Mobility Car-Free How to Pedestrianise a Street: Seven ‘Steps’ to Walkable Heaven

How to Pedestrianise a Street: Seven ‘Steps’ to Walkable Heaven

Lauren McAskie
I love talking to passionate CityChangers from around the world, hearing their stories and what drives their activism, then writing up guides for others to get inspired by. There's only one thing that could top a car-free city for me, and that's one made out of chocolate... but a girl can only dream. In the meantime, I'll work on making the first come true.

Do you want to know how to reduce the dominance of cars on your streets and make them better places for pedestrians? This how-to guide sets out seven easy ways that you can make sure that your streets are safe and inclusive and don’t just exist to serve the needs of the automobile!

Why Is Pedestrianisation Beneficial?

If we were asked to think about what an urban street looks like, most of us would probably visualise a road with cars and very little space for people – presumably because that’s what we’re used to seeing in cities. But have you ever stopped to think about what a street could look like if it was actually designed for pedestrians, not cars? 

Image credit: Karl Jilg / Swedish Road Administration

There is an abundance of reasons why, especially now given the effects of the global pandemic, making streets more inviting places for people is a beneficial move for cities.

Pedestrianisation has a number of social and positive mental health impacts. It helps to promote walking and physical exercise, which encourages healthier lifestyles, as well as creating a more stimulating environment to encourage interaction between people, subsequently increasing cohesion.

The World Health Organisation also found that pedestrianisation not only improves street safety but also contributes to lower noise and air pollution levels, creating more liveable environments.

It can also increase the economic activity of a street significantly. After the pedestrianisation of Times Square, for example, business in the area increased by 22%, while there were 35% fewer vehicle accidents involving pedestrians as well as an 11% increase in pedestrian activity. 

A 2016 study of over 100 cities also showed that pedestrian-only streets increased retail sales by around 49%.

Generally, there are a few different levels to pedestrianisation: a street can be fully pedestrianised whereby vehicular traffic is completely prohibited except for emergency vehicles, part-time pedestrianised whereby traffic is prohibited only for a certain number of hours or days of the week, or partially pedestrianised which is when there are no restrictions to vehicle access, but traffic calming measures are used to lower the speed of cars and make streets more accessible for people.

This article provides an overview of the ways in which you can get started if you want to make your streets more pedestrian-friendly. There is no one formula or recipe that will work for every city… but if you’re looking for some tips and tricks about how to turn your vision into a reality, keep reading below!

1. Set up or get involved in a local pedestrianisation campaign group

Something you should do before you begin to think about how to pedestrianise your street is team up with likeminded people who also recognise the importance of making roads better places for people.

This will allow you to share ideas and put them into action more easily. There is strength in numbers, and when enough people all come together for the same cause, the end goal is more likely to be achieved over time.

Organise meetings with other members; involve neighbours and stakeholders who may be invested in a pedestrianisation project; ask for their feedback and input, and make sure to be inclusive of all groups in society when considering new proposals for pedestrianisation.

Once you have had some meaningful discussions about the changes you want to see, you can think about which streets you want to target:

2. Deciding which streets to pedestrianise

Another tricky question you’ll probably have to ask before taking action is actually deciding which streets to pedestrianise… and this may be the make or break of whether or not a project is successful, according to Ellen de Vibe, the chief town planner in Oslo from 1998 until 2019.

De Vibe played a big part in the pedestrianisation of Oslo’s almost entirely car-free city centre and says that the planning phase is an absolutely essential one to get right:

“Street interventions must be strategically placed. It’s not enough to simply create a pedestrian plaza along a blank façade, this won’t give you city life. There must be a connection between the velocity inside a building and what is going on outside it in the street. If there is a public building or attraction, then this is where benches and outdoor designs should be placed, so that people can make proper use of the space.”

In summary, you should aim to pedestrianise the streets you know will be used by city inhabitants and tourists based on their geographical location and surroundings. A street with a school or public museum, for example, could be considered for a pedestrianisation project.

3. Use traffic calming measures

If you’re just starting out looking for ways to partially pedestrianise your street, then another way of ensuring pedestrian safety is by introducing measures to calm traffic.

These could be zebra crossings, crosswalks, speed limit signage, roundabouts, speed humps and pedestrian islands in the middle of the street to help slow the speed of cars.

To get one or some of these things introduced into your own streets, you may have to speak to your local council representative or transport planning commissioner, but make sure to have a detailed plan about why you believe they would be beneficial for the streetscape before approaching officials.

A more comprehensive list of traffic calming measures can be found here.

4. Make pavements continuous and accessible

Trying to reduce the dominance of the car is usually not enough to increase liveability, we also need to invest in creating safe and cohesive walking environments. Pedestrians should always be able to move easily through streets, parks, restricted-access delivery streets and plazas where cars can’t go. 

One way to ensure that streets are accessible for pedestrians is by making them easy to navigate. For example, clear signage should be used to explain how pedestrians should move in the street space – especially in tourist-heavy areas.

This means that wayfinding signals should be placed on average every 100-200 meters apart, as well as providing interesting and engaging visual information about the culture of the area to encourage people to stop and enjoy their time in the street.

5. Convert unused areas into attractive pedestrian plazas

When streets become more attractive, people will be encouraged to spend more time on them. By converting unused or derelict city space into vibrant plazas for people to stop and rest, you are sending the message that people are the priority – which will allow them to really enjoy the atmosphere of the street.

Plazas are an inexpensive way to transform under-used spaces into community assets. All kinds of recycled materials can be used to completely revitalise streetscapes, such as planter boxes and crates to make street furniture, artwork and paintings.

Example pedestrian plazas to be named include Las Condes plazas in Santiago, Chile and the Warwick Junction Neighbourhood in Durban, South Africa.

6. Create a shared space

A shared-space is different to a pedestrian plaza as cars are still allowed to move along the street slowly – but instead of having road space dedicated to vehicles, all transport, including pedestrians and cyclists, are given equal priority to use the road at the same time.

These streets don’t have the typical features of a normal street such as vertical curbs, different levels of paving, markings, or colours to segregate different modes. This literally removes the separation between the car and all other road-users, which can be helpful in eliminating the road hierarchy that places private vehicles at the top. 

A few examples that could be named here are Elliott Street in Auckland,New Zealand, Exhibition Road in London, UK and the Market Square in Pittsburgh, US.

7. Build ‘complete’ or well-connected street networks

This point relates to point number four, but a ‘complete’ street is about more than just accessibility; streets should be connected to one another to make a ‘network’ that pedestrians can use to get to different locations.

For example, projects should focus on linking walking routes together with city centres, public attractions, shops, schools, as well as residential, commercial, and recreational centres. It should also have sufficient links and access to public transport and cycle lanes.

In a Nutshell

This article provides some inspiration about things you can do to make your streets more pedestrian-friendly if you are thinking about putting a pedestrianisation project into action.

If you’re unsure whether or not your street is accommodating enough for pedestrians, using tools such as Pedestrians First or Healthy Streets can help you to see whether or not your street has all the indicators of a liveable street, or if there is more that could be done for people. 

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