewalk traffic locking up like our automobile congested streets do, but they present challenges and roadblocks, just the same.

Rolling with a bag gave me a new appreciation for the frustrations that people using strollers or wheelchairs feel every moment of their walking life. I know every corner in my neighborhood that lacks a curb cut (the little ramp to get you up the curb). I learned to hope that the next bus or MAX train coming would be one of the newer, more accessible models, rather than the old ones with two big steps up. For each time I had to lift my bag, I felt acute pain. There were numerous times when I would depart a bus at a grassy location, sometimes wet and muddy, with no sidewalk present, forcing me to carry my bag several feet until I was once again on firm reliable concrete.

Rolling with a bag also placed me in a different location on the sidewalk, particularly when it came to intersections. Curb cuts are most often at the corner sharing space with two directions. One corner curb cut is cheaper than two in each direction, but it also means that one has to roam out a bit into the street to cross. I was always left with a feeling of vulnerability as I got near to traffic, to busses and trains. Had I been visually impaired, unable to see the type of intersection I was about to enter, that dance out into the street would be even more frustrating — and dangerous.

I learned to adapt, to grow accustomed to the new environment, my new dance along the street. I also learned to accept the indirect route, for shortcuts were filled with even more obstacles. Yes, I adapted. But, I never enjoyed it the way I usually enjoy walking.

I’m lucky, though. I’m able to return to bicycling, carrying my stuff on my bike. I’m able to change my dance. Not everyone can do that. I believe it is the responsibility of society to design streets that make our streets a wonderful dance rather than one with obstacles. I also know that it is possible. I’ve experienced streets where the curb cuts are directly perpendicular to the direction traveling rather than at the corner. I’ve traveled on TriMet busses that are more accommodating for people with limited mobility. What would it take for TriMet to replace every bus and MAX train with the new accessible model? The recent bond initiative that failed would have helped enormously.

We have streets in our grid that are still locked to pedestrians. We have whole blocks that lack sidewalks entirely. This is a call to action! Let all of our regional governments, neighborhood associations, planners and engineers collaborate to build complete streets, streets that are healthy for all users.

I also call on you, readers, to get actively involved in the healthy streets movement. One day, you might need healthy streets just like I did.

One response to “BTA: One bad accident puts healthy streets in a whole new light

  1. Walk in my shoes…gives one a new perspective. Excellent read!

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