Many elected officials and business leaders are stepping up to fund streetscape and transportation improvement projects for their communities. That’s really great news. However, pedestrian improvements in many instances get removed from a project via value engineering or other budget consideration. Most of the focus still tends to revolve around moving automobiles and not people. It is universally accepted that pedestrian traffic drives neighborhood retail and local economic development. If you’re interested in a vibrant neighborhood pedestrian friendly streetscape, here are a couple of areas that are key to the pedestrian environment.
Corners are critical in the pedestrian environment. They get the most pedestrian traffic on any street and they set the tone for the entire street. Pedestrians use the corner to gauge whether they’re interested in exploring the street further. Good corner elements include decorative street signs, decorative light poles; street banners and streetscape planters.
The corners are critical, but visual block appeal makes a positive statement about the block. Pedestrians are looking for visual clues to valid their decision to explore the street further. Streetscape planters with dramatic color, store front entries that stand out and interesting window displays contribute to those visual clues. Blank building walls and other dead wall spaces can be transformed with art murals, live green walls and community information or bulletin boards. Decorative street and sidewalk bollards can enhance the street’s identity or character.
Pedestrian activity is paramount for a vibrant pedestrian friendly streetscape. There must be people on the street or sidewalk walking, talking, sitting or standing. Most communities do a rather good job in this category, but let’s stretch the imagination a little. Strategically placed tall decorative bollards can be used to create random standing zones and can be multi-functional if ash receptacles can be incorporated into the design. Square and artistic benches with adequate surrounding space will create clusters of people. Large zones of square and artistic benches can create a critical mass that becomes a destination in their own right. Public seating that can accommodate groups, friendly conversations and activities like reading or relaxing keep people visibly on the street.
Open air store-front windows used in retail stores and sidewalk cafes invite pedestrians to explore and people watch. Outdoor bar height tables and chairs when combined with folding, stack and resin chairs and tables create activity pockets for conversation, eating, reading or just being lazy.
Bicycle infrastructure should also be a key component in any pedestrian enhanced environment. Cyclist spend as much time walking as they do riding. On-street, sidewalk and secure bicycle parking should be considered a necessity in any streetscape infrastructure plan. Bicycling in the last couple of years has seen a dramatic increase as a transportation mode. With bicycle parking strategically placed along pedestrian intensive streets and in sufficient quantities, cyclist are able to park near their destination, provide additional sidewalk and street security and create more parking for automobiles.
Pedestrian street improvements when connected to local neighborhoods, bicycle paths and transportation systems create vibrant pedestrian intensive streets. Given the relatively short distances traveled by pedestrians and cyclist, pedestrian capital improvements projects stimulate neighborhood economic development and job growth.