Pedestrian walking speed affects how we plan

Today’s news is all about walking speed.  Traffic signals are required by federal regulations to provide adequate time for pedestrians to cross.  But just how much time is adequate?  It depends on many factors, including the size and type of the intersection and how fast you are able to cross the street.

In an article published this morning in The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger brings attention to one of the problems facing a society whose population is getting older–current infrastructure may not be able to meet the needs of the population in the future, many of whom will likely be traveling at slower walking speeds.*  The availability of neighborhood conveniences is especially important because the older one gets, the less likely he or she is to travel very far.  Badger predicts that the suburbs will have to be reinvented as baby boomers age in place and become less mobile.  Sidewalks are often incomplete or missing in car-oriented communities, and amenities are spaced farther apart.

One German city is employing innovative solutions to accommodate pedestrians at signalized intersections.  In Cologne, motion sensing cameras have been installed that extend the walk cycle for pedestrians if necessary.  The camera is able to distinguish between pedestrians and other moving things based on their height, as well as the direction in which they are moving, so it only activates the green walk signal if a person waiting to cross the street is detected.  This technology does not appear to be in widespread use at this point in time, but it would certainly be an improvement on the push-button-activated pedestrian crossing signals commonly seen in many other cities.

[UPDATE (6/13/13): Here’s one more article about pedestrian speed, courtesy of Streetsblog.org.  It brings attention to the fact that we may not always realize how much more difficult it can be to get around the city if your physical mobility is limited by disability, injury, age, or some other factor.]

*Although Badger states that crosswalks are planned for people walking at 4 ft/s, the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) revised its standards in 2009 and currently recommends a walking speed of 3.5 ft/s be used for planning purposes.
 

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