Why Didn’t the Irvine Pedestrian Cross the Road?

Photo: Irvine Transportation Department and Commission Online Masthead Image

Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? Because it was terrified.*

To make this more relevant to Irvine, let’s ask this question: Why aren’t there more pedestrians in Irvine making trips to stores or other nearby locations instead of using a car? Answer: Because it is dangerous and difficult.

If you live or spend much time in Irvine, you get a perhaps unintended but clear message: Don’t walk here to do anything practical such as go to the store or get a ride on public transportation. If you want to walk for recreational purposes, go ahead; Irvine is full of trails that were intended for that purpose. You will probably have a safe, enjoyable walk. However, if you want to walk to get some of the necessary functions of every day life done, the message is clear. For safety reasons, get yourself a car and take up space on the Irvine roads. I experienced this recently when I tried walking to some local stores.

My Walk to the Store

Certain factors must exist if you want people to ditch the car in favor of a walk to get those necessary tasks of everyday life done. One factor is that the walk must not take a lot of time. Experts on the subject had various opinions on what was considered the ideal time for something such as a walk to a store. Therefore, I will go with my ideal, which would be under 15 minutes going one way. Also, the walk must be safe and convenient. Let’s see how my walk held up under these conditions.

I needed to do some errands that I could get done at some nearby stores. It would take about 30 minutes to walk to my destination. This was long by my stated ideal, but I was OK with that. So far everything was alright. But now we come to the big fail part: The walk must be safe and convenient. It was not. In fact, at times it was unnerving. Two main reasons for this existed–unsafe street crossings and a lack of sidewalks.

Unsafe Street Crossings

To get to my destination, I had to walk along University Drive/Jeffery Road. At one point, the only option for going forward was to cross the on-ramp to the 405. This area was designed to get cars moving as fast as possible onto the freeway with little thought about the safety of pedestrians. For a pedestrian to get across this on-ramp, the pedestrian is forced to play a form of dodge ball. Unfortunately, the ball in this case is a car (or, more accurately, cars), and since I was the pedestrian, I was not happy. I started to think that walking is not an option.

In addition to this, the wider and more multi-lane that a street is the more unsafe the street will be for pedestrians, even if traffic signals exits. University/Jeffry is such a street. It was designed for cars, not pedestrians.

No Sidewalks

If someone is driving, a short detour to another street is not that time consuming. However, when walking, something as simple as having to cross the street to get a sidewalk adds to the time and makes walking less of an option. And sometimes you don’t realize that you will need to cross the street to get to a sidewalk until you are in the middle of the street and no crosswalk is available anywhere nearby. I had this situation on my walk.

At one point the paved sidewalks ended, but I went on using the dirt space that was available. However, all of the sudden the “dirt sidewalk” disappeared due to landscaping. The only option available was for me to walk in the street. Not only did I have to walk in the street with the cars buzzing by, but I also had to walk with my back to the cars, which is contrary to one of Irvine’s safety recommendations. “If there is no sidewalk, and you have to walk in the road, always walk FACING traffic, so you can see any cars that might go out of control.”–Irvine Public Safety Department

Not an Unusual Situation

You might think that my unpleasant walking experience was an exception that was particular to this location. However, I urge you to look around as you are driving or walking and notice how inconvenient or dangerous walking would be in the location you find yourself. I gave two factors that made my walk unsafe–hazardous street crossings and no sidewalks. However, you might have come across other factors that made for an unsafe and inconvenient walk. If so, feel free to share them in the comment section.

Change in Irvine’s Development Design Needed

Irvine has a traffic congestion problem. It is one of the main complaints that Irvine residents express. This being the case, any development in Irvine should be designed and built in a way that encourages walking and other alternative transportation methods whenever possible. That means the walk must be safe and convenient. It also means that the needs of the pedestrian must to be as important as the needs of the car.

And if you were wondering if I will drive or walk the next time I need to make a trip to these same local stores, my answer is probably not a surprise. I will be in the car taking up road space with the rest of you.

Note: Although the focus of this article was pedestrian safety in Irvine, this would apply to most of Orange County.

*I first saw this version of the chicken-crossing-the-road riddle in this article: The Invisible Hand That Designed Your City.