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Sidewalk Essentials

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Sidewalks have forever been engineered as attachments to streets — straight, uniform in width, and strictly functional. Shopping malls, with their wide walkways, have changed that thinking somewhat, with curved walks, wide walks, or ones that vary the pavement or tree planting patterns now possible. Portland (Oregon), Minneapolis, Seattle, and Santa Barbara, to mention a few, have narrowed their main streets to create very wide walks.

Safety & Comfort

Sidewalks need to be buffered from cars on both sides. They should not be located directly on the road’s edge, since passing traffic can feel dangerous. One simple and inexpensive approach is to allow on-street parking. On-street parking protects pedestrians, benefits merchants, slows traffic, and allows drivers to visit several stores while parking once (instead of having to move from one store’s parking lot to the next store’s lot).

If a sidewalk abuts a parking lot, make sure there are planters or other buffers between the sidewalk and the lot.

Pedestrian comfort is just as important as safety if you want to encourage people to walk, so plant street trees along sidewalks, and add benches and awnings, telephones, and sculpture where appropriate. …

Enhancing Pedestrian Crossings

Most pedestrian injuries occur in intersections. In recent years, wider roads, along with increased traffic volumes and speeds, have made crossing streets a risky and unpleasant business for pedestrians. Developing safe intersections should be a priority for any community that wants to bill itself as “pedestrian-friendly.”

It is essential to make sure that the design process includes people who are sensitive to pedestrians’ needs. Street width should be narrowed where possible, and pedestrian crossings should be well-marked, well-lit, and include ramps to facilitate wheeled travel. Bold striping, in particular, helps alert drivers to foot traffic. …

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