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Myths and realities of pedestrian infrastructure

Joe Cortright, writing for City Observatory, has a great article about how “pedestrian” infrastructure is really car infrastructure:

When we build a sidewalk along a busy arterial, or put in a traffic signal or build a pedestrian overpass, we may call it “pedestrian” infrastructure, but the only reason it’s actually needed is because of the presence and primacy of cars. And its purpose is primarily to benefit cars, speeding car travel, by freeing them from the need to pay attention to or yield to pedestrians (or to only have to do so under strictly limited conditions). If a pedestrian crosses outside a sidewalk, or against a light, the law routinely exempts vehicle drivers from any penalties from hitting or killing them.

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Here’s another, example, from Port Wentworth, a suburb of Savannah, Georgia. Here, the Georgia Department of Transportation has built a $4 million pedestrian overpass over a four-lane highway, Augusta Road (GA-21). The bridge’s 178-foot span connects a new residential subdivision on one side of the highway with other subdivisions and a local school on the other. The overpass features lengthy serpentine switchbacks on both sides, more than quadrupling the distance one has to walk as opposed to using the highway’s crosswalk.

The entire piece is full of quotable information, so I recommend you to read it in its entirety. The overarching irony is that these “pedestrian infrastructure” projects are not only unjustifiably expensive, they’re undesirable because they don’t solve the actual problem caused by cars. The only way to make places truly safe for pedestrians is to reduce car access. People on foot or on bike don’t require millions of dollars of infrastructure except for when it needs to protect them from millions of dollars of other, more dangerous, infrastructure. We don’t need to upgrade the sidewalks, but to downgrade the cars. Yet, because that concept is inconceivable to many people, we bend over backwards and do anything possible to avoid the obvious solution.