Monday, December 7, 2009

Young people who deserve kudos

I live in St. Elmo, the historic district on the south side of Chattanooga. Since moving to this part of town just under a year ago, I have enjoyed living:
where there are bike lanes painted on my street,
where young mothers jog past, pushing a child in a buggy,
where I can stop and meet my neighbors when I'm out walking,
where old houses are being renovated by young couples,
where the community keeps in touch via an email list,
where diversity is a fact (young, old, black, white, Hispanic, etc.),
where people support the school in our district,
where we have a branch of our library system,
where even the youth get involved in making our community better.
Our neighborhood association meets at the old firehall, two blocks from my house. The photo above shows four of six young people who gave a presentation tonight about a problem they had investigated. Their handout begins, "St. Elmo is a great place to live. It is a great place to walk. Mostly."  The youngsters themselves did a study about walking to the central shopping area and the grocery store above it, literally up a hill from our main street to the stores and a large parking lot.  They found that it was easy to drive there to shop, but difficult for people to walk there.


The parking lot is fenced in, which means there are only two roads by which to enter the shopping center.  Both are heavily used by cars, and there are no sidewalks for walkers. There is a blind curve lined by tall shrubs, and cars tend to drive too fast. Having reached the hilltop, people still have to walk across the parking lot.  These young folks ask good questions -- and provide good answers.
"So what? Why walk to shop? Some people don't have any other way to get there. Walking is good exercise. Walking doesn't burn gas. Cars do. Short trips in the car are actually very bad for the car."
They have given this a lot of thought, listing reasons why they believe people would walk, if access were improved.  I like their comment about bus riders.
"Many residents come home from work on the bus, stop at the store, and then walk home. Since the St. Elmo bus does not enter the shopping center property, even folks riding the bus are pedestrians from the bus to the store and have to contend with the entrance problems."
They have figured out how many gallons of gas would be saved if 75% of households in the target area replace one weekly car trip to the store with a walk. And how many minutes of exercise these people would get, and how many calories they would burn.

How could the situation be improved?  One possibility would be to add sidewalks for pedestrians, but that would be expensive. Quicker and less costly would be to repaint the car lanes of the front entrance so there are two, instead of three, while adding a pedestrian (or bike) lane on each side. Best, they say, would be an easement to allow pedestrians to use the driveway of the (closed) VFW property, which would cut down the distance for people on foot -- and, they add, open the gate that blocks it!

Their brochure is very professionally done, with black-and-white photos of the problem areas, a map, and a box of factoids. They ended their presentation by urging us to Take Action!

I was very impressed.


June said...

Encouraging to hear that young people are engaging themselves! I seem to recall driving through St. Elmo district one day on my visit there with Carla. Is that where she's looking to live too?

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I think it may be among the possibilities, but we looked at several neighborhoods around town when she was here.

Beth said...

Wow, I'm impressed, too! It's always thrilling to read about young people who take such an interest in bettering the world around them---it gives me hope.

I would very much like to see our tax dollars going towards building sidewalks and bike lanes.