Easy access, few choices and a conflict-free stroll

Gardens, like Edith Wharton’s at The Mount, provide easy, decision-free routes for strolling.

Gardens, like Edith Wharton’s at The Mount, provide easy, decision-free routes for strolling.

Alone or in groups, strollers normally seek places easily reached, entered, and toured, so they seek routes with handy access, few decision points, and no conflicts. Any intelligent child should be able to follow a good strolling path. For adults strolling there, the mind is free to focus on conversations, inner thoughts, or nothing at all.

Intersections require decision making, so they should be few—think linear path or loop—and easily understood, composed of path segments directed at known destinations—think  braided paths or sets of concentric circles.

The route normally steers clear of roads, which is why strollers head for gardens, natural areas, and public parks.

Olmsted and Vaux used 30 bridges and 11 overpasses to separate bridal paths from walking paths and roads in Central Park, freeing all modalities for leisurely rambles.

Olmsted and Vaux used 30 bridges and 11 overpasses to separate bridal paths from walking paths and roads in Central Park, freeing all modalities for leisurely rambles. [Image: Trailtramps.blogspot.com]

Of course, in parks, Olmsted and Vaux eliminated modal conflicts vertically, separating circulation for pedestrians, horse riders, and carriages. Olmsted summarized their approach: “A drive must be so prepared that those using it shall be called upon for the least possible exercise of judgment as to the course to be pursued, [and] the least possible anxiety or exercise of skill in regard to collisions or interruptions ….”

For strolling in cities, using curbs and raised sidewalks to separate pedestrians horizontally and vertically from road surfaces  has been the primary approach at least since Vesuvius buried Pompeii. This approach hasn’t inspired a lot of strolling, however, then or now.

A generation ago, Christopher Alexander recommended raising sidewalks above roads by 18 inches, three times the norm, providing real safety and allowing pedestrians to “feel … more important than the cars.” That’s an impractical idea seldom adopted, however, because of construction costs, the need for railings, its blocking of door openings on parallel parked cars, and its eliminating the street as a place for overflow walking.

The latest approach for mixing cars and walkers strips away the vertical separation altogether and makes horizontal separation vague while announcing that pedestrians predominate in the public way. Lacking definitive street edges and stop-and-go lights, motorists become uncertain, slow down, and yield to pedestrians, who can now walk casually in areas visited before only for obligatory trips.

This “shared space right-of-way” approach reverses  traffic engineering efforts of decades-long standing, which have been directed solely at simplifying the motorists’ route and decision-making. Now we want the motorist to be on high alert, searching carefully for the right way forward, while strollers, still alert, can relax and assert their rights in the right-of-way.

 

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