Frederick Jackson Turner had it easy. The historian forecast the end of the American frontier--and then he died. Dan Burden is left with the complicated reality of a country not just short on frontier but seemingly out of space altogether. Even in midsize cities and 'burbs, traffic congestion can be so extreme that a walk to the market is impossible, biking downtown a flirtation with death. Burden, director of the High Springs, Fla., nonprofit Walkable Communities Inc., has figured out what to do. He's the guy people call to get their space back.
Burden, 58, puts bloated thoroughfares on what he calls a "road diet." In cities as large as Las Vegas, Toronto and Seattle and hamlets as small as Sammamish, Wash., he has trimmed lanes and filled the space with bike routes or a grassy buffer between the asphalt and the sidewalk to ease walkers' stress. Of course, motorists tend to react to Burden as they might to a jackknifed manure spreader directly in their path. "They say ,'We already have a traffic problem,'" says Burden, "'and now you want to take lanes away?'"
That's exactly what he wants to do. But Burden isn't an autocrat. His preternatural calm--he was a National Geographic photographer before founding Walkable in 1996--sets people at ease. He knows that slimmer roads are "leaner, safer and more efficient," and that they take some of the stress off drivers too. "We tend not to like open, scary places, and we try to get through them quicker. Somehow the canopy effect of tree-lined streets slows traffic." Burden can't eliminate road rage. But for some drivers, riders and pedestrians across the country, he can create road repose.
--By Josh Tyrangiel. Reported by Amy Bonesteel/Atlanta