By David J. Stinson
Dan Burden, the renowned Complete Streets advocate, once again graced us with his wisdom and wit early this November. Escaping just ahead of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, he made it to Ontario in time to be awarded Honourary Membership in OPPI at our World Town Planning Day press conference. But in between, he also managed to conduct walking audits of Stayner, Bradford, Bracebridge, and Coldwater, with wrap-up workshops in both Barrie and Bracebridge.
Approximately 55 health unit and school board officials, planners, engineers, municipal staff, and politicians attended at least one of these events. This author was at the audit in the village of Coldwater, and was pleased to see that local decision-makers were present such as Ron Stevens, former mayor of Orillia, and current head of the Severn Township Transportation Master Plan Committee, as well as fellow committee members Mayor Mike Burkett and Councillor Rob Ferguson.
After a brief prep, Dan led us out to observe the streets Jane-Jacobs style. He was full of tips regarding the sizing of signs for older drivers, the ¼” curb maximum for wheelchairs, sidewalks for both sides of a street, crosswalks for schools, etc. He often pulled out a tape to measure the street, indicating the ample room for parking, cycling, and motor-vehicles. He astounded most of us when he asked that we huddle around him in the middle of a 4-way intersection. We watched in amazement as several cars approached, slowed down, and carefully made their way around the impromptu, human-traffic circle. Apparently, Seattle has reduced crashes by 93% with the installation of mini-traffic circles on existing intersections. There were bumper sticker moments like when he declared that “Cars don’t buy anything, people do”; the retail life of a street improves with slower traffic, encouraging drivers to stop and shop, thus boosting the economic performance of downtowns. There were the humourous anecdotes. The evidence indicates that trails increase property values, but one man in the U.S. made the local municipality build a fence when a trail went in; but after noticing that trail users often sport Lycra fashions, he removed the fence at his own expense! There was also inspiration... Einstein is reputed to have developed many theories while cycling, and we now know that students who walk get 20% better marks.
Dan challenged us to reconsider the reasons for established practice; standard road widths were often determined according to the size of military vehicles, not the needs of cars, bicycles, let alone pedestrians. Those unable to attend can also benefit from Dan’s tutelage by viewing his Walking 101 videos: “Road Diets” and “Head-out Angled Parking”, or TED talks on “Aging – or, Living – In Place Through Walkability” and “Creating Livable Communities” at: http://www.walklive.org/project/videos/. Thanks to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the County of Simcoe, and the District of Muskoka for inviting “one of the six most important civic innovators in the world” (TIME, 2001) to visit our communities.
David J. Stinson MCIP, RPP, A.Ag. is the OPPI Recognition Representative for the Lakeland District and is a partner in Incite Planning.