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Every trip begins and ends with walking, and therefore everyone is a pedestrian on a city’s street at some point. Providing continuous and unobstructed clear paths ensures walkable neighborhoods for everyone. Each sidewalk’s clear path should be complemented with active street edges and accessible facilities to make the journey comfortable and engaging.
Cities are places for people, and they use streets for not only walking, but also resting, sitting, playing, and waiting. This requires making people the highest priority in street design, with careful consideration for the most vulnerable users: the young, the elderly, and those with diminished perceptual or ambulatory abilities.
The types and volumes of people using a given street will depend on the surrounding land use and density, key destinations, and time of day. Without an enclosed vehicle and moving at slower speeds, pedestrians engage all of their senses when using urban streets. How people use streets will depend on the space available to them, the facilities that offer a moment to pause, and the overall street experience.
Street designs should always prioritize safe facilities for pedestrians, and measure their success from the pedestrian perspective. A walkable city that is easy and safe to navigate offers a level of independence and equity to its citizens.
Pedestrians need continuous and unobstructed moving paths, well-lit spaces, inviting building edges, shaded places to rest and walk, and wayfinding signs for a safe and comfortable street experience.
Walking speed depends on age and ability, as well as the purpose and length of the trip. It is influenced by pavement quality and topography, and the size, altitude, and climate of the city. While walking speeds range from 0.3 m/s–1.75 m/s or 1 km/h–6 km/h, people who walk with assistance—in form of canes, walkers, or other devices—are limited to speeds of 0.3 m/s–0.5 m/s. People with motorized wheelchairs and other personal mobility devices may be faster, and people using skates or skateboards can reach speeds near that of cycles.
Ensure that urban streets allow for a variety of speeds, whether someone is walking quickly with purpose, meandering slowly, pausing for a rest, or stopping to talk, sell goods, or eat. Accommodate fast walkers with low delay, and slow walkers with protection from vehicle conflicts and places to rest during long crossings. Consider these variables when determining lane configuration, signal timing, and sidewalk width.
An alert adult who can see clearly, walk confidently in any environment, and react quickly to motor vehicles is the exception rather than the rule, and should not be used as the design case. Instead, select street attributes using a variety of “design pedestrians,” discussed in more detail below. All pedestrians benefit from shorter crossing distances, refuge areas, ample room to wait at intersections, intersection control that prioritizes their movement, and sidewalks that are laterally and vertically separate from all but the lowest-speed and lowest-volume traffic. Provide enough room on busy sidewalks for people walking in groups to pass each other. Use pedestrian countdown signals and minimize wait time while maximizing pedestrian signal phase length.
People with Disabilities
Integrate the needs of people who have impaired vision or hearing, people in wheelchairs, and those who walk with canes or gait trainers. Sidewalks must be wide enough to allow two people in wheelchairs to pass one another, with clear paths on low-volume streets being wider than 2 m and never less than 1.8 m. Clear paths should be unobstructed, level, and with a smooth surface. Design accessible ramps with shallow slopes at all crossings, preferably 8%, and provide cut-through paths in medians, pedestrian refuge islands, and corner islands.
With a world population that includes two billion children under 15 years old, all streets should be fundamentally safe for children traveling with or without adults. Children are less capable of judging speed than adults, placing the responsibility of providing safe movement options on designers and drivers. Their shorter height and slower walking speed must be accounted for in pedestrian crossing design and signal timing. Safe intersections for children have low through-traffic speeds, signals timed for a slow walking speed, very low turning speeds, and highly visible pedestrian crossings. Designs should indicate to drivers that children are present on neighborhood streets. The design of all streets must account for children by limiting the speed of vehicles and introducing efficient pedestrian infrastructure, especially signals.
Adults and Seniors
The global population is aging, but a large number of streets do not accommodate the needs of seniors. As pedestrians, older adults are a small portion of the population but account for a high percentage of road deaths. Danger increases when the pedestrian signal phase is too short, when there are broken or missing pedestrian ramps, and when markings are faded or hard to see. Design safe streets for seniors by providing refuge islands for every two to three traffic lanes, and providing curb extensions to reduce crossing distances and improve visibility at the pedestrian crossing. Prevent parking within 6 m of pedestrian crossings to increase visibility.
Adapted by Global Street Design Guide published by Island Press.
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