The Street View: California Envy

A New Yorker’s experience of SoCal sidewalks

Metropolis’s senior editor, Kristi Cameron, is contributing semi-regular posts on issues regarding livable streets in a feature we’re calling The Street View. Click here to read previous posts in this series.

Perhaps it’s the fact that people in California spend so much time outdoors, but whatever the reason, the streets I strolled on a recent trip to the Golden State were a lot friendlier than the ones I’d left behind in New York. In San Diego, for instance, there were pedestrian crossing buttons at every intersection and all were in working order. (A fair percentage of the ones I find in New York are permanently depressed, and I have to wonder what kind of signals they are submitting to the network.) And each public park I entered, from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, had a bin of emergency poop bags for dog owners left high and dry. It finally occurred to me to take a few pictures of these amenities, so here goes:

Crossing Button, San Diego
This is what you see at most intersections–clearly labeled, working properly, and convenient. I’d love to know how much time these buttons lop off of the average pedestrian wait, but together with drivers that actually wait at crosswalks for pedestrians who are still on the curb, the buttons went a long way toward making me feel like I belonged on the street every bit as much as much as the cars did.

Crossing Button Post, San Diego
Even at busier intersections that don’t have the usual traffic poles, the city has gone to the trouble of installing posts to give pedestrians a measure of control. Compare this to my Brooklyn neighborhood, where it takes forever to get across Metropolitan Avenue at the point where it intersects with Graham Ave. There’s not a crossing button in sight, even though there is a subway entrance at every corner and foot traffic is high. Not surprisingly, there is plenty of unsanctioned crossing, with fed-up pedestrians sometimes taking over the intersection and disrupting vehicular traffic.

Diagonal Crossing Signal, San Diego
This one really blew my mind: pedestrians have it so good downtown that in some places all cars are kept at a standstill, giving people the chance to take a diagonal shortcut right through the middle of the intersection.

Bicycle Parking, San Diego
Cyclists aren’t excluded. I saw clever retrofitted stands like this one on meters all over town. (It’s more secure and stable than simply throwing a lock around the post.)

Recycling and Garbage Can, San Luis Obispo
Not sure it could handle the volume in a city like New York, but I loved the simplicity of this solution. A metal basket on top holds recyclables (a Jägermeister bottle in the bin I checked) above the garbage receptacle.

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