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Efficient and Unimpeded Movement of People: The Lifeblood of a Livable City

December 15, 2008

The heart of a livable city is the efficient and free movement of people. In the past, this meant increased automobile infrastructure: more roads, wider highways, and more parking. However, pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure is becoming more accepted as a feasible means of moving people throughout a city. When people are allowed to move freely on foot or on a bike, they are not only healthier, but they are happier. Traveling on foot or bike brings people closer to one another and with the environment through which they are traveling. A city will get the most return on its investment by providing ways for people to move about the city easily, efficiently, and freely on foot or bike. There are several things a city can do to improve its pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure, and those improvements are discussed here.

The first thing the city should do is provide wider sidewalks so that people are not cramped while walking down the streets. Wider sidewalks give a greater buffer zone between the pedestrian and the automobiles. By providing wider sidewalks, more people are willing to get out and walk, because they feel safer. Cities should widen the sidewalks as much as is feasible. The wider the sidewalk, the more space is available for uses in addition to walking, such as planters, benches, and sidewalk cafes.

The second thing the city should do is make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the streets. One method to achieve this is to provide sidewalk bulb-outs at the street intersections. Bulb-outs bring the opposing corners of an intersection closer to one another; thereby, shortening the distance the pedestrian must walk to cross the street. An additional benefit of bulb-outs is that they will cause the cars to slow down. Drivers have the tendency to drive faster is the space available to them is larger, and, conversely, slower when the lane width is smaller.

Another way to achieve easier and safer street crossing is to provide crosswalks at strategically placed positions along the road between intersections. This is especially important on long blocks where the pedestrian would be required to walk a long distance to cross the street at an intersection. If a person is expected to walk a long distance to reach an intersection, he will be more likely to cross between intersections. The city should also provide leading or dedicated pedestrian walk signals at the intersections and crosswalks to allow pedestrians to cross before the automobile traffic is allowed to proceed.

The final thing cities should do is provide clearly marked bicycle lanes along the streets. Ideally, the bicycle lane should be physically separated from the travel lanes by either barricades or a row of parked cars. If the bicycle lane is not physically separated, automobile drivers tend to disregard the lane and drive or park on them. To provide safer crossing of busy intersections, some cities, such as Portland, Oregon, provide dedicated bicycle signals at intersections to allow the bicycles to cross independent of the automobiles. This is a great example of an innovative bicycle signal from Portland, Oregon.

By implementing these items, a city can slowly become friendlier to bicyclists and pedestrians. Implementing them slowly over the course of several years will lessen the economic impact and improve the chances of gaining community support. Not only do the pedestrians and bicyclists have a safer, more enjoyable ride or walk, those who chose to remain behind the wheel will enjoy less traffic and cleaner air – a win for everyone.

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