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What is Pedestrian Access?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pedestrian access is a movement aimed at allowing people to walk or bike through a city rather than relying on automobiles. It is a part of urban planning, and may include not only walking and jogging, but skateboards, scooters, and other non-automotive transportation. Pedestrian access planning has grown as a reaction to zoning laws, which separate buildings and homes by use. With traditional zoning, residential structures are far removed from shopping districts and industrial parks, forcing citizens to use cars to reach their destinations.

Urban sprawl is a common result of poor pedestrian access systems. As fewer people are able to travel by foot, both traffic and obesity levels increase. Heavy traffic and lack of pedestrian routes are often linked to stress and lower quality of life, and also shorten the lifespan of roadways by increasing wear and tear.

City planning advocates support many different strategies aimed at improving pedestrian access in cities and towns. Some focus on adding requirements for sidewalks in new communities, which are often arranged to improve automotive traffic rather than foot traffic. Roadside sidewalks, walking paths, bike trails, and traffic calming strategies can all make it safer and easier for pedestrians to travel freely.

Another method for improving pedestrian access involves changing zoning requirements. Rather than separating different types of facilities from one another, planning advocates support mixed-use zoning that more closely resembles a traditional neighborhood. This type of zoning would allow children to walk to school while letting all citizens walk or bike to work or retail establishments. Part of this strategy involves a return to independent stores and "buying local" rather than spending money at big-box stores and shopping malls.

One key to better pedestrian access in most areas is to improve public transportation options. Throughout Europe, where public transportation is widely available, pedestrian access levels are generally much higher than in other parts of the world. In the US, where public transportation is lacking in many cities, cars have replaced walking as the primary means of transportation, even for short trips. Some urban planning advocates also suggest adding high parking fees or congestion charges to alleviate traffic and encourage walking in downtown areas.

In many areas, walking is encouraged through the use of pedestrian malls or city centers that are closed to traffic. Some examples include the world's longest pedestrian shopping area in Copenhagen, Denmark or the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. In 2009, even New York City banned vehicle traffic in parts of Times Square to improve pedestrian safety and access.

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