By Mary Velan
In 2015, many communities started to lay out detailed plans for increasing sustainability, efficiency and economic growth. To reduce carbon emissions, lessen traffic flow and support dense development, many municipalities dedicated significant time and resources toward improving walkability and the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. By encouraging residents to opt for alternative transportation, cities aimed to cut emissions, boost public transit and strengthen local businesses. Here are some top stories from 2015 that discuss how municipalities implemented strategies to achieve these goals.
Changing the Convo from Cars to People
To become less car-dependent and more appealing to young professionals, municipalities are investing in pedestrian-friendly innovations that help walkers and cyclists gain more control how they navigate the community. These developments are boosting safety and supporting an increasingly multimodal population. Here are some examples of pedestrian-centric innovations:
- Diagonal Crosswalks
- The principle behind diagonal crosswalks prioritizes the flow of foot traffic over that of car traffic, providing more opportunities for walkers to safely cross busy roadways
- Intersection Designs
- Historically, crosswalks were designed with motorists in mind, not pedestrians. Inspired by research on car and pedestrian accidents, many new intersection designs are making it safer for walkers and cyclists
Many cities are also pushing programs to encourage more pedestrian-friendly developments in their city centers, while eliminating car traffic. The growth of these walkable districts marks a trend in designing cities to accommodate foot traffic and dense commercial growth.
Paris, for example, has plans to create a car-free city center that is more attractive to walkers and bikers. The initiative is designed to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions by transforming the city center into a semi-pedestrianized zone. Meanwhile Zurich is launching a pedestrian- and bike-friendly strategy to attract more tourists and get vehicles off the road.
It is one thing to create an environment that encourages residents to walk around rather than rely on personal vehicles. It is another thing to ensure the safety of these pedestrians as they navigate the community year-round. In fact, there was a strong trend in 2015 of cities implementing plans to lower pedestrian fatalities and injuries to support more walker-friendly developments in the future.
The Governors Highway Safety Association released a report that broke down the number of pedestrian fatalities state-by-state in 2014. According to the report, the number of pedestrian fatalities across the country last year remains about the same as was reported in 2013, while up 15 percent from 2009. While there was no significant increase year-over-year, the research suggests cities can be doing more to get that number down in the future.
One example was seen in Portland, which released a 2-year work plan that incorporates the zero fatalities goal into a five-point strategy:
- Preserve and maintain existing infrastructure
- Embrace a vision zero safety goal
- Develop new urban designs that fosters a safer community
- Effectively manage city assets
- Focus on sustainable development for optimal public health and long-term success
Other cities retrofitted public fleets to keep pedestrians safer, as well as upgraded signage to make walking easier for residents.
Similar to Portland, the Chicago Department of Transportation released new street design guidelines that suggest pedestrian safety will remain a top priority when launching any new projects throughout the city in the future. The new development model will impact projects ranging from streetscape work to electrical repairs near the road or sidewalks.
Make It Walkable
One hot buzzword for 2015 was “walkable” referring to how easy it is to get to key amenities within a community by foot. Cities are working to achieve high walkability scores, particularly when investing in dense developments and upgrading public transportation networks.
While high walkability provides residents with access to businesses, transit and other resources, it also enables a more healthy community. In fact, the Surgeon General has launched a campaign to promote walking and walkability at the local level as a means to start and maintain physically active lifestyles across the country.
Therefore, many municipalities are experimenting with new innovations in walkability as a means to attract young professionals, support multimodal transportation and boost public health. These developments include resources to assist blind residents, making pedestrians more visible to motorists and connecting transit networks to enable seamless navigation without a personal vehicle.
Embracing the Bicycle Trend
As cities started to allocated resources toward pedestrian-focused projects, many also invested in new infrastructure and amenities for a growing bicyclist population. Across the country, the number of people choosing to bike to work and other places – rather take a personal vehicle – is growing steadily. To accommodate this blossoming population, many cities are adopting new policies and amenities to ensure bicyclists’ needs are met.
Many communities have deployed bike-sharing programs funded by federal grants to ensure all residents have access to bicycles as an alternative to public transportation. Cities such as San Francisco adjusted local policies to ensure bicyclists were kept safe, but also abiding by local laws, while Maryland provided state grants to spur development of bike paths across the state.
The most obvious way to support bicyclists is to build bike lanes into transit networks. Some communities are able to add bike lanes quickly while others had to overcome resistance. It took Vancouver three attempts to finally make a bike lane along the Burrard Street Bridge a permanent fixture. The city’s persistence is an example of how decision makers can overcome opposition to implement important projects.
Furthermore, bike lanes provided social and economic benefits beyond simply making cyclists happy and keeping them safe. Bike lanes provide communities with an economic benefit by providing even easier access to local businesses. Businesses in New York, Vancouver, Germany, the Netherlands and Portland have all reported significant upticks in customers and sales after the installation of nearby bicycle infrastructure.
In addition, The NYC Department of Transportation studied the impact of protected bike lanes on motorist navigation and found the lanes both protect bicyclists and reduce traffic delays. The bike lane developments did not eliminate any driving lanes, and created left-turn lanes that helped speed up traffic in spots of congestion throughout the city.
Therefore, moving into 2016, it makes perfect sense for cities across the country to continue investing in bike amenities, pedestrian safety and overall walkability.