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On Halloween, the Living and Dead Take to the Streets

Complete streets, shared space and peopleways improve their mingling

On Halloween, when the living and the dead come out to play, you can never tell who you’ll bump into.
    Which makes this the best week I can think of to talk about complete streets.
    That’s a byword I learned when I bumped into former Maryland governor Parris Glendening in Zü ­Coffee in the Bay Forest shopping center. We’d both driven, though we could, in other circumstances, have propelled ourselves, as Zü is a little more than a mile from his home and a little under two miles from my office.
    Circumstances being what they were, our conversation and not our feet took us to complete streets, which took us to the interview you’ll read in this week’s paper.
    Glendening ended his three decades in electoral office in 2003. But he’s continued campaigning for Smart Growth.
    Broadly, Smart Growth means keeping people close to the things they do, so that we live more self-propelled lives with more time, while preserving open spaces and a healthy Chesapeake watershed for people who’ll come after us.
    The philosophy, policies and practices Glendening christened Smart Growth have spread worldwide, he told me with pride. Annapolis, where he lives with his family and where I work, is one of the places Smart Growth is at work, improving the quality of lives and environment.
    Good new sidewalks are part of our Capital City’s Smart Growth. But I’d like to rename them peopleways in honor of the service they perform. On sidewalks, walking goes on beside something more important, streets and roads, which are places designed for and controlled by vehicles. Complete streets, which are where we’re headed, give equal attention to people outside their cars.
    Like the word, places for people to walk are often afterthoughts. Outside big cities, they’re likely erratic if not missing.
    Last week, Annapolis got to be a bigger city, with good peopleways reaching all the way from Westgate Circle to Solomons Island Road. The State Highway Administration managed the 1.8-mile, six-month reconstruction.
    At the ribbon-cutting at Annapolis Library, we saw these new peopleways do their work. People in wheelchairs propelled themselves easily and safely to the ceremony and, when rain fell, back to the cover of the library. A bus pulled up and delivered a passenger, who walked easily away down the smooth, concrete surface.
    You had to be a daredevil walker to use our capital city’s old broken, narrow sidewalks, which might anytime abandon a walker into speeding, impatient traffic.
    Peopleways like this give you “a chance to be in the community,” said James Martin. The executive director of Accessible Resources for Independence in Anne Arundel County uses a wheelchair.
    I grew up in neighborhoods where streets weren’t complete without sidewalks, neighborhoods urban and suburban, main street and residential. So did my husband and sons. Sidewalks brought us into the community in all sorts of ways, not the least of which was trick-or-treating.
    How many suburban communities have sidewalks nowadays? Cars pushed them out of fashion. Maybe that’s why my younger colleagues tell me they didn’t share my experience of house-to-house trick-or-treating. Instead they went by car and van to trunk and treat, sponsored by churches and civic organizations to keep kids off the streets.
    In Fairhaven, where I live, and Providence, where my grandkids live, house-to-house trick-or-treating is still the custom. We have no sidewalks, but people have kept our internal roads their own, making the cars share. There’s a word for that, too, by the way: shared space.
    Again this Halloween in many neighborhoods — I hope yours is one — very lively kids take to our very incomplete streets. Costumes make them ungainly and spectral; the freedom of being out at night and the giddy promise of loot make them incautious.
    Ghosts — plus who knows what other insubstantial creatures on lease from the underworld — will be out there, too.
    So on Halloween, go forth carefully.
    P.S. As in any good conversation, policy — even the Smart Growth policies for which Glendening is famed — is not the only subject we touched. Hair styles, tweens and travel are part of the back and forth you’ll read, reminders that people are the point of policy.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]