How Sidewalks Literally Sideline the Pedestrian

Plenty of sidewalks stand in need of improvement, and many aren't there at all. But they're also a symbol of the automobile's engineered dominance of our roads.

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February 20, 2018, 5:00 AM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


No Walking

Rhonda Roth / Shutterstock

According to Alissa Walker, the multi-modal city of the future might lack sidewalks, and that's a good thing. "'Sidewalks' is actually a misnomer," Walker writes, "because before cars existed, all modes of transportation mixed freely in the street: streetcars, carriages, horses, pushcarts, and, most of all, people walking in every direction."

The rise of the automobile pushed pedestrians to the side, and modern roads often deny them a place to walk altogether. "American society has so normalized our inferior sidewalk system that we don't believe we deserve a place to walk."

Meanwhile, a supposed "walking revolution" hasn't materialized, despite Complete Streets redesigns and campaigns to promote walking. "In 2016, Americans drove more miles than they have in any other year in history."

Frustratingly, says Walker, pedestrian improvements are now often perceived as a sign of gentrification. "Yet clean, safe, unbroken sidewalks have become such a rarity in this country that designing an area where people can get around primarily by walking—the one mode of transportation that is available and accessible to everyone—is now seen as a harbinger of displacement."

Truly shared streets would open up space for new modes, and a return to old ones. And as boomers age out of driving, we may see rising momentum for real pedestrian improvements.

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