Category Archives: Pedestrian-Oriented Environment

ON COMPLETE STREETS

The road is frequented by a variety of users – drivers, public transit vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. However, as each of these users, there are many obstacles, which typically involve the other users getting in the way. This is most common for drivers – since the typical North American road design is oriented towards easy mobility for cars, drivers have adjusted to a culture of innate entitlement for the road. This makes it more difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to get around, less likely for people to use transit, and increases the likelihood for a collision.

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It is no longer uncommon to hear about cyclist deaths in the City – and it’s not always one person’s fault. It’s the way our streets are designed. There are definitely careless drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, that cause accidents. However, if the road was designed to cater for everyone equally, in a way that prevented anyone from feeling like they ‘own the road’, then everyone would naturally look out for each other.

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A ‘ghost bike’ commemorates the death of a fallen cyclist in a roadside accident.

There is a fairly modern transportation policy and design approach called ‘Complete Streets‘ that advocates the ‘share the road‘ mentality. The goal for the Complete Streets approach is to achieve and maintain safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. In many cases where the Complete Streets approach has already been implemented, the designs have proven to improve safety, health, economic and environmental outcomes.

measuring-the-street Since automobile dependence has been engrained into American city designs from the start, many regions are interested in adopting Complete Streets policies into their own Official Plans, in order to move forward in a more sustainable and safe manner through design. This is part of the reason why roundabout, public transit and bike lane funding have become such hot topics, for example.

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This rendering illustrates a person’s idea of what Yonge street could look like if it was redesigned under Complete Streets standards. Notice a few things – wider sidewalks, bike lanes, interlock pavement for drivers (the more detail in the paving, the more likely people are to slow down, reducing the likelihood of a collision), and seating.

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Complete Streets means everyone shares the road. Complete Streets means everyone gets equal respect. Complete Streets means everyone gets to where they are going safely.

THE UNDERPASS DILEMMA

“It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished” – William H. Whyte.

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It is not difficult to design a space that people will love, but it is difficult when the odds are against the designer. I’m talking about pedestrian underpasses – the most ironic design principle dead end.

The intended purpose of a pedestrian underpass aims at introducing a chance for pedestrians to continue their journey and create opportunity for mobility through environments containing blocked areas (highways, buildings, etc), but unfortunately these areas are often left neglected or are poorly designed, plaguing them with negative associations… unsafe, dark, dirty, uncertain, avoid – all percieved descriptors that most people would associate with pedestrian underpasses.

Underpasses strive to connect pedestrians from one side of a pedestrian obstacle to the other, however there are numerous factors that prevent these types of essential connections to fulfill their total potential, such as:

Rundown appearance
Lacking adequate lighting and surveillance
Lacking in pedestrian wayfinding
Decreased on-street vibrancy
Usefulness is not defined

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Most underpasses have potential and can be redeveloped into successful pedestrian underpasses by achieving the following:

 

PUTTING IT ON THE MAP

“You can’t rely on bringing people downtown, you have to put them there.” – Jane Jacobs

121294-manhattan-mapIdentity/Landmark: Make the underpass a landmark to help users understand a recognizable point of reference in a larger space to aid with orientation. A character and sense of place will be created. To emphazise the location and its usefulness, the underpass should be highlighted in some way on a network map.

 

3245080767_e4717e2d4a_zNavigation: The underpass should clearly navigate users through it as opposed to around it etc. as it is a thoroughfare, not a long-term destination.

 

 

capital_cast_iron_bollard_with_cycle_plinthSigns: By incorporating a sign of the overall pedestrian system near the underpass, the navigator will be able to place the entire space within his or her view and consequently be able to deduce where they are, what is in their immediate vicinity, what destinations are available, how to get there, and how long it will take them (ped shed). The underpass as a decision point will help foster it as a landmark and as a safe and reliable passageway.

 

Full_02-anacostia-underpassSightlines: A first time user may have uncertain expectations as to the underpasses extent and purpose – to avoid this uncertainty, the sightline through the underpass should be clear in order to give the user enough information about what is ahead and to encourage them to move or continue further.

 

full_melbourne-pedestrian-underpass[1]Connectivity: An underpass will only be used if it is connected to a network, therefore it should be connected to some sort of pedestrian system. It is also important for users to be aware of that through marketing, signage, and clarity on-site.

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MAKING IT SAFE

“What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.” – William H. Whyte

CPTEDCrime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED): CPTED is a great framework for making an underpass approachable and safe, especially because CPTED believes that crime and loss are by-products of human functions that are not working properly. The three overlapping CPTED design strategies are:

file_7312Natural Surveillance: an underpass should be designed in such a way as to facilitate observation by increasing visual permeability and sightlines in order to see what is ahead and around the site. Visual permeability will increase the potential for ‘eyes on the street’. Since sightlines cannot be achieved from all perspectives through an underpass, wayfinding techniques can be used to reassure the user. Encouraging visitors to progressively and passively use the site is also an effective form of natural surveillance.

moodwall2Natural Access Control: an underpass should be designed in such a way as to direct normal access to observable areas and prevent access to unobservable areas. The path should have a clear sense of direction, and wayfinding techniques can create a sense of anticipation for what is coming next to keep movement flowing.

 

untitledTerritorial Reinforcement: an underpass should be designed in such a way as to enhance the feeling of legitimate ownership by implementing symbolic or psychological barriers such as bollards and signs, and to minimize the creation of ambiguous spaces, such as gaps and corners.

Mechanical Forms of Surveillance & Access Control: Such as uniform white lighting should also be applied.

GIVING IT AN IDENTITY

“We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation.” – JFK

4-52846-450015_30cardiniaweb1Image: An underpass should be designed in such a way as to enhance and maintain its physical appearance to encourage users of the area to respect their surroundings. The more dilapidated an area, the more vulnerable it is to further abuse.

 

shared_tunnelApproach: The entrance and exit of the space should be clearly defined and anticipated using branded signs that tie in with the rest of the trail or the City’s branding, to make it official and trustworthy.


Maintenance
: The underpass should be maintained in the following ways – infrastructure maintenance, standard cleaning, and responsive cleaning (graffiti).

Addressing Graffiti: Graffiti can be prevented through design in two ways:

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Dimensions & Distractions: for underpasses, a line of street furniture or greenery is not recommended. Instead, 2D or 3D (relief or installation) designs on any of the four facades (walls, ground and cieling) are recommended.

 

 

Lighting: often times underpasses are short with an opening in the middle, which is great for lighting. However, with no additional luminaire fixtures the longer underpasses and the night scene for any sized underpass can become quite dreary. Additionally, weak or unpleasant colored lighting (yellow) can be unattractive as well. A well-lit (white) and brightly-colored (white) underpass can put it in a perceived ‘spotlight’ and discourage tagging and even crime due to a fear of being seen and caught. This technique obviously plays a huge role with personal safety as well.

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At the end of the day, underpasses may be an awkward problem to solve, but what’s life without a challenge, right? An enjoyable, useful and safe pedestrian underpass is possible.

TO ERR IS HUMAN

“To err is human – in order to forgive we must design,” said Geni Bahar, President of Navigats Inc. Traffic Safety Consultants.

This morning I was listening to the radio and I heard a familiar sentence: “Every time I approach a cyclist I swear I am going to hit them. Cyclists think they own the road!!” I wonder what he would have thought if he saw this picture:

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about sustainability, sustainable and healthy methods of travel, multimodal travel and connectivity, cyclists, bike lanes, and rapid transit. But the talk always seems to be so negative and confrontational; We can’t afford this! We don’t want that! Get out of my way!…

The recurring theme is selfishness and disrespect. When it comes to transportation, most people are biased because their opinions originate from an unbalanced point of view – typically their own.

To solve a problem, there must first and foremost be awareness. I think that the negativity, the conflict, the selfishness, the disrespect, and consequently the case-by-case collisions and unfortunate deaths are hopefully not in vain. Rather, the world, and especially North America, is beginning to undergo a culture shift – a new status quo for how people get around and they are posing the following question: who owns the road? The answer is: no one. No one traveller “owns the road.” Because everyone must share the road. And the reason there is so much negativity right now is because change is uncomfortable, especially when we are trying to change the way everyone goes about their days in order to adopt new frameworks. Our cities are already the way that they are, and habits have historically followed infrastructure. Now, our mentality and point of view have been normalized into understanding that everyone needs a car to get around – that is simply the way it is around here. But car-oriented-development is not sustainable (by sustainable I mean every kind), and we must change our ways. This change is putting more pedestrians and cyclists on roads that are not yet designed for sharing, and that are filled with uneducated users. Drivers are beginning to get frustrated and are developing negative and incorrect views against cyclists. Not many people know this, but cyclists must legally take the lane. So the next time you’re driving down Bloor St. W in downtown Toronto (why are you driving there anyway?) and a cyclist is driving in the lane in front of you, don’t tell them to get out of the way, because believe it or not you are obliged to drive behind them until you each go your own ways. And to the cyclist – respect will only come to you if you are a respectful and educated cyclist. You’ve got to pull your weight too.

Now drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians – you are probably going to argue with me and tell me that you can’t follow the rules because no one else is going to, and if you’re the only one playing the safety game then you’re going to get hurt. I agree – until the culture shift has fully developed, every road user must take precautions by leaving room for forgiveness. By this I mean, don’t just take the lane without making sure the vehicles around you are going to let you. Of course they should let you, but drivers are still stubborn and sometimes even overly-aggressive, and you probably want to at least check and signal before making them feel like you’re trying to get in their way. And drivers – cyclists need to leave room for you too, especially since it’s a lot more difficult for you to check blindspots etc. But if they don’t, you need to check for them – the last thing you want is to be the reason another cyclist was hit, wether it was your fault or theirs. Pedestrians – I know you’re angry because no one has time to wait for you to cross the street, and so you cross the street without looking to prove a point. But what kind of point does that prove when you’re dead? Even when it can’t be more obvious that it’s your right-of-way, do me a favor and check anyway.

Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians – follow the rules, but also learn to leave room for forgiveness.

We are currently undergoing a drastic culture shift. Changing the status quo. Taking everyone out of their comfort zone. Altering infrastructure. Updating goals and objectives in all of our plans. It’s going to be hard to become aware, to understand, and to accept any of this, and we are all going to have our differing opinions on the subject. But one day, we will learn to accept a new and more sustainable lifestyle. We will need to adopt education into our curriculum to inform future generations. Until then, don’t forget to share the road.

For more information about sharing the road, please check out this inspiring initiative founded by an inspiring woman: www.sharetheroad.ca

For more information about respect for cyclists, check out this service: http://www.respect.to/wp/

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