That Was Then…and Now…

I was so much older then.  I’m younger than that now.

My Back Pages — Bob Dylan

When I started my career as a young engineer right of out of Purdue University, I went to work for the City of Los Angeles Transportation Department.  As you would expect, in LA, we were all about moving traffic…cars, buses, trucks, etc. At the time the city was spending tens of millions of dollars expanding its traffic responsive signal system…that was 25+ years ago. We followed the standards and guidelines…and we really moved traffic.  The Rolling Stones concert at the L.A. Coliseum we could completely empty in about 45 minutes, lots of green signals in the traffic peaks, rush hour traffic lanes ticketed and towed by parking officers…all the most aggressive approaches to address congestion.

Fast forward 16 years later, when I worked at the District Department of Transportation in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to work with Karina Ricks on the city’s Great Streets Initiative under Mayor Williams.  This approach was to create urban spaces on major thoroughfares in the city using infrastructure projects.  The city did a lot of design work when I was there and some of the projects have been built, most notably H Street, NE. The city also was aggressively moving forward with traffic calming, bicycle lanes and other approaches to make neighborhoods safer and provide alternate transportation options

Through this process my perspective about the purpose of streets changed…

Streets are for people. 

When streets are designed for people, businesses are successful, engagement between community members increases, safety improves. What transportation a person choses to use is a product of the type of trip they making between different activities.

  • Drive to and park the car to go grocery shopping, pick up dry cleaning, and a cup of coffee.
  • Walk to a restaurant
  • Take shuttle bus to Metro to work.
  • Bicycle to school and the park

Land uses should not be driven by parking lot size and driveway entrances simply for cars. Choices for land uses should driven by the communities needs for residences, businesses, parks, libraries at the like. Streets are a means not an end; more simply they connect people to activities.










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