Other Voices: A few suggestions for sane traffic solutions
December 1, 2005
I want to applaud the Grass Valley City Council for holding the major traffic pow-wow at city hall on Tuesday night. It’s an important first step to best assuring the sane future to Grass Valley’s traffic woes, real and perceived.
The traffic presentations by the six engineers and two police officers, however, focused on improving specific intersections in Grass Valley similar to how Richardson and East Main was recently fixed (but appears to need to be fixed again).
That’s all well and good, but I strongly believe that fixing traffic takes a much broader view. So, I’m proposing a five-step program for traffic mitigation in Grass Valley
1. Create a vision that explains how regional planning concepts like connectivity will play a role in getting cars around without the reliance on large arteries that become increasingly like boulevards and highways and less like roads and streets. They become conducive only to strip commercial development and not mixed use because no one wants to live on them, much less walk or bike on them or wait for a bus on them.
An example of connectivity can be found in San Francisco. I worked there for two years and had to drive to five or six different neighborhoods on some days to visit construction projects. I never had any problem getting around because there were so many choices or routes. We have fewer and fewer connections in the Grass Valley area. The highway took away about two dozen, the new Idaho-Maryland/Brunswick “improvement” eliminated one. This and a dozen other broad perspectives have to play a major role. Be in the satellite at 50,000 feet and ask yourself, “Now, why are those ants down there so constipated?”
2. Designate land uses conducive to quality of life: walking, biking, mixed use, relationships. I practiced in Denmark for two years and while any major road project had to consider air quality and water quality, it also had to have an anthropologist consider how a highway through town would, for example, affect how many times a grandmother visited a granddaughter. Please remember it’s the quality of the relationship that we have with each other that stitches us together as a society.
This line item speaks to the question of “Why wasn’t there someone on the panel giving a presentation who focused on the quality of the experience of any new road improvement?” Because it seems that every road project takes away from the experience of just being on the street, and therefore necessitates the need for more roads to get us out of town to a place with fewer turning lanes, fewer signals. If we don’t focus on the quality of the experience and just listen to the engineers, all of them very well-intended, we will look very much like Auburn or worse, Roseville. Maybe they should have had an architect who talks about the quality of the streets.
As an example, it used to be that you didn’t want to walk from downtown (Mill and East Main) along East Main further than Old California Restaurant. Now you don’t walk further than the post office because of the quality of the experience and because it was more safe before when the old intersection was more constricted and therefore successfully provided traffic calming. There is plenty of research that shows that the distance that people will walk is completely a function of the quality of experience.
3. Mass transit. When do we start planning for it? When gas is $4, $5 or $8 a gallon as it is in Britain? If it’s not a priority, opportunities will be lost one right after another. I was at a Katrina fundraiser dinner recently at the Miners Foundry sitting at a table of eight. I floated the question Ð you know, just to make conversation Ð “So, when are we going to address public transit in the Foothill regions?” There was a long pause and than a huge burst of laughter. People laughed for 20 minutes – tears were coming to their eyes, they rocked back and forth in their chairs. They slapped their knees and said, “Public transit in the Foothills?
4. All new projects, and especially the four pending SDAs (growth in general), should be evaluated based on their ability to address getting people around and minimally relying on the auto. Again I go back to my experience in Demark where any new project had to be along a bus or rail line, or one had to be created. And the quality of the street experience to the bus or train from home had to be conducive to making that walk.
The biggest supporters for public transportation in Denmark are serious drivers. This also has broad social justice ramifications. In our little county, if you don’t have a new car, you’re a second-class citizen. If you don’t have a car at all, you’re a third-class citizen. Elderly citizens who can’t drive become stuck, and we see our young citizens hitchhiking, or even worse, driving (and causing a disproportionate amount of accidents).
5. Yes, fix individual intersections, but always with points 1 through 4 in mind. Some intersections need to be fixed. McKnight and LaBarr is just comical – you can’t help from cracking up until you hit someone. It’s bumper cars. But, otherwise, don’t waste money that will take you further toward a Los Angeles, via Roseville, via Auburn solution. Don’t spend money to make the quality of life worse.
In conclusion, put lots of great photos into a document called Grass Valley’s Sane Traffic Future discussing the streets and growth patterns that are more indigenous to the area. Make it extremely readable. Traffic is one of those things that can be technical engineering or something that we all relate to after all. Autos are part of our culture. Most of us do it, and most are interested in it. If everyone is aware of the issues, large and small, then I think that there will be less of a tendency to fix (screw up) this intersection or that intersection for $10 million here and $10 million there. If we put it into perspective for the public, there will be less knee-jerk symptomatic approaches, people will appreciate what we have, feel some confidence that our leaders have the big picture in mind and become part of a broader dialogue about the place we want and how to achieve it and how to preserve it. Go ahead – have a vision – it’s the best way to gt to where you want to go.
Charles Durrett is an architect and planner who with his wife, Kathryn McCamant, are the principals of McCamant and Durrett Architects in Nevada City. They are internationally known for their designs of cohousing communities.
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