I like to walk. One of the major benefits of working downtown and yes, The Bee is still headquartered in downtown Modesto is being able to park my car in the morning and walk to most meetings through the course of the day.
Health care experts recommend regular walking as a way to stay healthy and increase cognitive function. Walking won't only benefit your personal health, but and this is especially necessary in our asthma-prone Central Valley it will also help reduce air pollution, thereby benefiting the health of all regional residents.
The closeness of city and county offices, retail stores (of which downtown could use many more), restaurants and entertainment venues makes downtown Modesto a potential pedestrian paradise. Except for one thing those who drive through downtown.
Over the past few months I have been able to spend time in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco large metropolitan areas whose residents rely on shoe leather as a primary mode of transportation. I did the same when visiting, and upon returning to Modesto noticed something striking.
Walking in downtown Modesto is terrifying.
As my family will surely attest, I tend to be irritatingly conscientious when it comes to using crosswalks and waiting for the "Walk" sign to appear before stepping into the street. As recently as last week, however, when crossing the street I have had to dodge oncoming cars and it is more than once that a police cruiser has buzzed by while I was in the crosswalks who weren't paying attention to the fact that others had stopped.
My experience surely isn't unique, and for many in our region it has been worse. In a recent study released by Transportation for America, a nationwide interest group focused on improving transportation policy across the country, it is clear that pedestrian safety needs to be on the mind of every elected official and citizen.
Since 2001, more than 47,000 pedestrian fatalities have been reported nationwide. In the greater Modesto area, 106 pedestrians were killed amounting to 13 percent of all traffic-related deaths. In Merced, 75 pedestrians were killed 12.7 percent of all traffic deaths.
While troubling, neither of these figures is the worst in the state. More than 26 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the greater San Francisco area (including Oakland and Fremont) are pedestrian-related (with more than 685 since 2001), and the Los Angeles region (including Long Beach and Santa Ana) reported 2,533 pedestrian deaths, or 27 percent of all traffic fatalities.
None of this is to suggest that there aren't great pedestrian trails through Modesto. Take a walk or ride down the Dry Creek trail or the Virginia Corridor recently extended with an overpass at Briggsmore Avenue. Those routes have been designed specifically for bicycles and pedestrians no cars, good lighting and plenty of room to navigate.
With talk of developing lofts in the old post office building and more senior apartments in Tower Park, the time is right for a long-term focus on making it safe, as well as healthy, to walk downtown.
Johnston is publisher and president of The Modesto Bee. Contact him at email@example.com or (209) 578-2090.