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Large or complex intersections often have confusing traffic patterns, especially for pedestrians, which results in chaotic and uninviting walking.
Irregular crosswalks create long pedestrian crossing distances, which increase exposure time for vulnerable users and encourage informal crossings along desire lines.
Complex geometry creates large tracts of underutilized pavement, further degrading conditions of safety and comfort.
Intersection in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Rethinking the dimensions of the street to better balance the needs of all users reveals excess spaces. These spaces can be re-attributed to pedestrian use, contributing to a neighborhood’s open space needs.
Use public plazas to reconfigure and revitalize intersections that might otherwise be unsafe or underutilized. Plaza reconfigurations make intersections safer by slowing traffic speeds, simplifying complex traffic patterns, and helping to mitigate potentially dangerous conflicts. See: Complex Intersection: Adding Public Plazas.
Plazas transform and activate underutilized street segments and provide relief where pedestrian demand is unmet and foot traffic overflows into the roadway. They make the roadway and intersections more compact, and easier for pedestrians to cross.
Prohibit parking within the public plaza. Initial enforcement may be required to prevent unauthorized parking.
Define the edges of the plaza with official markings that prohibit vehicles from entering the space. This can be done by painting or by adding bollards or planters.
Give proper attention to navigation by individuals with low vision or mobility impairments; provide accessible ramps and surfaces, and tactile warning strips with high color contrast between modal zones. See: Universal Accessibility.
Take local climate and durability into consideration in the selection of materials and the maintenance plan of the plaza.1
Provide adequate lighting to ensure safety at all hours.
Provide a mix of permanent and temporary seating to permit flexible use of the space and limit costs. Maintenance partners should determine whether furniture should be secured at night.2
Corners and other areas of a plaza that are subject to encroachment or turning vehicles should be reinforced using heavy objects such as planters and bollards that alert drivers to the new curb line.
Install cycle parking or cycle-share stations where space permits.
Accommodate early morning or late night freight loading and unloading in temporary and permanent designs.
Integrate drainage channels and permeable surfaces into the design of the plaza. Sites should have minimal cross slope and use edge treatments that mitigate the overall slope.
Informational signage and community outreach are recommended prior to implementation to ensure that local stakeholders are aware and engaged in the project.
Art installations, performances, vendors, and markets improve the quality of and create an identity for public plazas while engaging local artists, communities, and business owners in the process.
Plazas may be introduced as an interim intervention, with low-cost materials such as paint, epoxied gravel, movable planters, and flexible seating. This intermediate application allows the community to build support for a public space in the near term, and test design solutions before major capital construction.
Temporary plazas are appropriate when:
• Safety or operational issues with existing traffic call for a temporary reconfiguration of an intersection.
• Funds have been allocated for the permanent installation of a plaza, but capital implementation remains several years away.
A city agency should identify opportunities to reclaim portions of the roadway and incorporate them into the public realm as a part of regular planning, design, and construction work. They can then maintain the plaza under the city budget or partner with local community organizations to manage ongoing maintenance.
Cities should begin a formal public plaza program where local partners such as community groups, nonprofit organizations, associations, or business improvement districts propose a new plaza site through an application process.
Formal partnerships ensure that community partners assume responsibility for the space by committing to operate, maintain, manage, and program the plaza so it remains vibrant, safe, and active. Cities may prioritize neighborhoods where there is a lack of open space and fund the design and construction of the plaza through a community engagement process.
Avenida 20 de Noviembre, in the heart of Mexico City, was transformed with interim materials in 2014 by replacing two underused motor vehicle lanes with 730 m of public space. This plaza increased the public space through widening of the sidewalk.
Chernigovsky Lane is a narrow street located in the historic district of Moscow, surrounded by churches and historic buildings. Neighborhood residents worked with the local government to convert the street into a pedestrian plaza. The plaza has since become a popular destination for residents and tourists looking to relax after a busy day in downtown Moscow.
Configuration 1: Reclaimed Plazas
Reclaimed plazas are created by taking over residual street space, empty parking lots, areas under elevated structures, and other spaces that are not appropriately programmed for their context. They are designed for areas with high pedestrian volumes and a lack of public space. They connect public spaces to adjacent land uses and reduce conflicts.
Configuration 2: Through-Block Plazas
Through-block public plazas are developed either by closing off streets for one or more blocks or by allocating public space through super-blocks. These are located in areas of heavy pedestrian volumes such as urban centers, around waterfronts, key attractions, and shopping areas. A constant clear path must allow for universal accessibility and emergency vehicle access. These paths may be lined with trees, planters, lighting, benches, and other furniture.
Configuration 3: Intersection Plazas
These plazas provide additional pedestrian space by redesigning intersections to be more compact. Using residual space between intersecting streets, on street corners and traffic islands, these spaces provide a safer and more active pedestrian environment. They are characterized by smaller sizes and angular shapes. These plazas may contain bollards for protection from vehicles, street signage, and cycle-share facilities. This configuration reduces pedestrian crossing distances and slows traffic.
Configuration 4: Sidewalk-Extension Plazas
These plazas create a larger pedestrian realm through widening the sidewalks along the length of a block. It is important to maintain linear clear paths in such cases to allow for unobstructed pedestrian movement. Landscaping and other fixed or movable elements can be used to demarcate public space and walking paths.
1 New York City Department of Transportation, Street Design Manual (New York, NY: NYC DOT, 2009).
2 The Madison Square public plaza in New York City is maintained by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and the Madison Square Conservancy. Staff removes tables and chairs each night to prevent theft and clean the space.
Sabina Mollot, “Flatiron street to become pedestrian plaza,” Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership, accessed February 3, 2016, http://www.flatironbid.org/documents/flatiron_triangles.pdf.
NYC Department of Transportation’s Plaza Program is a key part of City’s effort to ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of quality, open space. New York City Department of Transportation, “Plaza Program,” accessed June 6, 2016 http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/pedestrians/nyc-plaza-program.shtml
Adapted by Global Street Design Guide published by Island Press.
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