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AUGUST 11, 1997

Local News

Street improvements lead to better community, consultant says

  by Andrew Walgamott
   "If you're going to beat traffic problems, take lessons from the Wizard of Oz," said Dan Burden, a Florida consultant, addressing a crowd of local city, county and state officials last week. Burden was speaking about 'walkable communities.' His message was simple; by improving the street, the surrounding community and businesses are bettered.
   The catch: city planners and traffic engineers need the knowledge and wisdom of the scarecrow, heart of the tinman and courage of the lion to design good streets and overcome the planning jigsaw of neighborhoods, main streets, transportation, citizen involvement and land use.
   "As towns, we have the responsibility of building streets that work," Burden instructed the audience gathered at Redhook Brewery's conference room August 4.
   His concept isn't based on a fanciful old movie, though. Burden is the founder of Walkable Communities, has served with the Florida Department of Transportation for 25 years as a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. He has taken his consulting business to cities around the world in recent years.
   City councilmembers and staff came from Woodinville, Bothell, Redmond, Lake Forest Park, Issaquah, Mill Creek among others to listen to Burden's advise.
   Great cities depend on great streets
   Cities are dependent on good streets as an exchange of goods and culture, Burden said. He pointed out boulevards in Madrid, Barcelona and Toledo, Spain as being "great streets," where people and ideas gather.
   "The principle is everything starts with the streets," Burden said. From medians to intersections, sidewalk amenities to personal security, Burden said slow traffic down and give pedestrians security to walk streets. People walking streets contribute to commerce and ambiance. To make communities walkable he suggested thinking about people's needs. Provide benches, water fountains and water parks, Burden said.
   "We're using that technique in our new street standards," said Ray Sturtz, Woodinville's Planning Director. The city of Bothell has a good start on becoming a walkable community as well.
   "Our comprehensive plan has already identified the need for pedestrian walkways," Eddie Low, engineering manager said. "Our highest priority is to get all walkways linked within one mile of schools."
   Burden said a good proportion for streets is 50 percent vehicle space and 50 percent pedestrian walkway. He added 15 percent of streets should be reserved for "wow" factor produced by art and interesting architecture.
   To make streets safer for pedestrians and more profitable for businesses, Burden suggested narrowing thoroughfares. Narrow streets, crosswalks and parked cars, among others, slow traffic. His statistics showed that most businesses gain from smaller streets. He said attract the eye with trees, lights and well-designed building. Allow outdoor cafes. People enjoy seeing and being seen, a fact evident on Kirkland's Lake Washington Boulevard. Burden called the street his favorite in the entire country.
   But often cars and pedestrians don't mix, a fact Woodinville is addressing with its proposed street standards. Plans for N.E. 175th St. include an amenities strip that would provide protection for pedestrians from vehicles on the street. To make intersections safer for walkers, Burden said sharpen right-turns. Acceleration lanes are for interstate highways, not downtown, he said. Burden also suggested orienting crossings so pedestrians walk towards traffic before entering roadways.
   Medians score high with Burden. He said a landscaped median costs $300,000 a mile less to build than a left turn lane. Maintenance for a median over twenty years was $1.2 million less than a comparable left-turn lane, according to his figures. Medians can also be used as crosswalks, and would interrupt half as much traffic as a crosswalk at an intersection, Burden said.
   "Some of these are good ideas that can be built into crossings," Low said. He cited preliminary street design work on a transit stop on Kaysner Way along SR 522 that would alert drivers to pedestrians in the area.
   Woodinville and Bothell won't become Barcelona and Madrid overnight, though. Improving streets will occur when towns have street standards and plans developers can be guided by.
   "It has to start when there is a potential to redevelop," Low said.
   Woodinville has a chance at becoming more pedestrian friendly with the TRF project and Tourist District Master Plan.
   "A lot of [Burden's ideas] are applicable at a different scale to Woodinville, Sturtz said. TRF plans call for an open air seating area and wide pedestrian paths, and Sammamish Valley Trail access across the slough to Redhook Brewery and Columbia Winery. Woodinville and Bothell are also becoming ever more linked with bicycle trails, including paths up N.E. 195th St. and 132nd Avenue N.E., and Waynita Way.
   Sturtz said in the next year Woodinville would look at including stream corridors in an overall pedestrian network.
   "Money isn't the issue. It's do you have the courage?" Burden challenged the crowd before wrapping up the meeting.