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Notes: spatial arrangements for cars and kids

Bear with me, gentle reader, as I try to describe in words a spatial relationship. Something about how the combination of roads and a school near my house affects pedestrian movement has been bugging me.

Around the corner from where I live are two east-west running arterials, Yates (one-way west-bound) and Fort (one-way east-bound), that merge just east of Fernwood Ave. (which runs north-south). After the merge Fort St. continues as a single two-way arterial.

The merge creates a triangular space, the very tip of which is occupied by a Shell gas station (map). From the tip of the triangle (where Yates and Fort merge) to the end of the gas station property is ~300ft. At the western edge of the gas station, the triangle is bisected by Fernwood Ave. Look to the west of Fernwood Ave., and you see Central Middle School (official address: 1280 Fort St.).

The school occupies the bulk of what follows in the triangle, with building and playing field stretching to Ormond St. in the west. (See this map for details.) Apartment buildings line Fort St. along the edge of the school’s playing field. The field is shielded from traffic, and the street in turn is shielded from the blank space of a school playing field that’s intermittently used.

So far so good, …except for pedestrian crossings. Fort St. is a busy one-way heading east (Yates heads west). Like Yates, Fort is a relatively densely built-up street with low-rise apartment blocks lining both sides. Fort St. now has a fairly decent (and new) bicycle lane as well, but, like Yates St., it’s clearly a hold-over from low-density automobile-oriented living, which explains why both arterials were streamlined into one-ways and why traffic generally speeds along both streets. Since both roads connect Oak Bay to downtown, the traffic isn’t insignificant, and both roads are used by the buses heading to and from the University of Victoria.

Let’s go back to the triangle’s apex where Fort and Yates merge. There you’ll find a crosswalk, but you won’t find one the additional 300 feet further west at Fernwood Ave., even though that’s a popular crossing point for people heading to catch buses to downtown on Yates, or for people crossing the street to walk up Joan Crescent to Craigdarroch Castle.

There is a crossing (with traffic lights!) another ~650 feet further west of the apex at Moss St., which is designed specifically to feed into the school’s property.

After that (heading west), there’s nothing for at least another ~900 feet at Linden St. In fact, it’s almost as if pedestrians are discouraged from attempting any crossing between Moss and Linden, even though there are two other cross streets abutting Fort (Pentrelew and Ormond), and there are a number of apartment buildings and services (veterinarian, church/ community center, dentist, several law offices) on either side of the road that make people want to cross.

So what gives?

It’s easy to blame car culture, but I don’t think it’s just that. I think the missing crossing opportunities are also a by-product of controlling children (middle schoolers), who are obliged to use the crossing-guard-manned “school crosswalk” at Moss Street during morning arrival and afternoon release. It’s to discourage their freedom – to cross the street at another unmanned crosswalk – that the rest of us are forced either to take our lives in hand by scurrying across the street (legally, by the way!) at intersections that have no crosswalk, or to go out of our way to cross the street where there are crosswalks.

Perhaps it’s a combination of controlling the kids and making room for cars. At any rate, we have two very wide arterials tearing through a relatively densely built up part of town, with too few options for pedestrians to cross, and it looks like it’ll stay that way unless we admit that even kids can cross an urban road without assistance.

We protect the children by giving fewer signals to drivers to stop for the rest of us at other points. Somehow that seems nuts.

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