Walking is such a basic human activity that it has frequently been overlooked
in the quest to build sophisticated transportation systems.
Now people want to change that. They want to live in places
that are welcoming, safe, and enjoyable. They want livable
communities where they can walk, bicycle, recreate, and
Design streets for people to use them. Assume people will walk.
Creating a pedestrian environment involves more than laying down a sidewalk
or installing a signal. A truly viable pedestrian system involves both the
big picture and the smallest details—from how a city is built to what
materials are under our feet. Facilities should be accessible to all pedestrians,
especially those with disabilities and children. Accessible design is the
foundation for all pedestrian design and facilities need to be planned,
designed, operated, and maintained to be usable by all people.
Because most of the work that will be done involves retrofitting existing
places, improving the pedestrian environment will probably
be done on a street-by-street, neighborhood-by-neighborhood
Source: Federal Transit Administration, Transit Cooperative Research Program,
Transit and Urban Form, TCRP Report 16, 1996. Chart adapted from Figure
Creating a walkable community starts with the very nature of the built
environment: having destinations close to each other; siting
schools, parks, and public spaces appropriately; allowing
mixed-use developments; having sufficient densities to support
transit; creating commercial districts that people can access
by foot and wheelchair; and so on. Most walking trips are
less than 0.8 km (0.5 mi).1 While
mixed-use developments with sufficient density to support
transit and neighborhood commercial businesses can make walking
a viable option for residents, single-use, low-density residential
land-use patterns discourage walking. When residents are
segregated from sites such as parks, offices, and stores,
there will be fewer pedestrian trips because destinations
are not close enough for walking. The connection between
land-use planning and transportation planning is critical,
but all too often ignored.
Integrating land-use and transportation planning allows new developments
to implement these strategies from the onset. Communities that support balanced
transportation make walking and public transit attractive options.
In established communities, many of these goals can be met with “in-fill
development” to increase density and community viability. Changes
in zoning laws and sidewalk warrants to allow mixed-use development and
pedestrian connections, such as sidewalks, easy-to-access crosswalks, and
shared-use paths, can also increase pedestrian safety and mobility.
Whether building new infrastructure or renovating existing places,
it should always be assumed that people will walk and plans
should be made to accommodate pedestrians. People will want
to walk everywhere they can, and a comfortable, inviting,
and safe environment should be provided for them. There
are many reasons that people walk: to run errands, to visit
neighbors, to go to local stores, to take their children
to the local park, for exercise, or even for the sheer enjoyment
of being a pedestrian. Children should be able to walk to
school or to their friends’ houses.
All of these activities constitute a significant number
of trips. About four-fifths of all trips are non-work-related.1
A busy commercial street in Ann Arbor, Michigan, emphasizes pedestrian use
and provides attractive areas for people to sit, stroll and meet.
If people aren’t walking, it is probably because they are prevented
from doing so. Either the infrastructure is insufficient
or has serious gaps. Are there continuous walkways? Are
there physical barriers such as rivers, drainage ways, walls,
or freeways that prevent convenient walking access in a community?
Do bridges for automobiles also provide a safe walking area
for pedestrians? Does the lack of curb ramps or the existence
of steep grades or steps prevent access for the elderly or
people using wheelchairs? Are there information barriers
preventing people with visual disabilities from crossing
the street? Is there a major road that separates the residential
neighborhood from the commercial district? Are there
places for people to cross roads safely?
Walking rates in different neighborhoods within the same city are
directly related to the quality of the system. In other
words, in high-quality pedestrian environments, lots of people
walk. Where the system fails—missing sidewalks, major barriers, no
safe crossings—people walk less,
and those who do are at greater risk.
People also want to walk in an environment where they can feel safe, not
only safe from motor vehicle traffic, but safe from crime or other concerns
that can affect personal security. Areas need to be well lit to encourage
walking during evening hours. If the pedestrian system is not accessible,
it is often not safe. For example, lack of access may cause wheelchair users
to use the street rather than a poorly maintained sidewalk. Some populations
may be at a higher risk of pedestrian crashes. Children under age 15 are
the most overrepresented group in pedestrian crashes and people over age
65 have the most pedestrian fatalities. Therefore, it is especially important
to provide adequate facilities in the vicinity of land uses such as retirement
homes and school zones. But it is important to keep in mind that children
and people who are elderly or have disabilities are part of every community,
so adequate facilities are needed everywhere people are expected to walk.
The walking environment should be open and inviting, but not sterile and
vacant. Pedestrians need more than sidewalks and crosswalks. In addition
to protecting pedestrians from motor vehicle traffic, it is important to
have a secure, pleasant, and interesting walking environment to encourage
people to walk.
Traditionally, safety problems have been addressed by analyzing police
crash reports and improvements have been made only after they are warranted
by crash numbers. However, planners and engineers should consider problem-identification
methods such as interactive public workshops, surveying pedestrians and
drivers, and talking with police to identify safety problems in an area
before crashes occur. This may help proactively identify locations for pedestrian
safety improvements and will involve citizens in the process of improving
safety and mobility in their own communities.
Walking and transit are complementary. Good walking conditions for
pedestrians are important inducements to using public
transportation, since most public transit trips include a
pedestrian trip at one or both ends. People should be able
to walk to a bus stop or a train station from their homes
and to jobs, shopping, and other activities. Conversely,
good public transportation, with buses, subways, and paratransit
vehicles that run frequently and are reliable, is essential
to achieving a walkable city. The trip should be as seamless
as possible and transit stops should be friendly, comfortable
places. Consideration needs to be given to the location
of the stop relative to intersections, how to get transit
users safely across the street, and a variety of other issues.
For more information, refer to Chapter 14 in Design
and Safety of Pedestrian Facilities.2
When development occurs around a transit stop, more transit can be supported,
and people will have more options for how to travel there.
Special attention should be paid to how people will get from
the transit stop to their destinations. No matter how convenient
the trip is otherwise, if pedestrians don’t feel safe for even a short
distance, they will choose not to go, or to go by another
mode (usually driving—and the
more people who drive, the less pedestrian-friendly a place
Streets serve many functions, including:
- Linkage - They connect parts of cities to each other, one
town to another, and activities and places.
- Transportation - They provide the surface and structure
for a variety of modes. All modes and users should be provided for: pedestrians,
bicyclists, transit, motor vehicles, emergency services, maintenance services,
- Access - They provide public access to destinations.
- Public right-of-way - Space for utilities and other underground
infrastructure is usually a hidden function of the street.
- Sense of place - The street is a definable place, a place
for people to interact, the heart of a community. A street can serve this
role by being a venue for parties, fairs, parades, and community celebrations,
or by simply being a place where neighbors stop to chat.
This roadway may act as a barrier to pedestrians. Those who are walking along
the waterfront may find it difficult to cross to the commercial establishments,
and those on the commercial side may be reluctant to cross to the waterfront.
Streets are often designed to emphasize some functions over others. At
one extreme is a limited-access highway that serves as a corridor for motor
vehicle travel. At the other extreme is a private cul-de-sac, which has
no linkage and has limited access. Many streets are designed so that certain
desirable functions are not provided. Examples include commercial streets
where access to destinations is difficult, and strip development along high-speed
roads where no side walks or pedestrian crossings exist.
When streets and roads are evaluated for improvements, it is helpful to
consider whether the design effectively meets all the desired functions
of the roadway. If not, the street should be redesigned to adequately meet
Pedestrian injuries are less severe on lower speed roadways.
The street pictured above is a heavily traveled arterial
in one of Seattle, Washington's thriving residential
neighborhoods. High speed and concerns about pedestrian
safety resulted in the redesign shown in the "after"
picture. Bike lanes and a median strip have encouraged
slower traffic speeds. Speeds were reduced by about
4.8 km/h (3 mi/h), while average daily traffic remained
about the same.
High volumes of traffic can inhibit a person’s feeling of safety
and comfort and create a “fence effect” where the street is
almost an impenetrable barrier. The effect of traffic volumes
on community life has been measured. In his seminal 1980
study, Donald Appleyard looked at how traffic volumes on
comparable streets in San Francisco affected community life. People living
on a street with light traffic (2,000 vehicles per day) had three times
as many friends and twice as many acquaintances on the street as did people
living on a street with heavy traffic (16,000 vehicles a day).3
Traffic speed is usually the more critical aspect to walkability and safety.
Though pedestrians may feel comfortable on streets that carry a significant
amount of traffic at low speeds, faster speeds increase the likelihood of
pedestrians being hit. At higher speeds, motorists are less likely to see
a pedestrian, and even less likely to actually stop in time to avoid a crash.
At a mere 49.9 km/h (31 mi/h), a driver will need about 61.0 m (200 ft)
to stop, which may exceed available sight distance; that number is halved
at 30.6 km/h (19 mi/h).4
Unfortunately, most of our streets are designed to encourage higher traffic
speeds. Fortunately, we do have tools that can change this,
primarily by redesigning streets through traffic calming
or by designing new streets with lower design speeds. Speed
reductions can increase pedestrian safety considerably. The
safety benefits of reduced speeds extend to motorists and cyclists as well,
although the advantage to pedestrians is the most substantial.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 to ensure
people with disabilities have equal opportunities and access
to public spaces as those who do not have disabilities. People
with disabilities may have diminished mobility, limited vision,
or reduced cognitive skills. In some instances, individuals
may experience a combination of disabilities, which is more
common as a person grows older. A person may experience a disability on
a permanent or temporary basis. Without accessible pedestrian facilities,
people with disabilities will have less opportunities to engage in employment,
school, shopping, recreation, and other everyday activities. New or altered
facilities must provide access for all pedestrians. This also needs to occur
when implementing all the tools and treatments that are presented in this
Street designs that accommodate people with disabilities create a better walking environment for all pedestrians.
While improvements for persons with disabilities were mandated by the
Federal Government to ensure access and mobility for physically-challenged
pedestrians, most of these improvements benefit all pedestrians.
Some of the items that will be presented in this guide, such
as adequate time to cross streets, well-designed curb ramps,
limited driveways, and sidewalks that are wide and clear
of obstructions and have minimal cross-slope, are examples
of design features that will accommodate pedestrians with
disabilities, persons using strollers, and indeed, all pedestrians.5
All new construction or retrofit projects must include curb ramps and
other accessible features that comply with ADA requirements.
Agencies should review their street system to identify
other barriers to accessibility and prioritize the needed
improvements. This review was a requirement of the Rehabilitation
Act (1973) and ADA. States, cities, and other localities
were to develop a planning document and a transition plan
for removing barriers in their existing facilities. The barriers
should have been removed by 1995. Examples of barriers that
are often overlooked include poles and signs in the middle
of a sidewalk, steeply sloped driveways, and interruptions
such as broken or missing sidewalk sections. An adequate
level of surveillance and maintenance is also important
to providing accessibility, especially in winter months
in areas where snow accumulates. While all streets should
be upgraded to be accessible, public agencies should set
priorities for high-use areas, such as commercial districts,
schools, parks, transit facilities, etc., and retrofit as
rapidly as possible.
The design criteria for the construction and alteration of facilities
covered by law were developed by the U.S. Access Board and
are the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). These guidelines
serve as the basis for standards that are maintained by the U.S. Department
of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation and are the minimum
criteria for designing public right-of-way space. In addition, the Access
Board is currently developing Public Rights-of-Way Guidelines, which will
supplement ADAAG. A draft version of these guidelines is available at www.access-board.gov/rowdraft.htm.
For the latest ADAAG information and guidance on ADA requirements
and issues, visit www.access-board.gov.