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Sidewalks are a fundamental form of urban infrastructure that facilitate walking, socializing, interacting, and doing business. They must be provided on all urban streets and be accessible to all users.
Sidewalk design should go beyond the minimum in both width and amenities. Pedestrians and businesses thrive where sidewalks are designed at an appropriate scale, with sufficient lighting, shade, and street-level activity.
These considerations are extremely important for streets with high traffic volumes, where pedestrians may avoid the area because they feel unsafe.
Sidewalks should be delineated by a vertical or horizontal separation from moving traffic to provide adequate buffer space and a sense of safety for pedestrians. Do not use shoulders or stopping lanes as a substitute for sidewalks.
Provide sufficient width, 1.8–2 m, so two people using wheelchairs can comfortably pass each other.
Clear paths must be free of fixed objects and major gaps or deformities that would make them inaccessible.
At driveways, clear paths should be continuous and step-free through the conflict zone.
If existing trees obstruct the clear paths for pedestrian movement, extend the sidewalk beyond the tree line to create additional space.
Do not place transit shelters directly within the path of travel. When the space is not sufficient, install a transit bulb or a boarding island.
Building Edges and Facades
Facades and storefronts should be designed to respond to the pedestrian’s eye level, with a focus on how each building meets the sidewalk. The lower 5 m of a building is the portion directly visible and most intensely experienced by the pedestrian.1
Provide or encourage lighting, signage, awnings, and other elements that are scaled to the pedestrian realm and add to the texture of the street.
Provide frequent building entrances to foster active spaces.
Provide an open or glazed frontage that engages pedestrians, encourages pausing, provides passive surveillance, and links public and private space.
Sidewalk cafés foster street life and have the potential to increase business along a corridor. Where provided, these must maintain accessible clear paths.
Urban arterials or high-volume downtown streets directly abutting the pedestrian realm should be buffered in some manner. Planting, street furniture, and, occasionally, vehicle parking or loading bays can provide a valuable buffer between the pedestrian and vehicle realm.
Human field of vision is geared toward looking ahead and downward. When walking, the head is generally inclined 10 degrees down and sees 50 degrees above and 70 degrees below eye level. This places great importance on the design of the ground floor of buildings adjacent to the sidewalk.
Realign utilities such as lighting poles, service boxes, telephone booths, gas valves, water fountains, and manholes so that a clear walking path is free of obstructions. Where this is not possible, widen sidewalks to provide additional pedestrian space.
Coordinate with relevant agencies and utility companies to ensure street designs accommodate space for new utilities without impeding accessibility. Utilities with surface components should align with the finished road and sidewalk elevations to avoid tripping hazards or risk of injury.
Trees and Landscaping
Include trees and planting to provide shade and a sense of enclosure to the street. Plant native species to enhance biodiversity. Preference tree species whose roots have a limited impact on the integrity of the sidewalk.
When streets are redesigned, existing trees should be retained where possible. If existing trees must be removed, the same number of trees should be planted within the street.
Any construction project that obstructs the sidewalk should be mitigated by providing a temporary sidewalk with a safe and convenient passage or a clearly marked detour. Provide adequate lighting beneath scaffolding and other construction sites.
Accessible sidewalks should be provided on both sides of all streets in urban areas.2
Adapted by Global Street Design Guide published by Island Press.