Paying lip service to pedestrian safety


This week I’m working on a news story about walkability in Albemarle County. Among other tactics (notably, a treacherous stroll through Hollymead Town Center), my research includes looking over a public survey that the county conducted in 2006 along with the Center for Survey Research. Basically, the surveyors called up a bunch of Albemarle residents and asked them what they thought the county government’s priorities should be, and how well it was meeting those goals.

When it came to transportation, Albemarle showed a certain passivity. Folks thought it was more important for government to "make it easy to get around by car" than to "ensure safety for walkers and bicyclists," which in turn was more important than "making it easy to use public transportation." But the differences were slight—not too dramatic. And on cars, walking and bikes, people’s satisfaction level closely matched their notions of importance. Only on the topic of public transportation did residents say—in effect—"It should be better than it is." Just over half the respondents said they were satisfied with public transportation; it had the lowest level of satisfaction of all 33 items on the survey.

So, what we have is a citizenry that is happy to drive most places, thinks the county is basically a fine place to walk or ride a bike, and would like the bus to come somewhat more often.

I’m surprised by this in a couple of different ways. Number one, I would have thought that driving in Albemarle (which includes the 29N corridor as well as Pantops) would have been rated much lower by those who have to do it. Number two, I think it’s weird that people would say walking and biking should be safe, then express satisfaction with how safe they are now. In many places, they really aren’t safe. I’d conclude that many people never actually do any walking or biking, or they’d be a lot less satisfied.

I’d love for people to weigh in on this. Do you walk or ride a bike in the county? How safe do you feel, and what areas do you venture through on foot or two wheels?