Sunday, November 29, 2009

Roads in the south

I've been in Birmingham, my home town, this Thanksgiving. And I've been looking at the town of my youth through a fresh set of eyes, through a new lens. My impression of Birmingham may now be forever skewed, partially because of my experiences from bike commuting in Denver for a over a year, but more so because of having read the Dangerous by Design report, and because of my ensuing obsession with complete streets and safe infrastructure.

Birmingham streets suck. It's obvious and it's tragic.

As I drive though the heart of downtown and as I drive through the surrounding suburbs, I can't help but feel all kinds of respect and admiration for Elisa, Anna, and all the other souls who choose to brave the roads and bike in the south.

I don't know what it is about rural areas that spell out danger for pedestrians, and the report focuses on metro areas with populations of over one million, so I lack data on smaller rural areas. But I would suspect that small rural towns aren't much safer than large southern cities.

That is, I don't think it unreasonable for Zoe's mom insist she wear construction gear while out for a jog.

No matter where you go, you're likely to hear an assertion following the "People in x drive y" formula. And sometimes there's some truth to these assertions. For example, people in Denver drive through red lights. They just do. I find myself doing it, too. The traffic signals have odd timing cycles.

And people in Birmingham drive fast, through neighborhoods and down side streets, amongst pedestrians and joggers and people walking their dogs who don't have sidewalks or other mobility options.

Edit: It was just brought to my attention on BikeSkirt that Alabama ranked dead last, 50 out of 50, on the League's list of Bicycle Friendly States this year.

It's depressing and it's discouraging, but I find hope in the fact that several of the most dangerous metro areas are now also leading the pack in spending on walking and biking. It suggests to me that they have realized that something is wrong and the cities are now taking steps toward fixing the problem.

And I'm encouraged by advocacy groups like Birmingham's Bicci Coop, and these guys, who are organizing a car free week in Jackson, Mississippi, a town too small to land on the list of 52 large metro areas, but which has a pedestrian danger index higher than the fifth most dangerous area.

So. Good luck to them and to everybody else out there drawing attention to inadequate and dangerous infrastructure.

I hope you soon get to enjoy the safe roads you deserve and that you don't get hit by a car before then.

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