February 9, 2011

A Biking No Man's Land in Danville, Pt I

Problem: south of the where the Iron Horse Trail meets San Ramon Valley Boulevard/Hartz Avenue, downtown Danville is a biking no man's land.

Old-timey Downtown Danville, the proper downtown north of the IHT access point, is well integrated with the regional bike/ped path. The historic downtown's "antiquated" land-use pattern of small blocks, on-street parking (with additional lots behind the shops), and retail make it an ideal place for pedestrians, and its convenient IHT access points only intensifies incentives for leaving the car at home.

The IHT, somewhat ironically, marks the southern boundary of the bike/ped friendly zone. On the Google Earth screenshot below, the IHT is in blue, the historic downtown is the "A" pushpin, and the No Man's Land is outlined in yellow.

Downtown Danville. 680 runs North to South, from top of image to bottom, respectively.

The zone bordered in yellow could have been an asset, an extension of the historic downtown. Unfortunately, the difference between it and the downtown could not be more stark. Just north of the blue circle, blocks shrink, streets narrow, and stores front the sidewalk. South of the blue circle, the road widens to 4 lanes, (in some cases 5), and parking lots push storefronts back as much as several hundred meters from the (now perfunctory) sidewalk.

From El Nido restaurant to the street is +/- 300 meters

The Livery Mercantile is a lost place entirely: cabin-like shops in various shades of colorless brown held at a distance by a big parking lot forest. I avoid it. It's like, unpleasantly arboreal. Arboreal in the sense that there are no sightlines; it is hard to orient oneself; it is dark; the buildings actually do look like dark huts. Instead of following the predictable geometry of the courtyard/plaza blueprint (see above image; geometric assets aside, it's still just a car-choked variation on a classic pedestrian urban space [imagine filling this with parking, or the Plaza Mayor]), the Livery lot is an amoebic lagoon.


So let's be clear: this part of town is not friendly to pedestrians or bikers. If the historic downtown is where people go for a pleasant meal or a shopping stroll, or a midsummer festival, the No Man's Land is where you do the daily errands: Lucky, Walgreens, CVS, McCaulous, multiple banks, etc. The Bowling Alley. So it's a fairly vital part of any Danvillian's weekly life. Except for McCaulous.

If land use patterns made biking safe and desirable, more people would be free to make the choice to deposit checks, pick up groceries, etc, on their bikes. But in a place built for cars, there is only one option: cars. Unless you really enjoy going against the grain, like me.

As much as the land use planning decisions make this a tale of two Danvilles, one for cars and one for bikes/peds(/and cars, too; there really is plenty of parking, proof that you can have it both ways), what really makes the southern downtown a No Man's Land is access. Lack of it: getting to this area from the south, and getting back out of this area to the south present bicyclists with a dangerous set of options that only further discourage anything beside driving.

More on this in the next post.

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