Last week I wrote about crosswalks. To rehash, although crosswalks aren't a panacea for pedestrian safety, they are a necessity, giving pedestrians access to the same mobility options as drivers. At their best, crosswalks knit the streetscape into a seamless whole for the pedestrian. Any driver can tell you how frustrating it is to see a destination on the frontage road but have absolutely no way to get there, and any pedestrian that can see their destination on the far side of a crosswalk-deprived road can tell you how harrowing that can be, too.
I just got back from a trip to Raleigh. I stayed in the far-out suburbs, in a leapfrog development in the middle of farms and got to see how the 'burbs look in that particular metro area. I'm glad I had rented a car, because I saw only a tiny handful of crosswalks or sidewalks on our trips around the city. After I got home, I decided to count how many crosswalks along the two primary roads I had driven on, Capital Boulevard and Buffaloe (that's not a typo) Road. The results were bad: between downtown's last crosswalk and the 540 Beltline, over 8 miles of road, there are six crosswalked intersections, and they're between Brentwood Road and New Hope Church Road. In that 1.4-mile stretch, crosswalks are about 0.3 miles apart - a long walk, but at least it's possible to cross the 9-lane arterial intact. Buffaloe Road, meanwhile, has no crosswalks its entire 4-mile length.
I started to take a similar look at the rest of the major roadways in the Raleigh suburbs and found, among other things, that Lynn Road has 11 crosswalks in 10.5 miles. I stopped when I realized that a good bet would be that there are far too few safe pedestrian crossings anywhere in the suburban crescent between the Beltlines, US-64 and US-70.
Raleigh's suburbs also often lack sidewalks, which is especially difficult for pedestrians with strollers. I saw a number of ruts in the grass along the road where people had walked, showing a desperate need for sidewalks, too.
Raleigh is a fast-growing city with a fabulous educational system and research campus, a reasonably strong downtown, and a solid sense of community. The suburbs, both inner and outer, could embrace an opportunity for something more. Their arterials are wide enough to be truly successful transit corridors and complete streets, and their parking lots are large enough for some fabulous infill projects. They should look at the DC suburbs of Silver Spring and White Flint and imagine what could be done in their own neighborhoods. If that's too ambitious, at least they could install some crosswalks.