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Reflections on a snowstorm: When tire tracks were outnumbered by footprints

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I WAS SHOCKED at how quickly I was on the ground. But the biggest surprise was that my bicycle and I were still moving at a pretty good clip even after we landed on the pavement.

Luckily, a slightly bruised elbow and a case of acute embarrassment were the only injuries I sustained when I hit a patch of ice and slid through the intersection of Washington Avenue and Reynolds Street on Jan. 5.

That’s when the romantic spell of our recent winter weather event began to wear off, yet only slightly. Snow lingered on the ground and so did my enchantment. It was downright magical.

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By midafternoon on Jan. 3, my neighborhood was alive with children of all ages — many of them adults — frolicking in the snow. The snow itself was not the only unusual situation experienced that day. The streets were full of people, not full of cars.

I walked around Ardsley Park and Chatham Crescent and saw only a few motor vehicles in motion. Most people in the neighborhood wisely decided against trying to drive, which allowed maximum enjoyment of the snowflakes.

Car and truck traffic disappeared. Streets became playgrounds.

Right in the middle of 46th Street, two kids created a culinary movement I’ve since dubbed “Cloud-to-Table,” except without the table. They were scooping up snow and dousing it with apple juice to create the freshest snow cones imaginable, except without the cones. They were eating the snow right out of their hands.

By nightfall when I ventured out again, tire tracks had begun to appear in the snow, but were still outnumbered by footprints.

Like I said, magical.

Of course, not everyone was in a winter wonderland. Local businesses and employees lost income and transit users lost mobility when dangerous conditions forced suspension of service.

A Chatham Emergency Management Agency spokesperson marked Jan. 3 as one of the busiest days for emergency calls in its history. Over the next couple of days, snow and ice melted and then refroze, creating numerous opportunities for epic wipeouts like the one I executed.

The continuing closure of the Truman Parkway filled Facebook with the lamentations of frustrated commuters. As one particularly astute editor of a certain local weekly newspaper observed, this illustrated how quickly we “become accustomed/addicted to building and using new roads.”

Lewis Mumford made a similar observation back in the 1950s about what’s now known as “induced traffic.” He wrote, “No one, it seems, pays heed to our own grim experience, which is that the more facilities are provided for the motorcar, the more cars appear.”

Since that time, researchers have demonstrated that when new roads are built or existing roads widened, we are stimulated to drive more and “consume” the additional capacity. This fuels sprawl, encourages longer and more frequent car trips, and ultimately dooms cities’ efforts to ease traffic problems.

Ask anyone who’s been stuck on the Downtown Connector how they’d evaluate the success of Metro Atlanta’s half-century-long attempt to pave its way out of congestion.

Mumford (1895-1990) — alternately described as an architectural critic, sociologist, philosopher, historian, urban planner — was on my mind this weekend because of other of his quotes.

I remembered it while I was listening to the keynote address by Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols at the Choosing to Lead conference, organized by the One Hundred Miles coastal conservation organization on Jekyll Island last Saturday.

In the conference program, he’s described with even more monikers than Mumford: “Dr. Nichols is an innovative, silo-busting, entrepreneurial scientist, movement maker, renowned marine biologist, voracious Earth and idea explorer, wild water advocate, bestselling author, sought after lecturer, and fun-loving dad.”

Those of us, who believe in the necessity of using evidence- and science-based information in planning for the future of our communities and our planet, should not exclude emotion from our discussions, he said. On the contrary, emotion — and especially passion and love — must be central to our conversations whether we are working to save sea turtles or adapt to climate change or preserve our region’s historic and cultural resources.

Are people swayed when I cite research on street design, motorist behavior and pedestrian mortality rates? Or are they more receptive when I ask them about other cities they like to visit or what they love about our community? What if I talk with them about how much fun we had, thanks to the snow (and the absence of speeding traffic) playing in the streets of our neighborhoods?

I lean toward Nichols’ point of view. And Mumford’s.

“Only when love takes the lead will the earth, and life on earth, be safe again. And not until then,” he wrote.

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