Car Free in Cortland, Part II

I do a good deal of graphic design, through work and play. Smart design is an incredible tool that we use to survive, communicate, and innovate. A huge tenet of design, particularly in recent years, is the idea that form follows function. The shape, appearance, manifestation of an object should serve its function. For example, these candles are shaped such that they catch their own wax drippings:
candles

This plate attaches to a jar of nutella, salsa, etc:
nutella

This utility strip allows you to plug in a variety of devices at once without worrying about adapter size:
utilitystrip

Not only are these kinds of things brilliant, but they’re also fun and obvious improvements that show how important design is as a tool of accomplishment and progress, of achieving goals.
And we have goals – like reducing obesity below its horrendous rate of 60%. Reducing carbon emissions and eliminating those brown clouds over cities that fog visibility and cling to our lungs. And teaching our children how fulfilling it is to live actively, healthfully, happily.
One obvious, beautiful way of making great strides in achieving these is walking. Leaving our cars at home and using our muscles and calories to propel us towards work, school, a healthier body, environment, and spirit.
But Cortland isn’t designed for walking. It’s designed for driving.
There are many streets without sidewalks, even streets that lead to incredibly important destinations like grocery stores and banks and offices on Groton and Route 13.
Stoplights are rigged against pedestrians. At Main and Groton/Clinton, for example, the walk signals appear all at the same time and not for long, requiring one to jaywalk if they don’t want to wait through cycle after cycle of changes. I’m young and thankfully rather spry, and even then if I want to cross both ways I have to cheat. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who simply can’t walk as fast, or uses a wheelchair.
Many lights favor cars. Even if you arrive with plenty of green light to cross, if you haven’t pressed the walk button before the light changes, the signal won’t change from its glaring orange hand and you’re stuck waiting an entire cycle.
At the Riverside Plaza intersection on Clinton, the system favors cars, only giving walkers a fraction of the time to cross, then remaining green but on no walk for an extended length of time.
These are not the kind of systematic conditions that encourage walking. No, they’re actually quite deterring. I went running back in February, snow on the ground, cold cutting the air, and the length of time I had to wait at each stoplight on Church Street easily surpassed that I spent running. I have not since run on Church Street, selecting instead Greenbush as my main southern thoroughfare – but it’s without designated crossing areas on larger roads.
Cortland’s transportation system is biased against walkers. It’s not good design – it certainly won’t help us achieve the most important goals for our community.
How can we make it better?
We could at least make light time equal for cars and pedestrians. We could program walk signals so they automatically display walk every cycle.
We could improve the sidewalks where roots have left slabs looking like they’re Californian tectonic plates.
And, testing the mechanics of supply and demand, we could walk more.
This is Part II of a multi-part series, Car Free in Cortland

Emma Ignaszewski

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