June 25, 2005

It’s Not Pedestrian Friendly If People Aren’t Walking

How can you tell if an area is pedestrian friendly? There's one easy and useful test: If you don't see people out regularly walking, something about the environment is causing people on foot to instinctively not use it.

There may be expansive sidewalks and official crossing lights, but that's not enough (Speen Street and Rte. 30 in Framingham are prime examples). There may be a large sweeping plaza for pedestrians (whether a park by the water in Cleveland or acres of cement in City Hall Plaza, as I mentioned a few days ago) that SHOULD be attracting people on foot but DOESN'T because it's poorly planned. If you see people aren't out there walking, something is wrong with the design.

Maybe it's the scale, and there's not the "sense of enclosure" pedestrians crave in a walking environment, either from properly sited buildings (not too far back) or good landscaping (a dense row of trees will do it). Perhaps it's a lack of any buffer between sidewalk and rushing traffic. Maybe in the case of a business district, the pedestrian crossings are too offputing.

Consultant Laura Hawks from the Renaissance Design Group spent three days in Fairfield, Iowa and noticed " plenty of people enjoying Central Park -- but most of them didn't cross the street to shop at the stores surrounding it," the Fairfield Daily Ledger reports. Bingo! Something's wrong with the design of the neighborhood.

Possible solutions? More prominent crosswalks, extending the sidewalks at intersections so the distance from curb to curb is less daunting, and wide, colored center strips to "provide a boulevard-like refuge for pedestrians crossing the street."

If you're ever tried to dash across the extraordinarily wide intersection at the end Leggat-McCall Connector and Rte. 30, you'll understand how important such things are. That intersection, and the lack of sidewalks on the south side of that intersection, are the main reasons why all the office workers out on foot in the area at lunchtime don't walk the few extra minutes to Shoppers World -- and why most don't even walk along Rte. 30.

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