Redesign arterial streets for pedestrians
Note: America Walks, a nationwide nonprofit, and Sam Schwartz Engineering recently published Steps to a Walkable Community: A Guide for Citizens, Planners, and Engineers. The 180-page book, which can be downloaded at americawalks.org/walksteps, offers case studies and useful strategies on how to make thoroughfares and places more walkable. The book can help laypeople understand complex issues, but also provides plenty of technical information for professionals. The following article is excerpted from the report with the permission of the authors.
Arterial streets, typically multilane thoroughfares designed to speed cars from one destination to another, are often hazardous to people on foot. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that 60 percent of pedestrian deaths in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut took place on arterial roadways. Redesigning arterial streets for pedestrians involves adapting roadway geometry (including reducing or narrowing travel lanes), traffic signal plans, and adjacent land uses of multilane thoroughfares to better accommodate non-automobile uses and create a safer, pedestrian-friendly environment.
• Improves safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers
• Creates a unique local identity to compete with malls and big-box retail
• Increases economic activity through quality public environment
• Encourages active lifestyles through better walking and cycling infrastructure
• Increases property values
• Arterial roads are often managed by multiple jurisdictions along their length, which complicates funding as well as design and decision processes.
• Changing driving behavior to reduce speeding and increase yielding to pedestrians on car-oriented thoroughfares is a challenge.
• Accommodating safety redesigns with vehicle volumes
• Arterial roads with transit stops and limited walking infrastructure
• Arterial roads lined with retail
• Interest communities and cities in redesign possibilities with a public visioning meeting, design charrette, or design competition.
• Work with business improvement districts; since pedestrian-friendly environments see higher retail profits, use funds for street restructuring.
• Create mid-block neckdowns and crosswalks.
• Create safe crossings with signals or medians.
• Narrow roadways wherever traffic volumes and safety allow.
• Build pedestrian crossing islands.
• Widen medians into transit stops and/or landscape the median.
• Widen sidewalks where needed or desired.
• Plant street trees to act as a buffer between pedestrians and traffic.
• Construct a buffered bicycle path or shared-use greenway.
• Consolidate and minimize the number of driveways to reduce turning conflicts.
• Program temporary uses in parking lots at off-peak hours.
• Create pocket parks in open or vacant space between retail buildings.
• Connect pocket parks on one side of the street to the other through crosswalks, mid-block chokes, and medians.
• Rezone adjacent land uses for denser development.
Case study: Toronto
Kingston Road, a six-lane highway in Toronto, Ontario, was the subject of several “revisioning” sessions. The first of these visions emerged from a two-week design charrette sponsored by Canadian Architect magazine and the City of Toronto in 2006, which recommended an incremental design strategy. The vision included pocket parks connecting crosswalks and medians, and temporary uses set in urban parking lots to create a denser public space and bridge a six-lane roadway.
The city then sponsored its own study with recommendations to rezone adjacent land uses for denser development and redesign the roadway to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians to be adopted in Toronto’s official five-year plan.
The approach is endorsed within Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, a guidebook published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Congress for the New Urbanism.