An acquaintance of mine works in an office building downtown. She tells me that she’s thinking of quitting her job because:
- She lives on the west side of Fairbanks, and driving to and from downtown is an unpleasant commute; and
- The air around her building stinks. She described it as smoky and diesel-ish, and that makes her uncomfortable.
And who wouldn’t be uncomfortable, breathing air full of car exhaust?
I like walking, whether on an idle stroll or on a pointed errand, and I suspect that most people do, when it’s pleasant. It saddens me that downtown Fairbanks, a place that ought to be full with the hustle and bustle of human activity, is so inhospitable that people not only don’t want to travel there on pleasure, but are even reluctant to work there in air-filtered offices.
Downtown isn’t just my neighborhood. It should be everyone’s neighborhood — that is, our city commons, the place where all of Fairbanks feels welcome and safe. Everybody with any business in the Fairbanks area has a right to be there. But what a shallow right it is, when the air quality puts people in fear for their health.
I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the poor air quality near my acquaintance’s place of work is due mostly to automobile exhaust. (If anybody has another suggestion, please speak up.) If that’s so, the exhaust is due to high numbers of automobiles — probably single-occupancy — traveling or idling in our streets and parking lots.
Can anybody see a better way? something that might help downtown be a pleasant, safe, welcoming environment?
Here is my very short list of suggestions. (The first will work only if coupled with the second.)
- Get private automobiles out of downtown. Limit motorized traffic to emergency vehicles, utility vehicles, possibly some commercial service vehicles, and public transportation.
- Provide copious public transportation all around the Borough to bring people into downtown.
Given the fact that most of Fairbanks would be driving downtown from somewhere, the transit stops would have to provide a modicum of parking. Transit would have to be frequent — say, never more than a five-minute wait at stops — so that people would not feel it was too much of a time burden to come downtown to begin with.
The car — a ton or more of smoke-belching steel — is a natural enemy to the pedestrian. It never makes the pedestrian’s life any safer, only scarier, and it causes the pedestrian’s retreat from the public sphere that is our common right. Take the cars from downtown, and watch it become a place worth being.