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Thread: "Sidewalks" or pedestrian lanes in the street pavement

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    "Sidewalks" or pedestrian lanes in the street pavement

    I am working in a Texas city that, as is typical, has not required sidewalks in new development for decades. While we now require sidewalks in some new development and are looking to expand where they are required, we still have large areas, including virtually all of the neighborhoods built since the 1950s without sidewalks. On top of that, we have had extraordinarily wide street standards (something we are also looking to remedy).

    My question is about the feasibility of creating a "pedestrian lane", similar to a bike lane, within the street pavement, rather than off street like a typical sidewalk. My thinking is that the cost of retrofitting sidewalks in these neighborhoods will be prohibitively expensive combined with the fact of extra wide roads with very little or no on-street parking, perhaps a cheaper but still effective way to provide safer pedestrian connections is a striped "lane" for pedestrians. Either a lane on each side (again, like a bike lane) or perhaps something more like a two-way protected lane on only one side of the street.

    Looking for thoughts, criticism, reasons why it would or wouldn't work and if anyone is familiar with this having been tried elsewhere. My searching has not found any examples.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I've lived in some southwest cities that have the same situation - no sidewalks, but wide residential roads. Makes walkability almost impossible, even in nice neighborhoods where you'd expect people would want to stroll. I can't give you any legal reasons for why you should or should not do something about sidewalks in your local code, but I can help in the urban design department: the sidewalk separates and designates a pedestrian pathway (obviously). The additional elevation from the street keeps pedestrians from having to share the ROW with vehicles and road debris / storm water etc, and adds visibility to pedestrians by increasing their height. In general, it conveys safety and a perceived space for the casual walker. Add a wide landscape buffer planted with street trees and shrubs between the sidewalk and the ROW and you've got the recipe for the beginnings of a great streetscape (akin to Class 1 bike trail). If you try to put painted lines down on the street (akin to a Class 3 trail), it will most likely be confused for bike lines, people will not feel safe, and they still won't walk in the street. The biggest barrier to walkability is perceived safety. If the situation is perceived as un-safe, especially if local drivers aren't used to mixing pedestrians and vehicles in the ROW, then people just won't use it. Now some people (typically younger and more athletic) will run in the street no matter what, but the majority will not.


    But adding sidewalks and a landscape buffer give you additional opportunities that contribute to walkability. Street trees convey additional safety for the pedestrian, solar coverage during the daytime, cooling for strollers, and, once the street trees mature, a canopy that can seriously increase local property values via desirability. In addition, think about incorporating stormwater bmp's into the landscape buffer thereby reducing the overall cost for curb/gutter/drain infrastructure. Anyways, there's more to it than just sidewalks or not - sidewalks are the very basic fundamentals for starting to create great neighborhoods.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I guess that's the long way of saying, if you can't do sidewalks due to cost, code, etc., I wouldn't bother.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I've seen walking lanes in small tourist towns in Alaska. That was the first time I ever saw one, thought it was a great idea and more cost effective than retroactively putting in sidewalks. Apparently 'cell phone walking lanes' are popular in China as well.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Never heard of it but I think it's a creative idea. I agree that many walkers won't be willing to use them but I suspect some will. Ideally there would be some vertical indicators (floppy bollards at least.)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    Never heard of it but I think it's a creative idea. I agree that many walkers won't be willing to use them but I suspect some will. Ideally there would be some vertical indicators (floppy bollards at least.)
    I think it helps a lot if it's a Main Street/business district, or somewhere where there already a latent demand for pedestrian infrastructure. Flexposts might help, but they also can get confused as bike lanes so I'm not sure if that's always a good idea. Depends on the setting I guess.

  7. #7
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    On the one hand I want to applaud and encourage the effort to think of ways to at least introduce the concept of walkability. But I have to be honest here - the addition of designated walking areas (assume there will be some sort of barrier delineating vehicle from pedestrian areas?) may be of rather marginal value if those sidewalks have nowhere to go to. A pedestrian lane winding through acres and acres of single family res neighborhoods not connecting to stores/services/destinations will serve as little more than underused infrastructure to permit neighbors to take their dogs for walks and facilitate pooping in each others' yards. On the other hand, if these lanes DO lead to some sort of destinations you may be on to something.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  8. #8
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I like mercdude's comments above--those are pretty spot-on in how pedestrians perceive safety.

    When you say "really wide streets," what do you mean? What is the curbface-to-curbface distance? Are these raised curbs with underground stormwater, or are they ribbon curbs or soft shoulders with swales?

    Tell us a little about the streets. What kind of condition is the pavement in? Are there other planned improvements, such as road reconstruction, replacement of underground infrastructure, etc. in the works?

    My suggestion is not to simply add sidewalks... I think you want to consider road diets as a tool since it sounds like you have issues with roadway width as well. This gets you potentially to a circumstance where you are not acquiring additional right-of-way (saving you brain damage & $$$) and hopefully slowing traffic to ped-friendly speeds in addition to providing the separate pedestrian facility. You can extend drainage inlets, which is cheaper than ripping them out as part of an overcooked streetscape. It also shortens crossing distances at intersections, which has a huge impact on perceived and actual pedestrian safety. It is less disturbing to residents. This is also where the paint can come into play... you can go in with paint to demonstrate what the new section might look like. Get people used to the idea in a context that they can understand. This is especially helpful if your fire marshal is an asshole. Use paint to identify the challenges along the way. Paint is cheap, and it can lead you to a better ultimate design.

    It took 75 years for your city to get this way. You cannot economically fix that overnight. My suggestion is to develop a plan for street & utility reconstruction on an area-by-area basis as a Capital Improvement Plan based on current conditions of the infrastructure. Make it digestible bites so you can score victories & build momentum. If you need to do road reconstruction, the cost of the sidewalks as an increment of that reconstruction is pretty minor. You can also triage to some extent--identify the streets most in need of pedestrian facilities based on factors (ped traffic, destinations, ped safety issues, etc.) and start with those. Look carefully at those destinations as well... there's good grants out there for transportation alternatives through your MPO, TxDOT, etc. especially when a school is present. Also look toward CDBG funding... it might not fund sidewalks depending on how your state/local CDBG action plan is written, but you can use CDBG funds to offset other infrastructure costs that could allow reallocation to sidewalks.

    A sidewalk is also not a universal answer. We have streets in residential areas of our downtown that do not have sidewalks, and I do not anticipate adding them. Traffic is very light on these streets, and the traffic that is present is almost always 20 mph or less. The streets are narrow... and almost woonerf-like in how the adjacent homes treat the street.

    Just striping off a walk lane isn't going to get you what you want, IMHO. I think you'll end up with bicycles, but not pedestrians. Pedestrians really need that bit of separation offered by sidewalks, and painted lanes is likely to create bicycle-pedestrian conflicts.

    I totally want to give you a fist bump for trying to find a lean creative solution.


    I'm in Texas and happy to assist in greater detail. Feel free to send a private message to me with your specific city and I'll take a closer look.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Wow - you said woonerf! AND you live in the great lone star state??? I want to fist bump you, sir!

    BTW, suburb is completely spot-on. And to add to that post, I think you're going to give your traffic engineer a heart attack and, more importantly, the City a dozen lawsuits if you try to put unprotected pedestrians in the same ROW as autos without doing more than just painting some stripes on the road. There may be a reason why the only person to witness a similar concept was in Alaska.

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