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Taming the Automobile

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In thinking about what makes for a good pedestrian street, three basic questions should be asked: Is the street functional? Is it safe? and Is it comfortable?

Functional streets necessarily involve both cars and pedestrians. Because cars have become integral parts of our lives, we have many specialists with large budgets making sure that drivers can move to and from their daily activities. Yet these drivers eventually become pedestrians, an important but often overlooked component of functional streets.

Pedestrians and cars. Illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb
Illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb

Very little attention has been given to the functional needs of pedestrians -- witness the often deplorable maintenance or lack of sidewalks, the narrowness of sidewalks, and their obstruction by poles, fences, garbage cans, and illegally parked cars. Witness also the long waiting times at crosslights.

A well functioning pedestrian street also needs: land uses along it that provide for daily shopping; access to public transport; places where pedestrians can wait and easily cross the street; sufficient sidewalk width; and adequate parking.

Pedestrian safety is also critical. The safer pedestrians feel on the street, the more they will use it. Being safe means not being in actual danger. Most streets in American towns have sufficient warnings and actual barriers between people and cars that accidents can be avoided. But feeling safe and comfortable on the street has to do with the perception of danger. If traffic volumes and speeds are intimidating to pedestrians, they will not feel comfortable using the street. ...

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