Sunday, August 20, 2006

Planning Our Own Obsolescence

It’s getting harder and harder to do the right things in America, at least from a energy conservation point of view. Today I offer up a case in point. In part for my own health, and in part to help save gasoline, I have decided that I will start walking a lot more. Easy enough to do in my own neighborhood for simple exercise, but I have been trying to expand this idea into other facets of daily life, such as while out doing shopping errands and the like. That’s not so easy. I know people who will drive 200 yards from in front of Target to find a parking space in front of the Wal-Mart. I know a lot of people who do that.

With advent of the automobile came the beginnings of the Age of Convenience (another time I will expound on it’s devastating effect on the American waistline). Even so, it wasn’t until the 1980’s and 1990’s that I really noticed that things were shifting on a basic level (and even to some extent before that). You see, back in the day, they used to build these things called ‘sidewalks’. A type of person once referred to as a ‘pedestrian’ could use these sidewalks to ambulate from one locale to another. It was a pretty simple concept, really. Walking, I mean. Ever since the dawn of the Age of Man we’ve used our legs and feet for something other than manipulating pedals that alternately speed up or slow down motorized vehicles. At least we used to.

What I have seen happening is the tendency for developers of shopping outlets to streamline access for the largest common denominator - that is, cars – and ignore all other things that aren’t cars. It really hit home recently, though. A few months ago Mrs. Guy and I traveled by car to the closest shopping mall so I could look for jeans and she could buy whatever it was she was there to buy that I’ve already forgotten. We also needed to go to a bookstore in a shopping strip just across the road from the mall. We decided that it was a nice day and we were fully capable of doing so, so we set out to walk from JCPenney across Morrell Road to Borders Bookstore. Big mistake. On that side of the mall lot there are two inlet/outlet roads that cut down a slope from the parking lot to the road. They are amazingly busy (so we decided not to risk our lives by walking on them. There are no sidewalks. There also isn’t a way to walk across the grass down to the road level without likely twisting an ankle or worse on the drop-off. You can’t even walk along the side of the access roads due to the heavy amount of landscaping. Stymied. You can’t get there from here, at least not on foot.

Since that day I’ve paid special attention to new developments around town. Things are not improving. There’s a new large shopping development near my home. The developers were encouraged to include some amount of access for people without cars, and also to accommodate a planned Greenway Trail that may eventually run from west Knox County through downtown Knoxville and beyond. OK, they put in the greenway trail. I was happy about that, at least at first. The trail gave me a paved route to ride that avoids the now heavy traffic through the shopping area. Other people started using it too. It was very common on my rides through there to meet a half-dozen cyclists and at least as many walkers and joggers. Unfortunately, no one seems to want to maintain the trail. New construction backed right up to it from the start, along with the muddy run-off that builders are supposed to control (but don’t since enforcement is laughable). Sometimes the work crews will run heavy machinery across it, busting up the asphalt and creating large holes. But yesterday, oh yesterday, the honeymoon officially came to a rather abrupt end.

I rode my bike yesterday afternoon. It was a nice enough day, and I knew rain was forecast for today. I decided on a whim to go through the greenway trail area and loop around to the west for my ride. I got to the trail and started out, noting that nobody has mowed in the area in weeks, and that the playground area behind the natural foods grocery store was about overgrown. Keeping on, I noted that there were definitely some areas of paving that could stand patching, but nothing so bad I might disappear into and never be heard from again. And then I crested the top of the slope and…

…there was a fence across the trail. They are building a new Bass Pro Shop (like we needed another one), and the work crews have co-opted their entire parcel of land PLUS the ‘public’ parkland that the trail sits on. A rather large bulldozer was idling right in the middle of my intended path, but I couldn’t even get to him anyway due to the fence. I had to turn around, ride back about ¼ mile to the parking lot behind World Market, and go brave the raceway that is the road through the shopping district. The insult added to my injury came when a large dump truck pulled out from the Bass Pro Shop lot right in front of me and coated me and my bike (and waterbottles, and sunglasses, and lungs, and…) with a fine layer of dust. I looked like I’d just come from mountain biking on a dry day, not from a long road ride.

So tomorrow I will call the Knox County Engineer’s office, to see who – if anyone- gave them permission to block off and use public park space for commercial interests. And then I think I will discuss the local zoning ordinances with them vis-à-vis alternative transportation. Think I’ll get anywhere? Maybe. I did get them to re-time a set of traffic lights a few years ago.

Time to go be a squeaky wheel, I suppose.

1 comment:

GeekCyclist said...

That 200 yard thing drives me crazy. I have gone to IHOP located on a pad in a Big Box parking lot and tried to park halfway between the two so that we could eat, then walk to the store to run our errands. My family will have none of that...

Absolutely crazy