Walkability, Thy Name Is Crosswalk

Walkability seems to be all the rage these days, and for good reason.  Any merchant will tell you that foot traffic is good for business, and any public health expert will tell you walking is good for your health.  It gets people out of cars for trips of less than a mile and puts people where they can see each other, generating the vibrant sort of street life where friends and acquaintances run into each.  It’s a win for residents, a win for businesses, and a win for the city’s health.

Crosswalks are key to ensuring good walkability.  A road system isn’t much of a road system if you need to drive 15 minutes out of your way to turn, and a sidewalk system isn’t much good if one needs to walk 15 minutes to cross the street.  A good crosswalk will enhance an entire streetscape, making it more inviting to pedestrians and more lively for all users.  In contrast, a streetscape without crosswalks can be dangerous.  If crosswalks are far enough apart, the two halves of the street will be cut off from each other, dramatically reducing the walkability of the area.

San Anselmo serves as a good example of good and bad crosswalk planning.  There are certain stretches where crosswalks are commonplace, mostly along San Anselmo Avenue downtown and Sir Francis Drake from Tamal Avenue to Fairfax.  Outside of these areas, walkability seems to be an afterthought, especially along Redhill and Center, where crosswalks can be almost half a mile apart.

The map at right shows the disconnect.  I’ve highlighted all crosswalks over or next to arterial roads in red.  The longest stretch without a crosswalk is on Center, where two crossings are nearly a half-mile apart from one another.  A sidewalk ends without a crossing, and cars tend to speed along that stretch of road.  On Redhill, there’s a commercial strip in the median that has no crosswalks except at the beginning and end.  For the 18 years I lived on Forbes, which forms a T intersection with that strip, I only saw a parade of rotating businesses occupying the buildings.

Especially within a half-mile of the Hub, San Anselmo’s principal bus terminal, pedestrian traffic should be encouraged as much as possible.  With its arterials forming barriers, businesses become isolated from one another, diminishing the appeal of downtown as a destination, and businesses cannot easily draw from its own population base.  San Anselmo, Fairfax and Ross should do a pedestrian traffic survey, identifying areas of possible improvement.  I suspect that adding crosswalks and calming traffic would be among the recommendations.

San Anselmo has the potential to become a walkable town with vibrant streetlife in its core and a healthy, walking population, but it needs to invest in the infrastructure to make it happen.