Photo: Laura Tillman
London Plane trees and sidewalks slow highway drivers down in Willow Creek, California. These and other changes signal to travelers that this is a place with residents on foot and stores open for business.
As a parent, streets are way up on my list of neuroses inducing kid hazards. Even in neighborhoods, I constantly see people roaring down the road as if they are in the heated throws of a drag race. And yes, I’ve become the old man shaking his fist and yelling, “Slow down!” It’s a good thing I don’t have a lawn. Ironically, in some communities, the very roads that were constructed to make a town accessible, turned out to make them more of a thoroughfare dominated by zooming vehicles passing through for convenience and not stopping. Even more detrimental in these cases, it has made it impractical and dangerous for residents to patronize businesses and areas directly on these roads.
I understand the logic of small town road turned highway. Re-route drivers to places they wouldn’t normally venture. But as the Daily Yonder piece, “When Main Street Is a Highway” points out, it can have the opposite effect. In my own realm, I don’t walk around my neighborhood nearly as much as I would like to with my daughter, which results in me kind of adding to the problem; getting in the car and going instead. This choice has numerous unfortunate outcomes. That may border on hyperbole, but think about it. If we had walked, one less car zipping down the road, less fuel being used, less pollution and a good chance that we will be stopping in at more businesses. Who wants to get in the car for mere minutes to have to find another parking space, get the kid out of the car seat, etc.?
The Daily Yonder piece highlights Willow Creek, California, where the town’s main strip was made into a highway where vehicles would come through at speeds as high as 80 mph. But instead of letting their community become something of a past relic, a trivial wonderment for drivers passing through, they slowed things down. And as the article, written by Laura Tillman, points out, it had wildly successful results:
[I]n 2001 things started to change. Those five lanes were reduced to three, with bike lanes added to either side of the road. Two years later, continuous sidewalks were added to allow pedestrians to move between downtown shops. Sycamore trees were planted to show cars this was a neighborhood, not merely the intersection of Highways 299 and 96. Traffic slowed further, which legally allowed the speed limit to be lowered to 35 miles per hour. Pedestrian crosswalks were drawn.
A community downtown was created.
The piece goes on the chronicle the journey that the community took in improving the road, the many effects that it’s had and the roadblocks that other communities may face in trying to do the same. It seems that not only did the changes made in Willow Creek make it more desirable for travelers to stop and enjoy the town’s offerings, but provided a geographic nucleus for their community.
We Want to Know:
- Do you live in or know of a community that is in the place where Willow Creek once was?
- Do you think trees, bike lanes and sidewalks are the best way to remedy this issue? What other suggestions do you have?
Start the discussion below, look both ways before you cross the street and ease up on the gas pedal . . . you may see something you haven’t noticed before.