Monday, January 31, 2011

Random thoughts on a winter walk on University Ave

I'm working on a post about the bike sharing program that will be before the city council tomorrow night, but that is going to be a long post. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts on walking down University Ave this afternoon.

It was the large, fast, busy, part between Campus Dr and just past Shorewood Blvd. I don't usually walk that stretch, but didn't feel like digging out the car. Besides, it's not far, I thought, probably less than a mile. I wanted to get to the UW Credit Union, buy some coffee at Ancora, and stop at Panera to do some writing. I'm not sure why I write better outside my house, but I do. Panera has both food and wi-fi, and it's pretty quiet after the lunch rush.

I walked the block down to University from my house, and headed west on the south side of the street, that is, counterflow to the adjacent traffic. Although there are plenty of businesses along this stretch, not many people walk it. There are a few coming and going to the bus stops, but not the number of people you see on the campus part of University, or even the "Old" University portion farther east.

There's plenty of residential density and some offices in this area, but the walking environment is just not there. The sidewalk is sort of close to the road, so you don't get much protection from the noise and visual feel of the traffic rushing by. It feels like you could get plowed down at any moment, and each driveway and intersection made me flinch, worried that a turning vehicle wouldn't notice me.

A few blocks farther I started to see lots of crud from the street splashed up onto the sidewalk. Yuck. The temperature was below freezing, so much of the snow and crud was in semi-frozen chunks, but can you imagine walking that same stretch in the rain, or when that snow and slush is more splashable?

I crossed to the north side at Shorewood Blvd. Fortunately, there were no left-turning cars, because the crosswalk across the intersection feels very long and unprotected. I continued on through the little strip mall that contains Cost Cutters and the AT&T store. There is a walkway under an overhang, but at the end of that, there was both a fence-style bike rack (note, I'll have to go back for photos of that for my bike parking fail series) and a parked car blocking the end of the walkway. Yeah, I can get around those things, but I don't have a stroller, balance problems, or a big shopping bag.

So... a bit of business, a sandwich, and a little work, and I headed back home around 5:30 PM. With the light now gone, it felt even more vulnerable out there. Only twice did I feel like a driver didn't see me and my physical being was in danger.

Let's see what's in the windows of the stores as I go by. Most of the businesses on this stretch have been around awhile, and they seem financially stable. The IHOP seems pretty sad, however. Not one customer in there. Ouch, that's gotta hurt. All the other eateries have at least someone there: Bagels Forever, Jimmy Johns, Panera, Whole Foods, Q'doba, and Tex Tubbs shows some activity as I pass. Somehow, the IHOP just looks like the wrong joint in the wrong place. Maybe they make all their money off weekend brunch.

As soon as I turned off University, I felt more relaxed and safe. My neighborhood, and all the streets just behind the stores and businesses are great for walking. I've biked to all these locations many time, but I take the back way, not University Ave. It's not that it's impossible to walk and bike to the destinations on University, it's just that the walking (and biking) environment is really bad.

It's really too bad that one of our major streets, still very close to downtown and campus, and the retail area for many walkable/bikeable/transit-friendly neighborhood, is so ugly and unattractive to pedestrians. Maybe when we redo the street we can fix that.

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