Walkability in Meridian, ID

I ventured out to the Village the other day for work, and was abruptly met with a stark walking environment. After parking my car in the sea of parking, I had planned to spend the day there, but was pulled to an errand a mere .9 miles down the road. A quick google maps search revealed a 17 minute walk so I ventured out of the confines of the Village on foot on a warm late summer afternoon.

Google Maps walk route

I was greeted by a not so pleasant 7 lanes of traffic. I could see the “crow flies” route directly ahead of me, but this would require skill to manage a mad dash across those 7 lanes of traffic and I just was not feeling feisty enough for that endeavor. As you can see, not the best plan…

7 lanes of fast moving traffic...not super friendly for crossing without a light!
7 lanes of fast moving traffic…not super friendly for crossing without a light!

I looked left. I looked right. Both signaled crosswalks seemed equally as out of the way. I resolved myself for the round-a-bout route and set off on the 5 minute jaunt to cross at the light. I was reminded of the great visual Don Kostelec created on this very topic:

Distance between signalized crossings

As a came up on the intersection of Eagle Road and Fairview, the infrastructure began to shift. No longer did I feel at the right scale for my surroundings. The infrastructure was clearly created for cars, trucks, and LARGE things. The visual of oversized power poles abruptly forcing their way into the middle of the sidewalk seemed so out of place. The sidewalks were narrow, and directly adjacent to the stroad.

Massive power pole in the middle of the sidewalk
Massive power pole in the middle of the sidewalk

The humor of all the trees lining the adjacent parking lots, as if to say the cars were more deserving of the shade than any possible pedestrian on the sidewalk!

Trees line the parking lot, not the sidewalk
Trees line the parking lot, not the sidewalk

And there were these HUGE grass buffers between the parking lot and the street/curb/sidewalk. The fact that so much valuable real estate was used for grass and yet the sidewalk was still immediately adjacent to the those 7 lanes of FAST moving traffic is just wrong. Why is it like this? You can see above one of the very few sidewalk cut backs that provided sidewalk access in to the parking lot area (and these blocks are super long!). I’m not sure who they assumed would be using these sidewalks but they clearly did not plan to provide them easy access to the businesses.

As I made my return to the Village, I noticed the shift in sidewalk design. No longer were the sidewalks butted up to the curb, there was a buffer. There were even trees lining the sidewalks! The Village is clearly designed to a different standard. Proof that it can be done!

Separated sidewalk with power pole in grass instead of the middle of the sidewalk!
Separated sidewalk with power pole in grass instead of the middle of the sidewalk! Oh! and check out the speed limit!

It started to feel as though I was climbing the scales towards better and better walkability the deeper into the Village I went. As I rounded the corner and started to turn into the parking lot, I was greeted by one of my FAVORITE parking lot designs…an interior walking path down the middle of the parked cars leading to a crosswalk. Why is this not common parking lot design?!?! It is SO much safer and more pleasant! Especially when I am traveling with my little kiddos.

Sidewalk row within a parking lot
Sidewalk row within a parking lot

With such great retail options and office spaces out at the Village, it seems like a no-brainer that they really need to add adjacent housing and hotels. What a missing element! To have so much right there, but no one within walking distance to utilize it is such a missed opportunity. I would understand if they were maybe crunched for space, but there is clearly plenty of development space available out there!

Plenty of room for missing adjacent housing and hotels
Plenty of room to add in mixed use housing, hotels, condos or even workforce housing

In fact, that was the very first thing I noticed as I drove in that morning. There is a huge vacant lot right across the (busy) street! I looked it up online, and it’s roughly 70 acres. Can you imagine how vibrant that area could be if that 70 acres was built into a new urbanist community? Maybe even with a local school or charter? Right across the street residents would have access to a co-op, a movie theater, a LARGE park, ice skating in the winter. And if they used some of the open space in there over planned parking lot to build hotels, I can imagine plenty of visitors choosing to stay in a place offering so many readily accessible amenities.

Vacant lot across the street from the Village Meridian
Vacant lot across the street from the Village Meridian

Finally, I made my way back into the center of the Village. Now the sidewalks were the priority. The streets were narrow and lined with parked cars. There were trees and shrubs. Benches for sitting, trash cans, crosswalks, slow moving cars, and windows at eye level for window shopping.

A Street designed for people
A Street designed for people

Clearly street design impacts the way a street is used. Meridian has an uphill battle to reclaim some walkability, but the Village has set a great example! It would serve Meridian well to capitalize on these walkable assets and fill in the surrounding area with density!