Many streets and cities are designed for vehicles instead of for pedestrians. But policies and programs in cities around the world, and even in the United States, might be signaling a shift in priorities.
Richard Conniff takes a look at recent efforts to make cities better places for pedestrians. In Europe, car restrictions and bans are planned or have been instituted in Oslo, Madrid, and Paris, even in the face of public opposition, he says:
Yes, car owners are furious. That's because they have mistaken their century-long domination over pedestrians for a right rather than a privilege. The truth is that cities are not doing nearly enough to restore streets for pedestrian use, and it's the pedestrians who should be furious.
In the United States, the notion that streets are for cars is exemplified by level of service standards based on vehicle throughputs. The result is increased air pollution, more expensive cities, and streetscapes that are not conducive to more sustainable modes of travel. "Urban walking has thus deteriorated from a civilized pleasure to an overheated, unshaded, traffic-harried race to a destination," laments Conniff.
Still, he points to examples of change happening at the grassroots level, including the Walk [Your City] program, which promotes wayfinding and walkability, and the Better Block Foundation, an organization that helps communities with placemaking and neighborhood development projects.
"In many of the major cities of the world, it has begun to dawn even on public officials that walking is a highly efficient means of transit, as well as one of the great underrated pleasures in life," says Conniff.
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