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Tools for Walkable Cities

Article > Pedestrianization as a strategy

Urban transportation issues can be alleviated by encouraging and enabling a higher degree of pedestrianization and bicycle use. This survey looks at a number of small scale pedestrianization tools for daily urban life, providing access for elderly, handicapped and those traveling with goods. These details, often missed in large scale transport plans, are essential to make walkable cities and allow the reduction of automobile use.

h1. Introduction The tools surveyed in this article assist in successfully pedestrianizing a part of the city, but this will only work if certain basic conditions are met. These conditions are that the city itself is dense enough to sustain pedestrian activity. Low density cities have their destinations too spread out and their streets are too empty to provide for pleasant pedestrian spaces. The most successful spaces without cars are those either in highly dense city environments or those created around shopping areas, conference centers and seaside boulevards, in short, places where people congregate in high numbers. Whereas with cars one wants to reduce congestion, in a way with pedestrianization one wants to encourage it, to a certain extent. People are attracted to areas with a lot of other people, and the fluidity of movement when walking makes for effective flow only inhbited in the most extreme of circumstances. Many destinations in the same area, mixed with offices and residential buildings have to provide for twenty four hour occupancy, and never leave the streets bland and desolated. Of course all the advantages of Jane Jacobs' explorations in these areas are valid. A higher degree of interaction between people implies certain unspoken trust, the cohabitation between different demographics helps to break down barriers of misunderstanding between cultures and age groups, and so on. But that discussion is beyond the scope of this article. What is clear is that a city is a complex entity, that is not easily manipulated by means of just material interventions. One should look at different scales, cultural consequences and inhibitors, issues of safety, capacity, aesthetics and as with most things of importance in our lives, it is important to pay attention to detail. One can design the best transportation system in the world but when there are no sidewalks with small ramps to the streets and at pedestrian crossings, anyone with a suitcase, handicapped travel and cargo delivery becomes a problem that will inhibit the more expansive use of such a system. All these little things add up and provide the whole experience that is a city and its usability. *List of tools in this article:* # Connected pedestrian & bicycle network # Clear pedestrian preference & sidewalk expansions / Soft Edge # Sectional change & distance assists # Urban furniture # Amorphous VS linear pedestrian areas # Daily necessities close by # Three-scale park network # Second Generation Traffic Calming / Shared Space h1. Rules of Thumb for Walkable Cities Many of the tools in this survey provide basic services to the pedestrian. Most of them have some sort of material purpose, such as making sure groups of children are not run over, and so on. All of them, however, of which some specific, have a purely psychological function. Of these one of the most important is the realization that the pedestrian movement is inherently different than of any other mode of transport, even bicycles. Walking is moving in an amorphous space. At any point can one turn and walk back, turn any direction, stop or go faster. That is the freedom and rich experience of walking. Organizing pedestrians as if they are cars, with many linear pathways, is counter intuitive and is the highway planner’s approach to pedestrianization. This doesn't work well. A large open square with nothing but some benches works far better as a pedestrian space than a highly organized square with big lanes, small lanes, thoroughfares and so on. Pedestrians also change their mind all the time. Therefore, offering different routes to reach the same places is important. Multiple subway entries in the same area is a good example of this, but also section changes (stairs, elevators, escalators) should be executed in multiple. In addition, the pedestrian experience is highly enriched by variety, nature and aesthetic conditions. Public art, variation of pavement, small parks, benches, shaded and covered areas versus expansive open space, small stores and big ones intermixed, clear meeting points, streets with character and allure all help to make a mediocre space that few people would like to walk through into a wonderful space for many. These kinds of interventions are often not visible on urban plans but help to shape the success of these plans as much as the larger ideas. h2. 1 - Connected pedestrian & bicycle network Pedestrian areas augment each other. Several dispersed pedestrian areas don’t work as well as connected ones, since the walk range of an individual is limited, but usually larger than a single pedestrianized street. The larger the area within a half hour walk radius, the more attractive it becomes. Cities like Amsterdam, Antwerp, Copenhagen and Delft have developed various systems for this. On the left the networks of Antwerp and Copenhagen. The Antwerp network (fig 1) is interesting since it consists of a central spine but has subsidiary routes snaking around it, with most pedestrian squares no on this spine. Since this street (Meir, fig 1) is already wide enough to be seen as an expansive space, it helps to have these squares dispersed in the more dense small scale fabric of the city. Although all areas that are not red are not pedestrianized absolutely, they are still areas that favor pedestrians over cars. Cars drive slowly, have difficult corners to navigate and the amount of people on the street make it hard to drive through, which discourages auto use. Cars are often parked in one of the many garages in the ring around the old city from where one travels further on foot. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%20-%209%20-%20Antwerp_pedestrian.jpg! p(figure). fig. 1, Antwerp Pedestrian Network and Meir, the main street of the area_ Copenhagen (fig 2) follows a similar pattern, but without the solid central axis. Also, Copenhagen has a larger network of streets that discourage but not entirely disallow car traffic. This also mainly due to the fabric of the medieval city that necessitates allowing access in certain areas throughout the day. The city center is still very much a pedestrian area that many people find very pleasant to live and work in. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%2011%20-%20Copenhagen_ped_map.jpg! p(figure). fig 2, Copenhagen Pedestrian Network and Hojbro Plads, a square in the area._ h2. 2- Pedestrian preference & sidewalk expansions Figure 3 shows a situation in Stockholm in an area of pedestrianization where a car street meets a pedestrian street. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig-13-IMG_1241bg.jpg! p(figure). fig 3, Stockholm pedestrian crossing_ This would be called a pedestrian crossing, but it could more accurately be described as a car crossing. The width of the crossing favors the pedestrians, and here one can cross without harm even when the light is red due to the imposing width of the crossing for the pedestrians. There is no ambiguity here who has the right of way, and there is very little chance of cars rushing by. This improves safety for the pedestrians, as well as make a clear hierarchy in which the person in the car does not feel superior. That all assists in promoting a different mode of transport. In figure 4 one can see a standard side walk in one of the newer suburbs of Copenhagen called Hammarby Sjostad. This great piece of urban design assures the maximum walk to a light rail connection to be five minutes, and promotes pedestrian usage of the streets. Shown in the photograph is the standard side walk width, not a particularly wide one. This width allows four people to walk next to one another comfortably and for certain informal meetings and events to take place in the public domain. One can stand around without being a nuisance to anyone and mothers with children on tiny bicycles have enough space to participate as well as anyone else. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%20-%2014%20-IMG_1176.jpg! p(figure). fig 4, Stockholm sidewalk h2. 3 - Soft Edges In figure 5 one can see a street where the distinction between pedestrian area and the two lanes of traffic are ambiguous on purpose. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig15-IMG_1010.jpg! p(figure). fig 5, Stockholm soft edge This 'soft edge' approach leads to the more careful entering and participation of motorized traffic in these areas, where pedestrians could be roaming about anywhere. It’s a psychological device that blends the rules of the spaces, giving up the street, which is normally the exclusive domain of the car, to the pedestrian in part. The road surface helps in this, as it’s a typical pedestrian surface rather than asphalt or concrete. Figure 6 shows a soft edge area in Delft in the snow. The entire inner city area of Delft is soft edges in combination with a limited entry policy for cars. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig-16-delftjpg.jpg! p(figure). fig 6, Delft soft edges_ Driving in this part of the city makes one very aware of the role of the car versus the pedestrian. You’ll only do it when you really have to, and you’ll take your time doing it. It feels like driving your car through a carnival on a busy day when everyone comes out and walks around. Having personally experienced the transition from full car use to limited to no cars allowed in the entire inner city district of Delft I have to say that it was unpleasant for a while to transition out of your daily habits, but the quality of the city has increased by enormous amounts in the sheer freedom to walk or ride a bicycle through these areas, and in the end the result is highly successful. Bicycles are of course allowed (this is the Netherlands, after all), but do not have designated areas of use. Instead the negotiations become a largely amorphous ensemble that regulates itself. On busy days the bicycles go slower and watch carefully for pedestrians. On quiet days the pedestrians look out for fast bicycles before making sudden leaps across the road. A more integrated solution of soft edges can be found in the Shared Space tool further down. h2. 4 - Dedicated pedestrian crossings Where it is not possible to provide expansive space for pedestrians close to motorized traffic, or where fast moving traffic meets slow traffic in a narrow space, the environment should protect the slow moving traffic. In figure 7 a choice has been made to allow permanent pedestrian traffic on either side of the bridge. The space necessary for this has been gained by reducing the space for the cars to one lane that switches direction with the help of traffic lights. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%20-17-IMG_1011.jpg! p(figure). fig 7, Dedicated pedestrian bridge sections h2. 5 - Daily amenities within walking distance Shopping and public transportation don’t go as well together as shopping and automobile use, but if one can do the daily necessary rounds without a car, that is usually preferred over both. The phenomenon of the strip mall in the United States is the perfect example of what is not desired. Often it is not even possible to walk from one shop to another in these areas. If one has smaller but a multitude of stores within walking distance from one’s house, this would encourage leaving the car for what it is. In dense cities it is of vital importance to have these amenities close by, and this is recognized even in American cities where the deli of the corner shop still exists where the density allows. But these stores do not carry all daily necessities and for a supermarket one soon has to look at some form of motorized transport. In Stockholm the daily requirements are satisfied by a large amount of 7-Eleven stores (fig 9), augmented with many small supermarkets that carry most one would desire on a monthly or even yearly basis. Permanent farmers markets provide a source for high quality affordable products from the land directly (fig 8), and these kinds of markets can be found all over Europe, predominantly mediterranean areas such as Spain and Italy. This makes owning a car for shopping purposes superfluous. Combined with ample opening times, easy access and limited to no parking make these stores ideal for the local pedestrianized city dweller. Making the store larger in favor of opening another store is also not financially attractive for the supermarket chains, because it will only draw the people that live within walking distance. More shops smaller in size are thus the result and what benefits a walking city. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%2019%20-IMG_1032.jpg! p(figure). fig 8, Stockholm City Market._ !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%2018%20-7-11.jpg! p(figure). fig 9, 7-11 locations in Stockholm._ h2. 6 - Scaled park network To alleviate the necessity to travel for light repose, a bit of peace of mind, a stroll through nature or to walk one's pet it is important cities to have a scaled park network. A small park close by for everyone, a larger park at reasonable distance, and an expansive natural area within fifteen minutes of travel. Children can meet and congregate in the small parks, and these can become important play hubs for the younger generations, and the parents do not need to accompany them due to the vicinity of the small parks. Stockholm has a three scale park network policy, where they are attempting to provide these services throughout the entire city. Whenever a new area opens up, and there is not sufficient open area space in that neighborhood, the city will rezone or even acquire these areas for park development. The smart use of parks ranging from as ecological as possible with some accessibility to highly utilized such as the Woodland Cemetery park (fig 10) provide not only a source of utility besides entertainment, but also generate parks unlike any other, with unique characteristics, atmospheres and that appeal to different people to fulfill a broader need than just for the dedicated park lover. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%2022%20-IMG_0976.jpg! p(figure). fig 10. Woodlands Cemetery Park in Stockholm_ h2. 7 - Sectional Change & Distance Assist One of the biggest hurdles of public transportation is sectional changes. The threshold for making use of a metro system is significantly increased by how they are accessed, and how fast one can get on the metro, and what atmosphere this takes place in. In most Nordic countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway the threshold has been lowered considerably by making the metro stations as pleasant as possible. In Copenhagen one could say the stations feel like luxury hotel lobbies, as opposed to the dank, musky and filthy metro stations of most American cities (fig 11). !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%2021%20-%20Metro_panorama2sm.jpg!:http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig%2021%20-%20Metro_panorama2.jpg p(figure). fig 11. Copenhagen Subway The transition from surface level to under ground, or from one mode of public transport to another, is highly sensitive to the sectional changes one must go through. Escalators and elevators alleviate much of the effort involved, but they are not an ideal solution. Wherever possible one wants street level access, and this makes light rail often preferable to an underground solution. Pedestrian movement can also been hampered by the minutest sectional details. Wherever the street has a ridge, sidewalk or hole, any normal pedestrian might not even notice, but when you are dragging a large suitcase, or have any disabilities, these small moments become huge obstacles. For people in wheelchairs there is an enormous difference in the ability to use a city such as Stockholm, where every edge has been considered and smoothed out, and New York, where even street block throws up new and hard to overcome problems, not in the least due to poor maintenance of what would otherwise be unproblematic sidewalk space. h2. 8 - Second Generation Traffic Calming / Shared Space methodology In the midst of nearly every transport and city planner falling over themselves to find a new technological solution for the improvement of traffic flow, the Dutch road traffic engineer "Hans Monderman (1945-2008)":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Monderman took an entirely different approach. Reasoning from the perspective that once people make eye contact, a certain social norm needs to be maintained that without eye contact can be ignored. His traffic solution called Shared Space for inner cities encourage a mutual movement negotiation rather than rely on technical devices to regulate traffic for them. They are both remarkable and elegant and have proven in numerous occasions to improve traffic flow, reduce accidents, and improve quality of public space for all participants. “To make communities safer and more appealing, Mr. Monderman argues, you should first remove the traditional paraphernalia of their roads - the traffic lights and speed signs; the signs exhorting drivers to stop, slow down and merge; the center lines separating lanes from one another; even the speed bumps, speed-limit signs, bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings. In his view, it is only when the road is made more dangerous, when drivers stop looking at signs and start looking at other people, that driving becomes safer.” "writes Sarah Lyall of the New York times":http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/22/international/europe/22monderman.html. Working on the principle that continuously but slow moving 20mph second generation traffic intersections that work on the basis of eye contact, which can be maintained at that speed, the throughput of an intersection is higher than of conventional first-generation traffic controlling devices such as traffic lights or stop-and-go solutions. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig-23-SharedSpace-04(Download).jpg! p(figure). fig 12. Typical Shared Space intersection. "Photo Hamilton-Baillie":http://www.hamilton-baillie.co.uk !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig-25-Makkinga2.jpg! p(figure). fig 13. Makkinga, Friesland, Inspired by Hans Monderman, Makkinga was the first settlement to remove all road signs, markings and signals. "Drivers appear to successfully read the village context and adapt accordingly.”:http://www.hamilton-baillie.co.uk/gallery/europe/netherlands.htm - Photo Andrew Burmann_ Questions rise as to the applicability of this kind of system are evident, but there has never been a fatal accident on any of Monderman’s roads or intersections (1), of which there are a great many. The city of Groningen has almost entirely adopted the idea of shared space, as well as Drachten, large portions of Delft and Amsterdam, This remarkable system rids us of all the devices that have come to accumulate on our streets that degrade the quality of space, and that is no small feat. In some cases additional interventions are necessary, such as a roundabout as an organizational shape for high volume intersections and so on. Shared space is the opposite of highways in that highways are a single purpose logistical artery with state controlled rules and requirements. It is not a space for social interaction, the way inner cities are, or ought to be. Shared space does not offer solutions for high speed interaction, but it does provide alternatives to high speed inner city intersections, namely by slowing them down and allowing an organic traffic negotiation between people to increase fluidity rather than having a mechanical, inefficient system. An organically organized intersection will use every square inch and every second to its benefit as the agents are intelligent enough to regulate such interactions, as long is their speed is more or less equal. Bicycles never have to stop, even on a 22.000 car per day intersection, pedestrians do not wait, cars move fluidly in and out of the stream as they seem fit. There is no honking, no swearing, in fact, people tend to greet each other and show civility rather than hostility, which is a remarkable sociological improvement of inner city life. !http://except.nl/consult/pedestrianizationtools/Fig-26-deBrink_oosterwolde.jpg! p(figure). fig 14.“Oosterwolde, Friesland. 'de Brink' A Hans Monderman scheme. No formal rules or priorities are necessary to allow this important part of the town’s public space to function well as a five-way traffic intersection.”:http://www.hamilton-baillie.co.uk/gallery/europe/netherlands.htm - Photo Sake Elzinga Shared space is achieved by careful inspection of the conditions that make up a certain space, and creating an even playing field for all participants. In some cases formal organizational tools such as roundabouts can be applied to assist in the flow of traffic, in other cases this is not desirable. These are not easy designs to make, but once executed correctly can provide a wealth of benefits for all participants. More info on Shared Space can be found in "this article by Ben Hamilton-Baillie":http://www.hamilton-baillie.co.uk/_files/_publications/25-1.pdf.

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Tom Bosschaert
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