Born and raised in Metro Vancouver, I never realized how poorly designed our neighbourhoods are from a pedestrian's perspective. I always accepted the fact that pedestrians get sprayed by passing vehicles on a rainy day in winter or get burnt to a crisp on a hot sunny day in summer and that it can't be helped. Then I realized during a trip to Tokyo that Metro Vancouver pedestrians endure such harsh conditions because municipal planners here either lack vision and/or don't care when it comes to sidewalk construction. Our cities have been built with automobile commuting as the foundation of their design. It's no wonder that for most people in Metro Vancouver that were born and raised here, their car is the preferred mode of getting around the neighbourhood and beyond.
An example of sidewalks that lack one simple feature (and would not have cost any more money to pave) are the relatively new sidewalks extending north and west from the intersection of Delta Ave and Lougheed Hwy. A stroll (climb if you're going up Delta) along either sidewalk on a bright sunny day will quickly turn into an unpleasant experience due to the glare caused by the sun's rays reflecting off of the white-coloured pavement. The reflection causes an unbearable strain on the eyes and irritation for the skin. Simply choosing a darker colour for the pavement would resolve that problem and may encourage more people to use those sidewalks.
Sidewalk on the east side of Delta Ave near Lougheed Hwy
Sidewalk on the north side of Lougheed Hwy near Delta Ave
Elements of an appealing sidewalk
A sidewalk should have at least 4 (if not all) of the following elements to make it appealing for pedestrians to use. The first 4 elements should be mandatory for all sidewalks, whether along side streets or along major roads.
- Ramps at both ends of the sidewalk to allow access for baby strollers and wheelchairs
- Textured markings for the visually impaired
- Adequate lighting for increased safety at night
- Non-glaring sidewalk colour
- Vegetative cover in the form of trees and vegetative barriers in the form of shrubs along the outer edge of the sidewalk
- Solid barriers separating the sidewalk from adjacent vehicle traffic
- Enough width to allow at least 3 adults to walk shoulder-to-shoulder along its length
- Safe intersections that include wide crosswalks with a significant setback for cars stopped at the intersection.
Ramps that allow for wheelchair and baby stroller access should be a standard requirement for all sidewalks that have curbs. It is saddening to see a senior riding their scooter on the road because ramp access is non-existent on random sidewalks in Burnaby. Believe it or not, there are many places where a wheelchair-bound person will go down a ramp and cross the street only to come to a curb on the other side because a ramp was not included in the design of the next block.
Textured markings at intersections and along the length of sidewalks have been used in Tokyo for more than 10 years and are becoming more common. They are an important element in creating a "barrier-free" sidewalk that considers visually impaired members of the community.
A major deterrent to walking is lack of lighting during dark evenings and early mornings. When sidewalks are inconsistently lit, the issue of safety draws people to their cars for short trips even when a walk could have taken 10 minutes or less. The light in the street lamp should allow people to see the sidewalk (not just the lamp itself).
A sidewalk that allows you to walk on it without you having to squint to see where you are going on a bright sunny day is preferable to this eye-straining slab of concrete (left) on Delta Ave. This sidewalk offers only 1 of the 8 elements of an appealing sidewalk (not so appealing).
The sidewalks leading up to this intersection in Tokyo are examples of non-glaring sidewalks that have 6 of 8 elements of an appealing sidewalk.
While the trees provide shade on a sunny day, the shrubs situated along the edge of the sidewalk along the street provide protection from cars spraying water onto pedestrians.
One morning in 1990, as I walked along Parker Street towards Alpha Secondary School, I heard the loud noise of car tires skidding. As I turned around to see what was happening, a car jumped the curb and skidded towards me on the sidewalk. It skidded out of control for about 40 feet before it came to a halt 3 feet from where I was standing. The visibly shaken driver got out of the car, asked me if I was okay, got back into the car and drove away. I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't seriously injured or killed and continued on to school as if nothing unusual had happened.
Every once in a while, a news story emerges about a pedestrian being killed by a vehicle entering the sidewalk during a crash. Protective barriers would not only prevent such unnecessary pedestrian deaths, but make pedestrians feel safer when using sidewalks.
Although the likelihood of a car entering a sidewalk may be low, as the following video suggests it is 100 % likely to happen if it veers towards a sidewalk during a crash if barriers are not present.
Fortunately, nobody seemed to be hurt as there were no pedestrians on the sidewalk during the accident.
Basic barriers to prevent cars from jumping the curb and smashing into pedestrians and minimizing the fear of it happening are good things.
Some barriers can add an element of beauty to a sidewalk and its neighourhood.
Some barriers provide a great place to park your bicycle.
Despite the lack of space in an old, densely populated city such as Tokyo, narrow sidewalks on slow side streets have the protection of barriers to make up for the lack of width.
Wide sidewalks allow one to pass oncoming pedestrians on a rainy day without having to bring down your umbrella because there is enough space. The sidewalk should allow enough space for 2 baby strollers to pass each other without one of them having to pull aside.
Wide sidewalks along major commercial streets allow large numbers of pedestrians to get around with relative ease which would encourage more people to get around on foot.
This is the kind of sidewalk (and commercial frontage) that is needed along at least 2 blocks in all 4 directions from the intersection at Lougheed Hwy and Willingdon Ave.
This sidewalk on the east side of Willingdon Ave, stretching northbound from Midlawn Drive to Pender Street, is not only scary to walk on, but embarrassing to look at. For a major road, this sidewalk is inadequate at best on my rating scale. It has 1 out of 8 elements of an appealing sidewalk (no glare on a sunny day).
If improved from its current unsightly state, this roughly 1.5 km stretch of sidewalk would serve as a major pedestrian route connecting the Brentwood area to the amenities offered by the Eileen Daily Recreation Centre, McGill Library and Confederation Park to the north. An important street such as this must have all 8 elements of an appealing sidewalk as it should serve as a walkway that connects pedestrians to and from the Burnaby Heights and Brentwood neighbourhoods.
Pedestrian-Friendly Intersections and Crosswalks
As is often the case, whenever a car overshoots the stop line during a red light, the car ends up encroaching onto the crosswalk, forcing pedestrians to detour around the car and dangerously into the path of crossing cars. This intersection (left) is an example of a pedestrian-unfriendly intersection at Lougheed Hwy and Madison Ave.
These are examples of pedestrian friendly intersections.
These Tokyo intersections provide a large setback for stopped cars and wide, well marked crosswalks that are not easily encroached upon by aggressive drivers. Notice the existence of a barrier at the intersection (upper photo).
Appealing sidewalks are an important component of pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods. Their appeal should bring local residents out to explore their neighbourhood on foot and bicycle instead of by car, whether day or night.