Opinion: 'Performative' Pedestrian Improvements Need Deeper Scrutiny

Minor pedestrian-oriented improvements alone won't improve walkability if infrastructure still prioritizes fast-moving vehicles, according to this article.

February 1, 2021, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Bollards

dasytnik / Shutterstock

Pedestrian infrastructure projects too often prioritize faster car traffic and fail to implement real protective measures for people walking, argues Joe Cortright. Houston's Energy Corridor, which recently received a high-profile "pedestrian makeover," provides a prime example of the "remedial and performative" projects that, according to Cortright, project the appearance of walkability while maintaining "an auto-dominated and pedestrian hostile environment." With 60,000 cars passing through every day, the newly renovated intersection, with its dangerous "slip lanes," offers minimal safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Aside from the lack of real protection for pedestrians, the area suffers from a lack of walkable destinations. "Pro-tip: any area that describes itself as a 'corridor' is almost always an auto-dominated, pedestrian-hostile space, a place people travel through, rather than being in."

Cortright points to similar examples in other cities, asserting that "much of what purports to be 'pedestrian' infrastructure, is really car infrastructure, and is only necessary in a world that’s dominated by car travel." True pedestrian infrastructure, he writes, includes density, walkable destinations, and fewer, slower cars. "Walkability and pedestrian safety are really about building great places, not piecemeal and largely decorative so-called infrastructure."

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