Streets are more than just a conduit for traffic; they are multi-dimensional public spaces where people’s lives fold and unfold everyday. The importance of walkability goes beyond pleasurable evening strolls and sidewalk cafes. For a major section of the population living in high-density metropolitan regions with rapid rates of expansion, walking is the only alternative available. Many individuals are “captive walkers”, meaning they can’t afford to use another mode of transportation; as a result, the condition of the pedestrian environment is crucial in allowing walkers to meet their daily demands. In addition to assisting captive walkers, improved pedestrian infrastructure would have a substantial impact on the deteriorating air quality. Walking also contributes to long-term sustainability through its characterful impact on land use. Pedestrianization would also get “eyes on the street” which is possibly the most effective urban crime prevention measure and improves the security of vulnerable users, particularly women and children.

Street Design Principles

Streets are dynamic public spaces 

In cities, streets are the most essential yet underutilized public places. Streets play an important part in the public life of towns and communities, and they should be built as public spaces as well as transportation corridors. Within the confines of a street’s building envelope, creativity can be expressed to adapt it according to the needs of the community. Moving curbs, altering alignments, daylighting corners, and rerouting traffic are all examples of this. Parklets, bike share, and traffic calming are all examples of how street space can be repurposed.

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Streets as dynamic public spaces_©New York City Department of Transportation/Flickr
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Streets are economic assets_©Andrew Price

Streets are ecosystems that should be designed for safety 

Streets should be planned as ecosystems where man-made and natural processes interact. Ecology has the ability to operate as a catalyst for long-term, sustainable design, from pervious pavements and bioswales that control rainwater run-off to street trees that offer shade and are vital to city health. In order to avoid traffic accidents, roadways should be planned such that persons walking, parking, shopping, biking, working, and driving may safely cross paths.

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Streets are ecosystems_©NACTO

Street Design Elements 

Sidewalk

Sidewalks are a crucial part of the urban environment since they are where people interact most directly with one another and with businesses. The frontage zone refers to the stretch of the sidewalk that serves as an extension of the building, including both the structure and the façade of the building that faces the street, as well as the space immediately adjacent to it. The pedestrian zone is the primary, accessible footpath that runs parallel to the street and provides walkers with safe and sufficient walking space. The street furniture zone is the part of the sidewalk between the curb and the pedestrian zone that has street furniture and amenities including lights, benches, tree pits, and bicycle parking. Finally, the enhancement/buffer zone is the area directly adjacent to the sidewalk, which may include curb extensions, parklets, stormwater management features, parking, bike racks, and cycle tracks, among other things.

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Sidewalk zones_©NACTO

Curb Extensions

Curb extensions visually and physically constrain the roadway, making pedestrian crossings safer and shorter while also allowing for more street furniture and trees. By aligning pedestrians with the parking lane and shortening their crossing distance, they improve their overall visibility. Gateway curb extensions are used to tighten junction curb radii and promote slower turning speeds. Mid-block curb extensions known as “pinch points” are used to restrict traffic and enhance public space. Offset curb extensions produce a chicane effect, considerably slowing traffic and increasing the amount of public space accessible on a corridor. They can be activated with benches, bicycle parking, and other amenities.

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Gateway curb extensions_©NACTO
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Pinchpoint curb extension_©NACTO
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Chicanes_©NACTO

Vertical Speed control elements 

Vertical speed control elements regulate traffic speeds while reinforcing pedestrian-friendly and safe speeds. They can be used in conjunction with curb extensions or on their own on roadways with limited right-of-way. When traditional traffic calming elements, such as medians, narrower highways or lanes, curb extensions, or reduced speed limits, are insufficient to meet the roadway’s goal speed, vertical speed control measures should be used. Speed humps are vertical traffic calming devices with a parabolic shape that are used to slow cars on low-volume, low-speed roadways. Speed tables are long and flat-topped traffic calming devices that elevate a vehicle’s whole wheelbase to lower traffic speed in the middle of a block. When used in tandem with curb extensions, speed tables can be constructed as raised midblock crossings. Speed cushions are speed humps or speed tables with wheel cutouts that allow heavy trucks to pass through while slowing down passenger cars. They are often utilized on major emergency response roads and can be offset to facilitate unhindered passage of emergency vehicles.

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Speed humps_©NACTO
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Table-top crossing_©NACTO
Speed cushions_©NACTO

In the past 50 years, since the introduction of cars, the development of infrastructure has been to support their movement through the city. This has resulted in the public streets being designed to serve private motor vehicle traffic, in some cases exclusively. Pedestrian accessibility and safety have been put on the backburner, cars taking precedence. Especially in India, pedestrians have barely any place to walk, and crossing the road is a health hazard. A street should be designed to actively support walking which would not only facilitate better transportation but also contribute to social, and economic benefits in the long run. 

References:

  1. NACTO, n.d. Urban Street Design Guide. New York: Island Press.
  2. Princeton, 2014. Complete Streets Design Guidelines. New Jersey : s.n.
  3. Ewing , R. et al., 2006. Identifying and Measuring Urban Design. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 3(1), pp. S223-S240.
  4. Gehl, J., 2011. Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space. s.l.:Island Press.
Author

Rishima is a fifth year architecture student currently interning in Pune. She is an avid reader and occasionally blurts out coherent thoughts. She believes creating an equitable space for all and providing a uniform experience regardless of gender, sexual preferences, age, abilities, class and caste is the responsibility of each architect.

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