Rise of the pedestrian

By Maureen Aylward

Across Europe, urban planners are closing streets and banning cars in certain areas. Reducing carbon emissions is one reason; returning cities to pedestrians is another. Will this be a global trend? Zintro experts provide comment.

Wiard Sterk, an art and public realm consultant, says that European cities are buying into the ideas promoted and practiced by the late Dutch highway engineer Hans Monderman. “His notion of shared space is catching on rapidly. This idea has no hierarchy between modes of transport and appropriate behavior and speed and space is suggested through use of surface materials, color, and texture,” Sterk says. “This is catching on even in Britain where streetscapes are still dominated by the littering of copious items of highway engineer prescribed hardware. Ashford’s redesign of its ring-road is one good example.”

Shared space is nothing new, but this trend provides a regained notion that allows drivers to take responsibility for safe interaction with others. “One great benefit is the cost-effective introduction of greater design quality; another is the greater engagement of road users with their environment. This reintroduces a sense of being in a place rather than just traveling through it.”

Sterk says that the challenge is to maintain creating a sense of place in developing cities throughout the world where the first inclination is to follow the outdated western model of zoning and separating. “Cities are best when they maximize diversity at every level to allow free and positive interaction and a mixed and evolving use of public spaces,” he says.

Arne Elias, a sustainable transportation expert, says that this is a complex set of trends with a great deal of potential negative reaction from established stakeholders, particularly if engagement, education, design, and implementation is not done right. “These trends have varying results in different cultural milieus; for example, active transportation issues may not transition well from Europe to North America, particularly the US.”

Elias says that several critical drivers influence the trend toward more pedestrian friendly urban spaces, which include fuel prices, the growth of understanding by different consumer groups on quality of life benefits from active transportation, climate change related issues, and the push-back from auto drivers.

How will these trends affect different industries? Elias says impacts include:

  • increased competition in auto manufacturing production of vehicles that meet diverse consumer needs in one unit;
  • shifts in road/ bikeways/ pedestrian infrastructure design for relevant service and building industries;
  • social marketing and support; and
  • intersection with other major trends such as hybrid car integration and the impact on utilities and design industries.

By Maureen Aylward

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