Small Towns Need Complete Streets Too
I just went home to see my family for the weekend and learned that there is a crazy old man who rides his bicycle to Tim Hortons every day. He’s not actually crazy, but the fact that he is a regular cyclists has earned him some notoriety.
In my town, Time Hortons is the local gathering place for social seniors. At any given time there are about a dozen older folks holding down a few tables out of a rotating cast of possibly hundreds, just hanging out, nursing a coffee, and having fun. Getting a coffee is an important, regular appointment for my own grandparents, who I think go more days than not. My grandfather often goes twice—once in the morning and once again in the afternoon.
But this man, who everyone calls crazy, has lost his drivers’ license. His eyesight isn’t good enough anymore, although his body is healthy and his mind is sharp and, naturally, he doesn’t want to be a shut-in. So he rides a bicycle.
My town, with a population of 3,000 people slightly stretched out along the main highway, is too large to comfortably walk more than halfway across. But you can cycle anywhere in less than ten minutes.
The trouble is that the only direct route between Tim Hortons (or the grocery store, or the arena) and anywhere else is the main highway that sees fast traffic and lots of big trucks. It is a terrible place to be a cyclist, and the geometry of the town tends to force you onto it.
This is why even smaller towns and cities, without armies of creative-class commuters, need to put some effort into creating ‘complete streets’ for all people. There’s nothing inherent about my town that makes it a terribly car-dependent place: it is small, it is flat, it still has a decent main street, a local school, and a grocery store. With the barest of provisions from the town council, a healthy retiree could live his or her life almost entirely without an expensive, dangerous car.
And yet. Intersections are widened to let trucks make faster turns. The new subdivision on the south edge of town is being built with no sidewalks. The arena was recently moved to an empty industrial park beyond the north edge. An old supermarket downtown was demolished to make way for a drive-through bank. The town is slowly being reconstructed as a suburb.
In this specific case—the dangerous road to Tim Hortons—the solution seems to be very simple: there is an abandoned rail corridor parallel to the main road. Pave it and people could walk or cycle between Tim Hortons and downtown with ease.