Cities design for pedestrian safety
Many urban centers are revitalizing their downtown corridors, revamping commercial and entertainment areas and constructing new developments. To handle the increase of vehicle and pedestrian traffic in core areas, cities are introducing street designs that are safer for pedestrians.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cities were centered on Main Streets, creating dense communities with shops, restaurants and other services in a central location. As cars became popular, street designs changed. “The idea took over [to specialize], so the street was [used] only for moving traffic, and things that get in the way of traffic, like pedestrians, [were kept separate],” says John Norquist, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Congress for New Urbanism.
Now, as mixed-use developments, retail centers and businesses are moving back to city centers, residents are demanding safer street designs. In 2004, Denver identified areas throughout the city that needed denser redevelopment and improvements for pedestrians. Officials determined that the “areas of change,” detailed in the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan, were not effectively serving the city’s pedestrians and they often lacked sidewalks on one side of a street. “A lot of times, those were areas that were under-utilized, and one symptom of that was that they had poor pedestrian connections through them,” says Denver Development and Planning Supervisor Jason Longsdorf.
Longsdorf says 10 percent of the city does not have sidewalks. To address the issue, Denver now requires developers to construct sidewalks in new or reconstructed areas. Also, Denver is testing mid-block crossings, speed messaging signs and countdown timers, which inform pedestrians of the amount of time they have to cross a street. In areas with heavy traffic, the city plans to replace double left-turn lanes with medians, which Longsdorf says will provide a refuge for pedestrians as they cross the street. “That makes a big difference for pedestrians and vehicles as far as where to know to look for each other,” he says.
Vibrating signals that emit a “chirping” sound also are being used at several city intersections. “So, it’s actually useful for the deaf and blind,” Longsdorf says. In addition, over the last 15 years, the city has been constructing curb ramps that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To date, 700 ramps have been installed, and about 5,000 remain to be built.
In 2003, Bellevue, Wash., officials developed the city’s Great Streets program, which called for additional landscaping, accommodations for transit service and more signs throughout the growing city. “As the city matured and developed further, there became clearly a lot of desire to walk,” says Mike Ingram, a senior planner with the city’s Transportation Department. “In fact, we want people [to walk] because we can’t accommodate all the travel in cars on the street with the kind of development intensity that we’re getting now.”
Bellevue is known for its 600-foot-long superblocks, which are defined by wide, often five-lane intersections and were constructed to facilitate vehicle transportation. The Great Streets project calls for signalized mid-block crossings, which allow pedestrians to cross streets between intersections.
As cities nationwide continue to grow, the ease with which pedestrians navigate busy streets will be monitored. In Bellevue, the rate and amount of development will determine how often streets will be evaluated for pedestrian conditions. “[We want to] carry forth [our] vision of downtown and make it more of a pedestrian-friendly place,” Ingram says.