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My friend Cheryl Cort has long been one of our region's best and most dedicated voices for smart growth and sustainable communities.  She also is a terrific documentary photographer and recently shared her collection, What Were They Thinking? (Photos of bad urban design and willful ignorance that people need to walk, ride transit and bicycle). 

The shots were taken in the suburbs around Washington.  Here are just a few examples:

  walking along Richmond Highway (US 1) in Fairfax County (by: Cheryl Cort)

  Walking along Richmond Highway (US 1) in Fairfax County, VA

  bus stop in Prince George's County (by: Cheryl Cort)

  Waiting at a bus stop in Prince George's County, MD

  walking outside the Fort Totten Metro station (by: Cheryl Cort)

  Navigating a route near the Fort Totten Metro station

  the route from the supermarket to the Prince George's Plaza Metro (by: Cheryl Cort)

  The route from the supermarket to the Prince George's Plaza Metro

  huge intersection with no pedestrian provisions in Bowie, MD (by: Cheryl Cort)

  An intersection hostile to pedestrians in Bowie, MD

  contemplating a safe way out of the Naylor Road Metro (by: Cheryl Cort)

  Contemplating a route from the Naylor Road Metro

Those pretty much speak for themselves without elaboration from me.  Visit the larger collection of What Were They Thinking? here.  And, while you're at it, you may also 'enjoy' Chuck Wolfe's 'six postcards not to send an urbanist,' just posted on his terrific blog myurbanist:

  one of 'six postcards not to send an urbanist' (courtesy of Chuck Wolfe)

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes occasional Village Green commentary on DailyKos and (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment on NRDC's Switchboard.  For daily posts, see his Switchboard blog's home page. 


Originally posted to Kaid at NRDC on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 06:13 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  yup. (9+ / 0-)

    An artist's eye isn't even necessary for people to see for themsleves how the auto has made itself so ubiquitous. I have been using mine less, and it doesn't take much walking or riding to realize how actively hostile the environment is for anyone not encased in tons of metal. Add on the distances from home to anywhere, the pollution one inhales on the side of the road, and the increased danger of motorists (who are unused to even seeing pedestrians) gabbing on the phone.
    One more ugly symptom of our ugly addiction.

    The Republican Party will never die until there is a new political home for racists.

    by kamarvt on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 06:30:17 AM PDT

  •  I remember staying with a friend (7+ / 0-)

    in Riverside, California. The drive in corner store was apart of a gas station. We needed milk or bread or something like that. It was less than a half mile away and to drive there was a mile because you could not go directly. I decided to walk. No sidewalks. No other pedestrians. Barriers in the middle of the divided road and no safety isle. Hedges planted right down to the road. I damn near didn't make it.

    We have only just begun and none too soon.

    by global citizen on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 06:34:15 AM PDT

  •  It makes no sense to me (5+ / 0-)

    My mid-size midwestern city loves to brag about its miles and miles of bike trails, yet there are no bike lanes on any major streets. No one uses the bike trails in the winter and many neighborhoods don't have sidewalks. I don't get it.

    No one ever died from laughing too often

    by googie on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 06:43:34 AM PDT

  •  So much municipal "planning" (3+ / 0-)

    was (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, continues to be) about how to make places as easy as possible for people to navigate in their cars. Real estate costs that discourage infill development; zoning regulations that codify separation of land uses, such as requiring a separation of residential and business - even small family business; determining numbers of parking spaces based upon establishing a (rediculously high) minimum, but setting no maximum; not including accommodation of public transportation, bicycle, or pedestrian travel into new development, then trying to shoehorn it in to the development after-the-fact; etc.... I worked in the municipal "planning" field here for seven years before I gave up in despair. I had to either get out or relocate to another city or region that takes a progressive approach to planning for livability. As much as I'd love to move to a place like that, I chose to get out and do something else for a while. I may go back, but probably not here.  

    Sometimes I sits and I thinks; sometimes I just sits. - Archy

    by Captain Sham on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 07:02:29 AM PDT

    •  The borough of Media Pa has mixed zoning (3+ / 0-)

      Residential above our stores and my apartment building is surrounded by law offices (we're a county seat.) Plus we have lots of sidewalks. I love it. I can walk to a Trader Joe's, several luncheonettes and a pizza by the slice place if my apartment is too hot for turning on the stove and several stores. I can run most of my errands by walking. Mixed Zoning Rocks.

      •  I'm jealous! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Flaming Liberal for Jesus

        We're slowly getting the upstairs residential concept to take hold here, but not enough yet for the CBD to be vibrant in the evenings anywhere but right in front of the (few) restaurants and night spots. There's no grocery, or anything that even imitates a grocery, within walking distance of the middle of the city, so everybody who lives there has to drive, ride their bicycle, or take the transit bus - it was just a joke. Really! - to purchase groceries. The sidewalk situation is improving. I've never been to a Trader Joe's, and the closest one is about a 4-hour drive from home. We do have an Earth Fare, which has graced our town for the last couple of years, though. Chiggers can't be boozers, so that's where I prefer to shop. Sounds depressing, and it sometimes is. Such is life.

        Sometimes I sits and I thinks; sometimes I just sits. - Archy

        by Captain Sham on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 08:22:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  trying to make cars 'happy' (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Captain Sham

      Dan Burden (from WalkAmerica)
      says one easy way to judge plans is to watch out for descriptions of ideas that make life easier for cars

      Thanks for the diary.

      "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." [Ray Bradbury]

      by RosyFinch on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 08:16:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Pls Don't Slam (0+ / 0-)

    The entire DC area. We have a lot of places where people can walk. Montgomery County has a fantastic bus system called Ride-on that can get you pretty much anywhere Midcounty to Downcounty. Upcounty, not so much, but that's where the farms are, so it's the same problem everywhere.

    We have several planned communities where walking was part of the design, including my own.


    Does anybody have any experience with carrying 14 lbs of kitty litter, a gallon of milk and 6 packages of frozen food on a long bus ride in the summer? We'll need to answer questions like that in order to leave our cars at home.

    I'm stopped cold when I realize that those who control our destiny would let us die for their profit, or even for their convenience.

    by JG in MD on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 07:14:57 AM PDT

  •  East VS West (2+ / 0-)

    As a person who grew up on the West coast and moved out East, and now spends a lot of time between the two, the lack of sidewalks out East is far more prevalent in a general sense. Of course newer areas have them, but on the whole, there is fewer. I don't think it's as much a failure as a timing thing. The cities/suburbs to the West are "newer" in the loosest sense of the word, and so sidewalks are more prevalent in the city planning design tendencies.

    In a towns like Portland, Sacramento, or even The Dalles, there are sidewalks everywhere. It's odd when you DON'T see one. Compare that to the burbs in Pittsburgh or Valley Forge; sidewalks are a pleasant surprise when you see one.

  •  Thanks for showing how pedestrian (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    unfriendly some intersections can be. It isn't much better further north in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Many suburbs are equally bad. My little borough is decent but the towns on either side are awful.

  •  Thanks so much for reading & commenting (0+ / 0-)
    Flaming, I'm glad to hear that Media is on the right path (or has preserved the walkability and mixed use it has always had?).

    JG, I'm a strong advocate for the DC metro area, especially its core.  Urbanist Chris Leinberger calls us to the most walkable metropolis in the country, based on the number of highly walkable neighborhoods we have, including the one in which I am fortunate to live.  Cheryl's photos remind us, though, that there are places where that is not the case.

    bitfreak, I think there are pluses and minuses to the walkability of eastern vs. western cities.  Eastern cities tend to have much more walkable cores (Remarkable outliers like Portland, Davis, SF, Seattle to the contrary) because of smaller block sizes and higher density, as well as sidewalks.  When you get into the suburban neighborhoods, the advantage starts to break down.  Sidewalks fell out of fashion from about 1950-1985 but have come back a bit since then.  Whether a particular spot has them may have more to do with its time of construction than its geography.

    As always, thanks for reading!

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