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Opinion: Now is the Time for Safer Streets

Transit Columbus Transit Columbus Opinion: Now is the Time for Safer StreetsPhoto by Taijuan Moorman.
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Transit Columbus has regularly expressed our excitement around the implementation of the recently announced Vision Zero policy. We took it to heart that the policy would fundamentally change the approach of transportation officials, but the recent comments to Columbus Underground (CU) indicated that no fundamental changes have been made to the car-centric approach that has been a mainstay of city policy. Given our support, we were dismayed and disappointed in the City’s response and methodology used to evaluate potential ‘Open Streets’ style street closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Transit Columbus has embarked on the Walk Columbus project during the pandemic, we know that Columbusites deserve safe streets and we desperately need the fundamental changes in city policy we were promised. The recent announcement by the city is inconsistent with our Walk Columbus goals, and in particular with the city’s Vision Zero policy. The City has continued its car-centric approach even as at least three pedestrians have been killed by hit-and-run drivers during the pandemic. 

The Department of Public Service indicated that methodology is based on factors examined including “whether vehicle access would need to be maintained on a closed street.” It appears pedestrian and cycling safety were disregarded – pedestrians merited no mention and cyclists were encouraged to ride on street at a time when it’s been documented that speeding and other unsafe driving is on the rise due to lower traffic volumes. To ensure equity, it appears the city determined it would be better to close no streets than to close them in the areas where there is the most need. The methodology used to examine the possibility of street closures puts the needs of cars ahead of people in our neighborhood and does not live up to Vision Zero. Many other cities around the country have made the exact opposite decision and successfully implemented these closures.

Though we are disappointed, we believe there is still hope in moving forward. The first change needed is to replace the failed car-centric methodology in this and in future projects with a people-centric one that prioritizes the safety and needs of pedestrians and cyclists. With weather becoming more consistently favorable, we know it is human nature that more people will be out. And we think everyone agrees that it’s good for the long-term health of our community that people move around both for physical and mental health.

It makes every sense that a thoughtful, intentional plan should be made to encourage residents to get out and walk that helps protect their health and ensure their safety. We know and wholly respect that resources are tight, but as seen via the Mobility Innovation Test series, there are short-run, small-scale solutions that can be implemented without being resource intense.

High traffic areas and areas with limited public parkland should be prioritized, with examples below.

Areas with limited parkland (via Parkscore)

  • Mideast Area
  • 5xNW
  • North Linden
  • Northwest Side

Areas with high pedestrian traffic:

  • Schiller Park Area
  • Scioto Mile Area
  • High Street between 2nd & 7th (where construction has created very small sidewalks)
  • Goodale Park Area

All in all, we’re looking at this as a test of whether Vision Zero will fundamentally transform the city’s approach to transportation. Will the COVID-19 era be the beginning of a transformative change making our streets for people over cars, or will we double down on car-centric policies? We hope this time is an opportunity to rethink and reform, to reconnect people with their streets and to create a healthier, safer, greener future for all.

— Transit Columbus

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