Cities are realizing that roads are not just for cars

Mar 19, 2020

WUWF Commentator Carl Wernicke

Since my wife and I moved downtown over a year ago we’ve come to love the ease of traveling on foot or bicycle. Flat paved streets and sidewalks make it easy to reach grocery stores, restaurants, the eye doctor or the YMCA.

Not to mention avoiding traffic for parades, Wahoos games or other events.

Downtown has also become friendlier to bike riders and walkers. Since the new bike lanes were painted up Palafox Street to North Hill I’ve it more on my bike than in a car. And I’m a biker wimp who usually avoids major streets.

The city is also steadily closing sidewalk gaps and adding curb ramps. And we can’t wait for the pedestrian lanes on the new Pensacola Bay Bridge to open.

At the same time, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure have become part of any discussion about street improvement plans, as they should. With the growing movement of people back to downtowns or suburban centers across the country, the time is right for walkers and bike riders to be treated as equal partners with automobiles.

We now have abundant evidence that making streets safer and more useful for pedestrians also boosts economic development, not to mention quality of life. In a sense, it’s just about remembering the past.

Because in the beginning, the first streets were the worn paths where people walked. They were first pushed aside by horses and horse-drawn carts, then by cars. As our love affair with cars metastasized, new streets were designed mainly to move motorized vehicles, the faster the better. But as our vehicular love affair has cooled, we’re remembering that the real purpose of those streets is to serve the people, homes and businesses in the communities around them. That’s what the struggle over the redesign of Cervantes Street through Brownsville is all about.

The old thinking gave us a speedway that hurts businesses and is unsafe for people. State planners, still not quite up to speed with how our communities are changing, have proposed an engineering solution aimed mainly at pedestrian safety. That produced a community backlash that the plan will also stifle, if not kill, the long hoped for revitalization of the Brownsville business district.

What’s needed, opponents say, is a roadway that benefits all the stakeholders. And that can be done, just as it is being done in many places.

Anyway, my purpose today was to make a shameless pitch for the Ciclovia Pensacola event, which prior to the coronavirus explosion was scheduled for its fourth year downtown on March 28. I say shameless, because, full disclosure, I am a volunteer for the event. Of course, it has been canceled for this year.

But we plan to return. Last year 15,000 people attended to ride, walk and explore downtown, a fifty percent increase over its first year. We expect Ciclovia to keep growing as more of us experience the joy of bringing people-powered transportation back to our streets. The coronavirus is a speed bump, not a stop sign.