If you have read my post about people-oriented design in Stockholm, you know how much I love “continuous” sidewalks. This is one of my favorite street design elements. I’m talking about those sidewalks that continue into the intersection, instead of a regular zebra crossings. I couldn't find an accepted name for this design practice (if you know, please tell me). Actually, “raised crossing” reminds of the continuous sidewalk, but a raised crossing seems to be just a better version of a regular crossing than a real continuous sidewalk.
Instead of a zebra crossing, which signals pedestrians that they enter the automobiles’ territory, the continuous sidewalk sends a clear message to drivers: “you are about to enter the safe zone of human beings”. Drivers don’t only need to stop before invading the territory, but while doing so they feel the danger of entering pedestrians’ area. Pedestrians, on the other hand, merely notice it. They just keep walking, crossing the intersection without notice. When I walked with a friend in Stockholm, we noticed that an elderly woman on a wheelchair stopped right in the middle of a continuous sidewalk to chat with a friend. Could it happen in the middle of a zebra crossing? That would be a surreal, dangerous sight.
A couple of weeks ago I moved to Groningen, a city which has many of these continuous sidewalks. It works great here, especially in intersections that involve at least one 1-way streets. It is not the first time I see a design practice that could be easily implemented all over the world, but for some reason isn’t. Having sidewalks instead of crosswalks is not just a design element, but a shift in the way we think about our public space: pedestrians come first, drivers last.
Many cities try to sell themselves as walkable and pedestrian-friendly. But how many of these cities have the guts to actually take a piece of road that is allocated to cars for decades and give it back to pedestrians?
(Pictures: Lior Steinberg)