Chestnut Expressway cuts east-west through the middle of Springfield’s urban core as I’m defining it. It is a 4-lane, 40-mph loop for I-44. It’s very well designed to move cars and trucks across Springfield giving these vehicles easy access to the urban core — especially downtown, OTC, MSU, and Drury. And that’s the problem with it. Chestnut Expressway is a barrier to walking in the urban core.
The picture below shows the intersection of Chestnut and N. Benton. Notice the rounded curb making it easier for cars to turn right onto Chestnut. Notice the lack of crosswalk markings. Notice the lack of a pedestrian crossing light.
This intersection is typical of Chestnut across the urban core. It effectively divides the core creating a barrier for pedestrians in an area with an abundance of walkable destinations. These intersections encourage citizens living near them to drive cars to destinations as close as a half mile from Chestnut Expressway.
Outside the core the future is largely set. Springfield’s suburbs are car centric now and will be car centric in the peak-oil future. Because these areas are typical suburban sprawl, there’s no choice. The best we can do for these folks is promote the 1-mile Solution for those who are not tucked too deeply into subdivisions. These folks will be driving cars for most of life’s chores long after it has become economically painful to do so. What I recommend: Move.
Springfield’s urban core, however, is different. The future here is not set. It is a compact, largely multi-use area roughly 8,500 acres — about 2.8 miles east to west and 4.75 miles north to south. It is an area small enough to create an effective multi-modal transportation plan, including cars and trucks, public transportation, and active transportation. It is an area large enough to accommodate — at a reasonable average density level of 7 units per acre (considered necessary for public transportation) — 60,000 housing units and still have plenty of room for parks, service businesses, entertainment, and industry.
I don’t think we have a chicken-and-egg question here. People come first. Before we can have a vibrant urban core we have to begin attracting people to live in the core. That means we have to build stuff first. But what do you build first? Entertainment? Services? Cultural interests?
I think we need to build transportation amenities and streetscape/complete street projects first. Let’s start encouraging people to walk. So one place to we might begin: Break down barriers to walking, e.g. redesign the Chestnut intersections so that pedestrians feel welcome to cross the street.
Our Urban Challenge Series:
What’s more, the study finds, it’s not that regional policies are herding people back into urban neighborhoods. Personal preference seems to be driving much of the change. Turns out more people are deciding they want to live near walkable neighborhoods, transit lines, other urban stuff.