Walkability has long been considered a cornerstone of a livable community. Although the latter half of the 20th century placed an overwhelming emphasis on automobiles -- generally at the expense of pedestrians -- statistics show that today more and more people are choosing to live and work in communities that provide safe and vibrant places to walk.
Adequate sidewalks are one of the fundamentals of a walkable community -- right up there with safe crosswalks and enough WALK signal time to cross the street. And luckily, sidewalks are one of the easiest, low-cost transportation facilities to build. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the cost of constructing sidewalks is relatively low: approximately $15 per linear foot.
But lots of communities are playing catch-up. Perhaps you are aware of deficiencies in your own community, places where sidewalks are too narrow, are in poor condition, or simply stop at the edge of a property -- or where no sidewalks exist at all. You can play a key role in making sure that your community is pedestrian-friendly. Take your concerns and your suggestions to public officials and keep at it until they provide safe and pleasant walking environments. Read More.
Sidewalks should be continuous, unobstructed, smooth, accessible and attractive.
Smooth surfaces. Concrete and asphalt, properly built and maintained, are the best, smooth walking surfaces to minimize trips and falls. Bricks, pavers and cobbles may appear charming, but unless they are set in a bed of concrete or asphalt, they make uneven and potentially dangerous walking surfaces.
Sidewalk widths. There are widely recognized standards for sidewalk width depending on pedestrian volumes; the more activity, the wider the sidewalk should be. In residential areas 5 feet is minimum. In commercial areas 8–12 feet is minimum. A good rule of thumb for business districts is that two people walking side-by-side in one direction should be able to comfortably pass two people walking side-by-side in the other direction.
The “walking zone” needs to be clear of obstructions. “Obstructions” include mailboxes, trash cans, parking meters, sign poles, trees, benches, bus shelters, outdoor cafes, sign boards, etc. Click here to view Perils for Pedestrians very helpful gallery of sidewalk obstructions.
More and more local governments are working to adopt “complete streets” guidelines and you may find definitions and criteria you can use in discussions with your own officials. For example, you can read Boston’s Complete Streets guidelines for sidewalk widths.
Continuous sidewalks. This seems self-evident, but you might be surprised at the number of neighborhoods that have short sections of sidewalks that start and stop and don’t connect to anything. You can insist that your community have continuous sidewalks.
Amenities. Walking routes need to be interesting and offer amenities. People will generally shun a walk along a high, blank wall and instead will choose to walk along shop windows, under shade trees, or by the street vendors. Business owners and town planners generally know that amenities attract foot traffic, and so you will typically find benches, trees and cafes in the more successful business districts. Amenities enhance walking pleasure. Do work to keep them in the “furnishing zone” (see above).
Safety from traffic. Sidewalks should not be built right at the curb where people will be forced to walk alongside moving traffic. This is simply dangerous. A strip of grass or landscaping or even a parking lane should be placed to act as a buffer between pedestrians and traffic.
Snow removal. Local governments and private property owners together need to be held accountable for removing snow from sidewalks as quickly and completely as they typically remove snow from roadways. Otherwise, pedestrians will be forced to walk in the street under conditions that worsen drivers’ control over their vehicles. See our page on "snow clearing"
WHERE TO START
Whether you are advocating for construction of new sidewalks or improved sidewalks, your efforts will be rewarded by careful prioritization. First, you might focus on areas that will benefit children, such as school zones, and recreation and athletic facilities.
To learn more about making your case for sidewalks visit our page on “Being an Advocate”