I believe that traffic calming and sidewalks can save lives and prevent injuries and that sidewalks also play a role in social justice by treating disabled friends and neighbors equally with regard to their rights to access and enjoy our city. That said, there are areas and streets where sidewalks or traffic calming are more important. In other areas I think a data-driven process with resident input would show that new infrastructure is not a priority.
State Highways (Carroll, 410, New Hampshire, etc.) State highways and intersections are `failing' with regard to traffic in many parts of the City and Montgomery County. City Council can and should be an advocate for new county/state funding and design improvements for these highways that make them safer and more effective at moving cars and protecting pedestrians. Its not acceptable for our Council to say `its not our problem' and on Council I would make it a high priority to get the state to fix and improve sidewalks along these highways – they are some of the greatest public safety risks we face.
Traffic Calming We already bear a cost from our failing state highways and I don't believe we should be adding to those costs by making it easy for `cut through' traffic to use neighborhood streets rather than highways. Instead, we should be working on solutions that make slight to significant reductions in cut through traffic on a neighborhood scale – we should never be taking cut through traffic from one residential street and sending it down another. Rather, there are smart ways to use `raised bed' intersections, 4-way stops, narrowed intersections and roundabouts to create reductions in cut through that benefit whole neighborhoods. Some of my earliest work on City Committees (2003) was on these issues and you can read more ideas from that Committee's report here . (Report and Committee were chaired by Andy Kelemen). These measures can make us safer and reduce the quality of life impacts of neighborhood traffic by reducing traffic volume and speed.
Sidewalks A 2008 study of Takoma Park found that 70 percent of our roads already have sidewalks on one side but 50% of those are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs and are difficult to access by those without a disability. Fixing this existing infrastructure should be a first priority with Speed Camera and other sidewalk dollars. The City is already making significant progress in this area.
For streets without sidewalks, I support a data-driven process where the City identifies the highest vehicle and pedestrian traffic streets and among those high vehicle/foot traffic streets fairly evaluates neighborhood (not just block) support. In neighborhoods with majority support, the City should move forward with design studies as the Council is currently proposing http://www.takomaparkmd.gov/clerk/agenda/items/2011/091211-4.pdf I also support the City moving forward with sidewalk design on streets where lack of sidewalks creates an access and equity issue for disabled residents in the neighborhood. Streets like the lower end of Jackson Avenue accessing Sligo Creek are a good example of a high traffic/high pedestrian use street.
On high traffic/pedestrian use streets without majority support, its still important for the City to keep talking to residents. The City should work with residents in these neighborhoods to create more formal decision making and polling processes and mediation to really figure out what values are being affected by current traffic and infrastructure and determine if there are public safety (including sidewalk, traffic calming and traffic reduction) solutions behind which there is better consensus. This process does not have to be rushed - we should take the time to try to find a solution.
Sidewalks are not a worthwhile public expense everywhere and we already have problems keeping up with maintenance costs, but in conjunction with traffic calming measures, infrastructure like this can help make us and our children safer and our community a more equitable place.