Following up on my community post…what does the next level or two out from helping at my ecoplex look like to me? The next level is my immediate neighborhood, which geographically is 30th ave between Arctic and Spenard. It is a community with a lot going for it – a diversity of people, a very high walkability score, lots of kids who bike and play en mass on the street, a couple of pocket parks within a couple of blocks. There are domestic arguments and drunks and a fair amount of visits by the cops, but it is safe. Material objects don’t disappear easily, and I have never felt threatened personally (except by the cop with the large gun who stood outside my window at 3am once because someone had seen my tenant enter his own apartment by his window – forgotten keys).
It has some big minuses, and the ones I see may not be the same that others would pick out. Given my middle class, white background they may be different from those that some of the other residents would pick out. What I see, though, is that the street is too wide with no sidewalks and traffic zooms down it between Arctic and Spenard, especially at rush hour. There is not a lot of green – most of the space is taken up by multiplexes and parking lots with many cars – some of which that actually run. There is no very nearby great place for kids to play – one park is across a major street (Arctic) and the other is fairly small without very attractive play equipment. Finally, Spenard Road – the access point for nearly all the good things to walk or bike to from our street, is freakin’ scary. The sidewalks are narrow and in disrepair and full of obstructions. There are often no curb-cuts at intersections to make biking easy. There are no shoulders on the road. Traffic moves super fast and there are blind curves and 4 lanes. I find walking, biking, and driving all scary on Spenard, and especially so when I am with my 7 year old. Or worse, when I hear that my seven year old biked down Spenard with his 8 year old neighborhood friend to get to the park.
Great plans to upgrade Spenard to a complete street with sidewalks and bike lanes have been afoot for a while. To do this in the space available, it has been proposed to take it from a 4-lane to a 3-lane (one lane each direction with a dedicated left turn lane in the middle). This would make me ever so happy! Apparently, many of the established businesses along Spenard are less excited. Some just don’t want any change, they are doing ok as it is. Some worry they will lose parking, or go out of business during construction, or that the decrease in lanes and the addition of some medians will make it harder for cars to get to them. I think these fears are unfounded. Studies show that either 4 or 3 lanes are more than enough for the traffic on the road. Studies show that 3 lanes would be safer for all traffic, and car traffic often actually increases, as do business sales, with a nice complete street. Some business owners claim they don’t see enough bike or ped traffic on the street to justify so much modification for their benefit. With my own eyes I have seen the amount of bike traffic (summer and winter) increase dramatically over the last 2 or 3 years. I see bike traffic of all types constantly pass my ecoplex – poor people who have no other transportation (probably a few that have lost their licenses as well), business commuters in bright yellow bike jackets, young, hip outdoorsy types, older people, tons of kids of all ages…
And we aren’t stupid either. We know Spenard isn’t safe. Many of us choose to cut north and south on Arctic instead, with its nice wide shoulders and saner 3 lanes, or find alternate routes to where we are going.
I’m not much of a consumer. I am loathe to part with money for frivolous reasons, because there are so many non-frivolous things that take money too and I value my time too highly to want to spend too much of it working for dollars. I don’t like the waste and the resource use that marries itself to consumption. But I also like supporting friends, community-mates, local businesses and people trying to do the right thing. And I am a harried single mom. Many is the time, biking home from picking up my son, that we have made an impromptu duck into Pho Lena’s because we are right there, and heck, I’m too hungry to cook. I know that having a safe, inviting path to bike on Spenard would cause me to patronize businesses there more than I do.
Granted, though, I personally don’t want a Spenard Complete Street to help the businesses. I want a safe neighborhood where everyone, including kids, has maximum mobility to get where they are going. I want a pleasant route to bike down to the lagoon to ice skate or throw a frisbee with my son (yes, we do bike in the winter). I want the neighborhood stability that would come from pride in place. I don’t want gentrification, but I want people to like to live here, to garden, to get rid of the junk cars and maybe even the running ones because they can bike where they need to go. I want all that extra blacktop to one day be fruit trees and vegetables. I want to work in the dirt with my closest neighbors and know their names and talk with the parents while the kids play in safety. I want the success of the redo of Spenard Rd. to radiate out and lead to traffic calming on my own street – 30th. Someday I want a better solution to Minnesota Drive so I can head over and see my Spenard buddies on that side of things without battling that sea of traffic.
So, my ask is, if you can come to the public meeting at City Hall Monday at 5:30 pm and help advocate for a complete, safe Spenard – please do. If you can’t, try and convince a business owner on Spenard of the need for a safer Spenard, and if you can do that – get them to come! For more info check out our FB Page.