Walkability is a hot commodity in real estate these days. From the New Urbanism of a couple of decades ago, to pedestrian and bike paths in major cities around the country, to “traditional neighborhood developments” like River Ranch in Lafayette, the goal is to achieve the urban design that pre-World War II cities like New Orleans made famous.
It’s about property values. They soar in TNDs or “urban villages,” or whatever you want to call the real estate component. It is why prices rise in new TNDs in Zachary or other parts of greater Baton Rouge, or in older neighborhoods like the Bywater in the Crescent City.
But if everybody wants pedestrians, why don’t we design streets and sidewalks to accommodate them? One of the most persistent problems — and Louisiana is a leading offender — is the danger to pedestrians from motor vehicles.
Smart Growth America calls its report “Dangerous by Design.” The message is that streets could be safer if they were more complete — that is, designed to work for pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars.
Over a decade, almost 50,000 Americans were struck and killed by vehicles, the new report says.
The annual index of pedestrian danger is, because of prewar design, not so onerous in the heart of New Orleans, but the index’s data covers the metropolitan area. That region is still 42nd among the nation’s top 100 cities for pedestrian hazards, above the national average.
Baton Rouge, land of sprawl because of its growth in recent decades, is far worse, coming in 12th in the list.
“Most of our major arterial roads extend out from downtown like fingers. Many have several lanes of fast-moving traffic and disconnected developments spurring off them,” commented Ryan Benton of the Center for Planning Excellence. “Poor connectivity and fast-moving traffic make it difficult, dangerous, and at the very least, unpleasant, to get around without a car in Baton Rouge.”
CPEX and others are trying to tackle the problem, in part because not only does a “complete street” typically boost property values, but even moderately denser development saves cities — thus taxpayers — tons of money in long-term costs for infrastructure.
But one of the hallmarks of a city that is dynamic is the growing demand for bikeways and safe spaces for pedestrians to get around. This should be front-and-center in transportation planning.
If nothing else, an aging population requires help: The large number of aging “baby boomers” are increasingly going to have difficulty driving, endangering themselves and others.
More progressive ways to design streets and public spaces — and sometimes, a back-to-the-future plan like that of old New Orleans — are not only safer but more economically fruitful. Clearly, we have more work to do.