Yesterday I watched a teacher lead a group of 30 or so elementary school students toward the center of Monterey Square, where she asked a passer by, “Is this the way to Forsyth Park?” One of her young charges asked incredulously, “You’ve never been to Forsyth Park!?”
“Of course I have,” she answered cheerily. “But when I come downtown I’m usually driving my car.”
Ah, the difference a car makes. If we are used to viewing life through the windshield, getting out from behind it can sometimes be a disorienting experience. Yet in our city, that experience can be wonderful. Just ask the millions of folks who travel from all over the world to explore our streets and other public spaces. It’s too bad so many locals have sealed themselves off from the surprises and magic that are sometimes revealed when we look at the city with our feet.
The teacher and her students reminded me of Summer Teal Simpson’s excellent account of Fred Kent‘s recent visit to Savannah and, in particular, her description of results from the Destination Forward survey conducted in advance of the Project for Public Spaces honcho’s visit. She notes two very different types of streets were cited as “best” examples by those who took the survey:
“The dichotomy between streets of beauty (Washington, Bull and Victory) versus streets to get you to your destination quickly (Truman and Veterans) show the broad cross section of opinion of those who took our survey.”
I agree that Truman Parkway is a fine facility for high speed motoring. I imagine my opinion of it would be even more favorable if I lived, say, at The Landings and worked on Johnson Square. It does what it does very well. Still, when we appraise it only on its ability to move cars, we don’t get the whole picture.
If we look at Truman Parkway with our feet, the view is totally different. From the perspective of a pedestrian or cyclist, the parkway is not a mobility enhancement, it’s a restriction. Imagine some folks in Parkside want to ride their bicycles to visit friends Thunderbolt. They have two ways to traverse the Truman Parkway and neither of them is good. They can ride across the narrow 52nd Street overpass or squeeze under the parkway at Victory Drive. If a better option existed, I don’t think either street would see very much non-motorized traffic. But there are no other nearby routes for moving from west to east and back. As a result, all but the most experienced and confident cyclists — and those without cars who have no other choice — would be dissuaded from making this short trip by bike.
I wonder how high Truman Parkway would have ranked if the survey was administered only to those who get around mostly on foot or by bicycle.