Street Observations: 10 Questions

Sunshine, flowers, spring foliage, light rain, no more snow, more daylight hours – what more could you want? While some people love cold weather (skiers, for example), eventually, we all are craving sunshine and warmth. The streets are filled with bicyclists, walkers, runners, kids, adults, and everyone is happy in the sun.  Here in Vermont, March and April are not always the prettiest of months (some call it stick season, some call it mud season…there is a lot of brown), so we eagerly await the springtime foliage and warmer days. If you live further south, you’ve been out and about for months in warmth, I know.

Regardless of when this resurgence of green and spring is for you, it is an excellent time to take a look around your streets and your town and to really think about them.  Think about street that you like. Have you thought about why you like it? Could you describe it to someone? I’d bet that there are specific aspects of the street that help to shape why you like it over another.

For a fun mental exercise, below are 10 questions to ponder the next time you are out and about. Perhaps you think about these already or maybe it’s a new topic for you.

(1) What do your streets look like? Are they wide enough for two lanes of traffic and parking lanes? Are they narrow city alleys? Where do cars park: on grass, on gravel, formally, informally?

(2) Do your streets have sidewalks? Are the sidewalks level with the travel lane? Are they concrete or asphalt or brick?

(3) Do the sidewalks have distinct curbs? Or is it just a slab of concrete or poured asphalt with a nondescript edge?

(4) Do the streets have green strips? In other words, is there grass between the traveled lane and the sidewalk?

(5) Are the streets filled with trees or void of trees? What types of trees?

(6) Where are the power lines?  Overhead or buried?

(7) Where are the mailboxes? At the curb or on the house?

(8) What types of buildings are on the street? Is it commercial or residential or both? Can you name the architectural style? Are they one-story, two-story or more? Are they single family homes, duplexes, apartment buildings, row houses or something else?

(9) Is there street furniture such as benches and trash or recycle bins? 

(10) What do you think of this street? Is it pleasant? Loud? Quiet? Aesthetically pleasing? Ugly?

So, what else would you add? Did you discover anything new about your streets? Beware, you may never stop thinking about this now that you’ve noticed these nuances. But, that is a good thing! Understanding your environment aids in understanding your sense of place and in defining why you prefer one place over another.

Improving Sense of Place

The previous sense of place posts have discussed how to define and how to measure sense of place, as a concept and as something more tangible. Sense of place is an empirical concept, but one that is understandable and applicable by those who study communities and the combined cultural and built environment.

The point of studying sense of place through casual discussion or scholarly analysis is to improve sense of place, and consequently improving quality of life. What makes one place better than another? And what does better mean? Each community or group of people is going to have different definitions for what sense of place means. I think that is one of the most important ideas to remember; sense of place and quality of life is not a standard one-size-fit-all idea. Some communities may want to focus on one aspect over another, whether economic health, transportation, schools, community centers, cultural events or something else.

The town lines up for a parade down Broad Street in Southern Pines, NC, December 2006.

Once sense of place is defined and measured for each community, how can it be improved? What makes a better sense of place?

No matter the goal, achieving it will require the combined effort of the municipality, local organizations and community members, including many volunteer hours (as that seems to be how much is accomplished). An important step will be for the community to identify what it needs and what it wants, and to rank its priorities. Projects can occur simultaneously, but knowing which is a higher priority can focus efforts.

That probably sounds vague, but it is the simple process of identifying what you want and outlining how to achieve it.

For example, if a town lacks a center, then zoning and development patterns are possibly the problem. In that case, getting the municipality to understand that the town zoning needs to be amended will be important. If a community lacks organized festivals or cultural events, then a non-profit organization or a group of concerned community members may be up for the challenge. If a community wants local businesses, then it must develop a plan to attract business owners. Pop-up businesses are a great way to kickstart enthusiasm and economic development in a community. Creating a sense of place can develop into a very in-depth topic, pulling in marketing and “branding” of a town.

Main Street in Middleburg, VA.

Of course, these businesses and events need somewhere to occur. This is an excellent opportunity for rehabilitating or restoring historic buildings (or even old buildings) and cleaning up community parks and green space. Improving sense of place can happen one event at a time, one building at a time. Resources such as Project for Public Spaces and the National Complete Streets Coalition offer guidelines for creating healthy communities. Each town or community will interpret the information differently.

The most important element of improving sense of place is people; the community needs concerned, dedicated residents who want to be proud of where they live.

What do you think? How can you improve sense of place? Do you have any concrete solutions?

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Next up (next week) for the sense of place series: inferences and assumptions about places you’ve never been. Anything else you’d like to discuss?

On Your Streets: Curbs

Have you noticed the street curbing (or curbs) lately? What is the material? Concrete, granite, marble, stone, or none at all?

I’ve pondered sidewalks before, but not really the curb material. Why bother to notice, you ask? From a transportation perspective, it’s interesting, because curbing is something specified in sidewalk and road construction plans. Curbs exist to protect pedestrians from traffic and to channel runoff.

Curbs typically exist in neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, etc., as opposed to on stretches of highway and less dense areas of development. Their style, shape, construction methods, materials and age varies. Until living in Vermont, I never noticed granite curbing, which is popular (though not a rule) in recent sidewalk reconstruction throughout Vermont villages. Older curbs from the early 20th century are concrete. While home in New York recently, I noticed the curbs were either concrete or rough cut stone blocks with cement mortar. When living in North Carolina, I remember thinking it odd that in many neighborhoods, the lawn ran into the street without a curb, and many of the front yards were covered in (long leaf) pine straw in addition to grass. What is the reason for the difference?

A newer granite curb in a Vermont village.

I would guess climate factors into the decision, and availability of material. Vermont and New Hampshire are known for granite, and it is more durable for our harsh winters, road salts and other de-icing solutions and against plows. The climate in Southern Pines, NC was much milder compared to other places I’ve lived, and snow plows of any kind are rarely needed.

The older curbs in Vermont are often concrete, of varying composition. The smaller/less visible the aggregate (pebbles mostly), the newer the curb, is what I've found so far.

How about the height of the curbing? That factor depends on road speed and its correlation to pedestrian safety. Often, newer curbs will seem very tall (6-8 inches), whereas older curbs are very short. That is often a result of a different safety standards and/or how many layers of pavement have been applied over the years, thereby altering the height of the curb.

A lack of a curb also implies a less formal or a more rural development. I would infer that it is a less expensive method of road construction, since only road subbase and asphalt pavement is necessary, not curbs and sewer drain systems.

Curbs are a subtle element of the built environment and transportation system, but worth noticing because it could be an element that you never think of until it is different. Imagine how your town would look with different curbs, no curbs or the addition of curbs.

A good juxtaposition of concrete curb and granite curb with concrete sidewalk of varying ages, though all relatively recent.

Take a look next time you are out and about. If your town has a different curb, send me a picture! And if you really want to know more about curbs and all related features, read this chapter from the Federal Highway Administration’s guide to Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access. Or read about curb ramps from FHWA.

Pedestrian Malls

What do you think of streets closed to traffic (pedestrian malls)? Do you like to visit places with pedestrian malls? Would you like to live in a town or city with a pedestrian mall? They have a time and a place, yes?

Church Street in Burlington, VT is lined in brick and cars are only on the cross streets.

Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont is an excellent example of a successful pedestrian mall. Restaurants have outdoor seating. There is public art. Retail stores have actual sidewalk sales. Musicians sit on the brick lined street and play. Kids, couples, families stroll up and down the pedestrian mall. It’s beautiful and sunny and ambient. However, Church Street has not always been like this. Just a few decades ago it was a traditional downtown which had gone downhill until 1981 when Burlington began to reinvent itself, including Church Street. (Disclaimer: there is more history to downtown Burlington than that!)

But, pedestrian malls are not always successful. Look at Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC, which was converted to a pedestrian mall in 1976 in hopes of revitalizing the city. Instead, it had the opposite effect. In fact, the street was less populated and less popular than ever. Finally, in 2005, the city decided to return the street to vehicle and pedestrian use rather than just pedestrians.  However, the new plan included wider sidewalks, street furniture, plantings, wayfinding signage and a plan for additional development. The current result? Success.

Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC with wide sidewalks and street planting and furnishings. Image via Metro Jacksonville. Click for source.

Charlottesville, VA has a pedestrian mall as well that seems successful. And it has the giant chalkboard, if you recall.

Charlottesville, VA pedestrian mall and community chalkboard.

The best examples for pedestrian malls that I can think of lie in cities with a strong population base of college students and/or tourism. Aside from big cities, what about small towns? Could pedestrian malls work and would there be a good justification for creating them? I think of Vermont towns with small main street business districts. Many of our towns have one or two through roads, and converting a street to a pedestrian mall would not seem feasible. A park or a courtyard or a side street; however, could be another story. Additionally, many towns have limited parking and sidewalk space. A large sidewalk to accommodate seating, shopping, walking and street furnishings is just not possible.

What if we consider daily shopping v. tourism shopping? Ideally, our main streets and business districts across the country have restaurants, retail, pharmacies, markets and overall a good combination of – shall we say – those every day sorts of businesses and those fed by tourism and our “expendable” incomes.  In a business district that caters to the town itself rather than tourism and large crowds, a pedestrian mall would seem improbable and inappropriate. One reason is parking. People who need to stop at the pharmacy or the bagel shop or the bank want to be able to park in front of or near the building, and not have to walk from a parking garage or a far away spot in order to run a quick errand or two. Hence, pedestrian malls have a time and place. Small town America may not be the place.

Does anyone know of a town with a small main street business district that has been converted to a pedestrian mall? I’d be interested to know. While pedestrian malls are aesthetically pleasing, they seem ideal in warmer climates or those with large business districts that will attract many people. I’d like to hear a debate on pedestrian malls, one given by planners who have studied such issues and weighed the pros and cons and the factors at play. Are any of you readers skilled in such discourse? Care to give a brief overview of what is important to consider for the creation (or removal) of pedestrian malls?

So, readers, tell me your thoughts on pedestrian malls and parking in front of businesses? What do you think is preferable in theory? In practice?

Pirelli Tire Building

What remains of the Pirelli Tire Building, as seen from the Ikea parking lot in New Haven, CT.

Passing through New Haven, CT on I-95, you might notice a large mid-century concrete building – if you’re not blinded by the blue & yellow Ikea building just south of the concrete building. Or perhaps the Ikea advertisement on the building distracts your attention.  I hadn’t paid too much attention on this section of I-95 before, and Ikea may have caught my attention first (usually we’re traveling this way after daylight hours).

Vinny and I recently stopped at the New Haven Ikea on our way back to Vermont and once I had the time to look at this building, I was struck by its beauty. Normally I wouldn’t characterize mid century concrete buildings as beautiful, but there was something about this one. And it’s smack in the middle of an Ikea parking lot, which seemed odd. We figured it must be Ikea offices. It looked modern, like the general aesthetic of Ikea.

Once I started looking, it was not hard to find information about this building. It is the Pirelli Tire/ (originally) Armstrong Rubber Company Building designed by Marcel Breuer in 1968. The building was meant to serve as a gateway to New Haven, since it is located near the I-91/I-95 interchange and to mark the cultural rebirth of the city, hence, the choice for a modern building. Read more about the design of the building on the DOCOMOMO_US record. The building was listed in the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places in 2000, which makes it eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The building has been vacant since the 1990s and there have been a few unsuccessful plans to rehabilitate the building.

In 2002, Ikea announced its plan to demolish the Pirelli building in order to create enough parking for its big box store. (It was a huge news story in the preservation world, but that was when I was just learning of preservation so I missed it back then.) Fortunately, they were not successful, at least not completely. The image you see above is only a portion of the Pirelli building; originally the two stories on the bottom extended and those floors served as a warehouse as well as a research and development wing. This image from Architecture Week shows the original building.

Pirelli Tire Building. Image via Architecture Week. Click for source.

Now, the Pirelli building is overshadowed by the Ikea building. The green space is gone, and the two-story wing is demolished, which destroyed its iconic asymmetry (and possibly its architectural integrity). The building is surrounded by a parking lot. Ikea uses the building as a billboard. See the original extent of the building on A Daily Dose of Architecture.

What is the worst part? The building is empty, not even one floor is used for offices or business or anything else. Ikea owns the building. Ikea is probably waiting for the right time to attack and destroy the iconic building (though the company says it is in agreement with the City of New Haven that the building should remain).

What is interesting about this? Ikea and Marcel Breuer, Pirelli building architect, have a lot in common. Ikea is known for its modern design using affordable materials and production and distribution.  Marcel Breuer, is known for mass producing objects with common materials, such as bent steel tube chairs and Ikea. Wouldn’t you think that Ikea would find this to be an ideal location and a wonderful building to showcase the company? Instead, the building is a billboard for Ikea. Why couldn’t Ikea think creatively about a building? A 2003 Preservation Nation post ponders whether saving half the building was a bad decision or a good compromise.

Ikea demolished a significant building (a portion of one, but took integrity with it) for parking spaces – more asphalt.

As always, local zoning and architectural appreciation by city officials could have helped to preserve this building or come up with an actual compromise. Of course, retailers such as Ikea should be culturally responsible, too.

And now I feel guilty for shopping at Ikea.

The Importance of Wayfinding Signage, Gateways and Banners

Signs. Think about it. What would we do without signs? Crosswalks, road junctions, parking, street names — signs are a critical element in our lives. When they are well done, we take them for granted because they help to make our travels stress free and seamless. When they are poorly planned, it’s all we can talk about. A welcome gateway to a town and an easy way to navigate – for residents and tourists – is an important part of downtown revitalization.

Since moving to a new town and doing my best to locate all of the trails and find the best places to shop/eat, the shortcuts and the town events, I’ve realized the importance of actively promoting your own town, to its residents and to tourists. For those of us without school age children or an existing network of friends where we live, it is very hard to be in the loop. My town does not do the greatest job of publicizing events or identifying and locating its resources/activities to those not in the know. We do not have a true welcome center or a coherent signage system, despite the fact that we are in the middle of ski country. As a new resident in town, I think one of the most helpful resources would be a “you are here” map and a good town website. If only all towns could have smart phone apps like the big cities do?! (I’m kidding, sort of.)

Aside from access to information, an important element for towns and cities is the gateway. What is the first impression that tourists will have when entering the town? Or, how will residents feel when returning home? People need to feel welcome and should be directed where to go for information or how to get to the business district, where to park, how to find the baseball field, post office or library, etc. And a “You are Here” sign at a critical crossroads or center of town could do wonders. Such a sign that features a circle to represent a 5 or 10 minute walking distance could be a good idea as well.

Downtown signage is a hot topic in communities, currently, in the United States and in Europe. (Check out Legible London and the article in Slate magazine.) The goal of uniform and complementary signs throughout a town/city will hopefully help to create a positive subconscious feeling for tourists and residents. In a way, it shows community pride in addition to providing an easy visitor experience. People are more likely to return if they have felt comfortable and not stressed when visiting. Right? An effective signage and wayfinding system is an art form – almost – or at least requires forethought and planning. The Project for Public Spaces provides information about how to create that effective system.

Living in and visiting small towns who survive partially based on tourism (actually much of Vermont’s economy is fueled by the tourism industry – come visit!) has opened my eyes and perhaps changed my mind about signage and even banners. A well planned wayfinding system has the power to change a visitor’s experience and to help the town succeed.

It is now that I have to retract my distaste for banners. I first wrote about them in 2008 when I lived in Southern Pines, because I felt that in this town they were not shared throughout the town and left out businesses. That, and they actually said the word “charm” on them. Okay, I still agree with myself on those facts. However, I think the use of banners can be effective and do provide a helpful guide for travelers. For a town who is working to establish a gateway and main street feeling, banners are a good step forward.

Historic downtown banners in Southern Pines, North Carolina (2008).

So the next time you are traveling in a new place or where you live, take note of the signage. What sort of system does your town have? What do you think about signage? How about banners? If you could offer a fresh opinion, what would you change?

Changing the Use of Resources

Waterfront is usually an asset, yes? Property with water views and especially water frontage costs more than property a few blocks away. Yet, one thing I’ve noticed while living in Vermont is that few towns take advantage of their waterfront, which is most often riverfront. The river is in the background, but the town center seldom focuses on the water course. (Disclaimer: I have not been to every Vermont town, this is based only on my observations so far.) The exception is, of course, Burlington, whose waterfront (lake front) is a huge asset and draw to the city. The bike path, the lake access and waterfront park are some of the best reasons for living in Burlington.

Now, consider Montpelier, the capital city of Vermont. First of all, the face of the city from US Route 2 is far from appealing. While you can see the gold dome of the capital building and the Taylor Street metal truss bridge, the view is otherwise a few gas stations and the run down US Route 2 as it passes on to Berlin/Barre and beyond. Yet, if you drive by and skip turning onto Baldwin Street and State Street, you’ll miss the vibrant downtown, beautiful buildings and one of the prettiest cities in Vermont.  Between US Route 2 and State Street is the Winooski River. You can really only enjoy the river from a few spots in town: a restaurant or two and the bridges crossing back to US Route 2.

Many small towns and villages developed around the rivers and water bodies for obvious reasons: use of the resource for water, transportation, flat and fertile agricultural lands. Backyards and the backs of buildings face the river rather than Main Street. There are few places to sit at a restaurant and gaze at the rivers. I think of the extreme – the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX – and wonder why Vermont towns are not vibrant river fronts. Perhaps it is because rivers were used for industry and business. And because they frequently flood. There may be research on Vermont development along and the use of water courses; but in this post, I’m just pondering.

For starters, let’s compare today’s resources v. historical resources. We no longer use our waterways for transportation and industry (well, it is certainly not the majority). Currently our culture values water mostly for recreation, tourism and associated quality of life. We cannot change our historical development patterns. Instead, we need to adapt our communities and incorporate the natural resources into modern planning and use. River fronts currently serve for community recreation paths and parks. In some instances it would make sense to improve or create paths along the river. As this summer taught us once again, building on the water isn’t always a good idea and protection from flooding requires intensive planning. Are we afraid of our rivers? I hope not. Sure, they are unpredictable, but living near a waterway keeps me from feeling landlocked.

Think about where you live. How are the towns laid out? What are the resources and does planning take advantage of it? How is it different today than historically? Would you rather live near a waterway or far away?

Abandoned Vermont: Fair Haven Depot

Looking northeast on the tracks at the Fair Haven Depot.

A train depot is a type of structure that is easily recognizable by many people, partially because it is adjacent to railroad tracks and partially because of its form and massing. Tell tale features to look for include 1) a bay window or projection from the building that would offer a better line of sight, 2) a long, narrow building, usually with a gable  or hipped roof, 3) large freight doors on one end and pedestrian sized doors on another, and 4) infrastructure for signals on and near the building.

This depot in Fair Haven,VT was constructed c. 1890 in order to service the nearby slate quarries in addition to passenger traffic. It is a historically significant structure. The railroad owns the building and was an Amtrak stop (not station) until 2010, when Amtrak left Fair Haven in favor of Castleton, VT (located five miles east). Currently it sits abandoned and neglected. Well, I consider it abandoned because of the neglect. Officially, this building has an owner. The painted plywood windows and doors serve as a detraction from its neglect, but the building is suffering from masonry deterioration.

Quite the sunny, warm January day in Fair Haven.

Here you can see the bay window projection and freight doors at the end of the building. Also note the slate shingle detail in the gable above the bay projection and the beadboard beneath, used as siding.

The gable above the bay and the former location of the signal arms.

Extensive masonry deterioration on the south wall.

One of the largest piles of railroad ties that I have ever seen.

The gateway to the depot is a 1938 concrete bridge.

Aside from neglect, the good news is that the building appears secure (save for lots of critters). The bad news is that there are no plans by the railroad or by the town to do anything with the depot. (I could be mistaken, however, and I hope I am.) Train depots are iconic buildings that all people can connect to whether due to memories or movies or the lure of trains. If you have a train depot in your area, contact your local officials and potentially interested organizations – get your town geared up for a rehabilitation project! Need some success stories? Check out the Swanton Railroad Museum, the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Cafe or the South Londonderry Depot. Find others here.

Transportation related structures benefit immensely from the Transportation Enhancements Grants program, which is severely at risk right now. Please tell your legislators how important TEs are to your community. Remember this post? The Importance of Transportation Enhancement Grants to Historic Preservation.

This Could Happen to You

Sprawl and poor development decisions pop up everywhere; infill that adversely effects its surroundings can happen almost anywhere, even in a historic district in picturesque Vermont.

Let’s use Fair Haven as an example. Traveling through Fair Haven, VT on VT Route 22A or VT Route 4 you’ll pass well kept historic buildings; the highways lead to a large open town green surrounded by historic commercial blocks, civic buildings, and significant homes overlooking the green, including two historic residences constructed of marble. This area is the Fair Haven Green Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Standing on the edge of the town green.

While driving into town from Route 4A West, something jumped out at me. See below.

Fair Haven, VT. Dollar General has moved in next to the public library.

What? Dollar General sits next to the Fair Haven Free Library, a 1908 Carnegie Library. And on the other side is the Fair Haven Grade School – in another historic building.

Fair Haven Grade School, Dollar General, Fair Haven Free Library.

This is located in the Fair Haven Green Historic District – a nondescript modern strip mall type shopping building sandwiched in between two architecturally significant buildings and adjacent to many more. It’s like a slap in the face – and it’s not even my town!

It gets worse. Take a walk further down the green and this is your vantage point:

The Dollar General sign must be at the very edge of the property line. Talk about ruining the view shed. Click and zoom in for the full effect.

Taken out of context, this library now looks like it’s the owner of the Dollar General sign. How did this happen? Granted it is just a sign, but in a state that outlawed billboards and in a historic district like Fair Haven, it’s unfathomable. You could say that a sign isn’t a billboard, but if you consider relative size to the building it’s in front of, that Dollar General sign might as well be a billboard. And to clarify, I’d have the same opinion regardless of the sign in front of the building. This is not an issue of Dollar General, although I was ready to be up in arms about yet another Dollar General. However, Google Maps shows the street view as a Ben Franklin store in the same building with an equally large sign in the same location.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any information about the development of this lot. The questions to ask are: (1) How did this happen? (2) Was it a question of zoning? (3) Why did no one stop it? (4) Why wasn’t a better infill design chosen for this lot? (5) Has the Town fixed the problem so this doesn’t happen again?

I’d consider this a cautionary tale, especially as small scale sprawl continues to be a threat. Since it’s not a strip mall, it’s easier to slip through the cracks. Chain stores are not necessarily the main issue here – poor “architecture” is the bigger problem of the moment. Be on the lookout, because poor development results in adverse effects to historic properties and districts and a decrease in quality of life (it’s all connected).

Livability Essentials: Sidewalks

I love sidewalks. Seriously. Sidewalks create connectivity in neighborhoods and towns, which increases the livability and quality of life for the community members. Why? Children can walk on the sidewalks, safe out of the traveled lanes of traffic. Pedestrians, runners, dog walkers and everyone else can stroll or dash through town without having to constantly worry about a car swerving into the shoulder or a car door opening.

Sidewalk in Jamaica, VT.

The visual connectivity of sidewalks is important, as much as the functional aspects. Sidewalks are a transition zone between private property and the public road; within this transition zone, people can stop and talk if they’d like. It is almost like the “third place” – a meeting place – (almost) in the street. Sidewalks create neater looking neighborhoods and in general, aesthetically pleasing corridors improve sense of place and quality of life. Additionally, sidewalks signal a residential setting, which then causes slower traffic; sidewalks can be traffic calming devices.

However, many rural towns do not have sidewalks. In some areas, they are not feasible because the cost would be too great for construction and maintenance, simply due to the distance that would necessary. In such cases, people are lucky if the road shoulders are wide enough for safe cycling, walking and running. Unfortunately there are many state highways and roads in Vermont that are very narrow and, although, they are bike routes, they are not safe for the beginning cyclist or children. There are “share the road” programs, but if you’ve ever had to pass a cyclist on the road and have encountered oncoming traffic, you know how dangerous these instances can be. Wider shoulders or separate bike lanes would be a much better solution.

At the very least, village centers should have formal, concrete sidewalks rather than gravel shoulder/path combinations. I feel safer on a sidewalk as a runner and as a pedestrian; I imagine parents want their children on sidewalks as they wander to and from school and other activities.

Long story short; in general, when in a residential setting, sidewalks are appropriate and improve the quality of life and the walkability/mobility through town (historic district or not). When are they not appropriate? When the population of an area is dispersed and sidewalks would not connect logical places. In those situations, it is time to consider safer pedestrian and cyclist transit lanes.

What are your thoughts on sidewalks? Love? Impartial? Unnecessary? Vital?