Narrower Streets, and Sidewalks. Isn’t It Time?

I’ve read the argument many subdivision developers make that homeowners will be upset if they, the developers, add sidewalks in their development because it will take away from what the homeowner owns. But the argument rings hollow with me, especially of late, as I ponder two subjects related to subdivision streets. Unless there’s an edict in Homeowner Association documents against such, more and more homeowners are parking their cars on streets in front of their house, rather than in their garage or driveway, which, among other things, portends an accident waiting to happen.

full garage, cars on street 007This point was driven home last Sunday as I was driving up my street. Darting out from between two street-parked cars was a neighbor’s 8-year old son, not an unusual occurrence most of us would agree, riding a mini-motorized ATV, without a driver’s license I presume. The father was nearby, but because he was watching a neighbor’s daughter riding on his lawn, he didn’t see this or a second younger son riding a smaller vehicle in the street.

The sad truth is, though, two of his cars were parked on the street and he couldn’t see either of his street-riding children anyway.

My route to work takes me out I-10 to Leon Springs to the Phyllis Browning Company real estate office. Of late, I’ve been watching the construction of a storage facility, no, not a storage facility, rather another storage facility. And driving by this construction has reminded me, over and over, we’re finding other places for our storage, including in our home’s garage, where at other times and under other circumstances, our car(s) have been parked. And when the cars are not in the garage, or on the driveway, you guessed it, they’re parked on streets where a neighbor, just a short time after I stopped short on the street to avoid hitting the child, experienced the same child darting out from between the same two cars.

full garage, cars on street 001Documenting this phenomenon of cars parked somewhere other than a garage or driveway, a study was conducted of 32 middle-class, dual income families in Los Angeles by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), a group consisting of professional archeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists, who found, among other things, that garages are so packed with household overflow that cars have to be parked on the street.

“This is the very first study to step inside a 21st-century family home to discover the material surroundings and vast number of possessions that organize and give meaning to the everyday lives of middle-class parents and children,” said co-author Elinor Ochs, a UCLA anthropologist and director of CELF, about the book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, which was published this past July by the UCLA Cotson Institute of Archeology Press.

Further, said Jeanne Arnold, a professor of anthropology at UCLA and co-author of the book, “the typical household had a car parked in the driveway, a car parked in the street and a garage packed with heirlooms, clothes, shoes, bikes, toys, even laundry.”

cluttered garage 2 005Indeed, new-home buyers see garages in terms of storage for stuff, said Steve Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders. “The garage used to be like the basement used to lousy space,” he said. “Now it’s seen as a specialty room, almost a residential room, like the mud rooms, large linen closets and other organizing spaces consumers want these days.”

And with an eye to cars parked on streets, a 1997 study in Longmont Colorado by Peter Swift, P.E., then the city’s transportation director, shows in the report titled Residential Street Typology and Injury Accident, that “narrow streets slow traffic and reduce vehicular crashes, increasing neighborhood safety.” In fact, the analysis illustrates that as street widths widen, accidents per mile increase, and the safest residential street width is 24 feet (curb to curb.)”

And a real concern of fire departments, about the passage of a fire truck down a street of that width, will be mitigated when cars are parked somewhere other than on streets.

So, what is next? It’s past time for San Antonio city leaders to take the bull by the horns, start thinking large city, small no longer, and pass ordinances that take the monkey off developer’s backs by dictating how wide neighborhood streets should be, and that sidewalks are necessary in, at least, residential neighborhoods. Then 30-foot wide streets—the street I live on is 31 feet wide—will become narrower, with sidewalks, so that two cars can pass in either direction and neighborhood kids can walk or ride motorized ATVs on sidewalks, or streets (hopefully within eyesight of parents), but parked cars will be forced off the streets and onto driveways, or better yet, back into garages.

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