Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Lakewood was not built for walking

This town was not built for walking
It isn’t the trains that make pedestrians unsafe in Lakewood. Like a lot of cities that were built primarily in the era of car-centered infrastructure, Lakewood is not particularly walkable and a lot of people end up getting hurt and killed because of it.

Since the Amtrak derailment at Dupont a few weeks ago, a new focus has been put on the comments of the Lakewood mayor on how bad a new high-speed train route is to his city. His statement that someone is going to “get killed” was said without any sense of irony that five people already get killed walking around Lakewood each year.

Just pedestrian injuries (deaths notwithstanding) from cars have been steadily increasing in Lakewood for the past ten years.

Buried in Mayor Don Anderson’s column in the Tacoma News Tribune is the logic that kills so many people in Lakewood. He states bluntly that local rail was “made obsolete” by buses in the 1920s. In reality, it isn’t that small-scale or regional rail became obsolete, it is that investment and planning in low-density suburbs (like Lakewood) in the car era made local rail inefficient.

Even if you don’t believe that the car lobby bought out local rail lines to simply shut them down, there are broad historical trends that play havoc with Anderon's obsoletion thesis. While suburbs began sprouting up in the early part of the 1900s, the spread of cars and federal transportation funding pointed towards cars led to the development of car-centric communities. Places to shop and work became displaced spatially from places to live and sleep. I don’t think there’s a serious person who can say that Lakewood isn’t an almost perfect example of this kind of suburb.

Trains are not obsolete, but they are ill-suited for suburban cities like Lakewood that were built around cars. But then again, so is walking.

Lakewood’s walkability rating is 39, which means that almost every trip you need to make from your home requires a car. Much of Lakewood, even the portions with sidewalks, is built for cars. Thin sidewalks with little or no division from long, straight roads the encourage traveling at a high speed. This is the kind of city design that leads to less walking and which also leads to pedestrian injury for those who have to walk.

From Next City:
Wide, straight lanes, for example, encourage people to drive faster, making neighborhood streets less safe for those walking. Cars are three times more likely to cause death when hitting pedestrians while traveling at 30 mph than at 20 mph. And when some of the population does not have access to transit or a car, making a street pedestrian-free isn’t a realistic option.
Lakewood at one point did have a local rail system connecting it to Tacoma. And you could argue that it was shortline rail companies like Pacific Traction that originally spawned suburban living in the Lakewood area. More well-off Pierce County residents could set up home around American Lake, and in an era without decent roads to Tacoma, they could still find a way to earn a living in the city.

But it was the glut of highway and road spending in the later decades that made that dream available to everyone and subsequently killed Lakewood’s streetcar company.

Pedestrians getting hurt and getting killed in Lakewood is fairly common. Pedestrian deaths aren't newsworthy, mostly because they're cooked into the city's design. 

Regional rail transit is also hopefully going to continue to expand, despite the tragedy at Dupont. So, if Mayor Anderson wants to make pedestrians safer, he needs to look at the layout of his own town, examine why cars kill and hurt so many already and not blame the train.

1 comment:

TVDinner said...

I believe when Lakewood incorporated it had zero - ZERO - miles of sidewalks.