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Pedestrian friendly streets

Pedestrian friendly streets

This indicator from Richmond, British Columbia measures the length and proportion of major streets that meet the city's minimum standard: a sidewalk on one or both sides. Richmond has also begun to measure the length and proportion of all streets that meet the new and much higher standard that requires the sidewalk and street to be separated by a tree boulevard or a row of parking to reduce noise and safety impacts of traffic on pedestrians.

Overview of the issue
Richmond, like other suburbs, was designed primarily for cars. There is now increasing recognition of the value of other modes of transportation. The existence of pedestrian friendly streets provides some incentive for people to walk rather than drive. A pleasant walking environment with sidewalks, weather protection, and attractive landscaping is a step toward encouraging people choose transit, bikes, or walking over cars. In addition to environmental benefits, this yields social benefits by encouraging informal encounters among neighbors, and health benefits from the exercise.

Richmond has tracked this indicator from 1990 through 1997. In that time the city achieved a 43% increase in the total length of major roads meeting the minimum standard. As of 1997, 61% of all major roads had sidewalks on at least one side. In addition, about 20 km of streets meet the new standard, whereas in 1990 no streets met the higher standard.

Indicator evaluation
This indicator was selected because it merges issues of transportation, health, environment, and society into one extremely understandable, visible measurement. Its significance is both immediate and long term.

Carrying capacity of the community capital
Natural capital - If more people choose walking over driving, this reduces fuel consumption increases air quality, and may forestall widening of existing roads. Tree boulevards contribute toward beauty of nature, converting CO2 to oxygen, and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Social capital - Walking yields health benefits from exercise as well as from better air quality. Walking also tends to be less stressful than driving. The buffer zone of trees or parking also increases pedestrian safety. In community terms, walking allows more frequent informal encounters between citizens. Pedestrian friendly streets give more mobility to those citizens who either don't drive or don't own a car, which allows for more involvement and connectedness, as well as addressing an issue of equity.

Built/financial capital - This indicator directly measures changes made to existing infrastructure that increase their actual usability.

Linkages - The areas of community addressed by this indicator include energy, environment, health, land use, public safety, recreation, resource use, social cultural, and transportation. The major categories linked are environment and society

Long term view - While Richmond has not set specific targets for the long term future, continued improvement is expected. Currently all new streets are built to meet the new standards. The City has plans to increase the network of pedestrian friendly streets by 21 km by the year 2002.

Understandable - While an exact definition of "pedestrian" friendly could be debated, people easily recognize those streets that are safe and pleasant for foot traffic. The immediate benefits are also easily recognized, and long term benefits are direct and easy to imagine.

Ways the Indicator Has Prompted Change
Richmond has made a commitment to increasing the ease and desirability of walking in the city. Discussion of this indicator has also prompted proposals for even more rigorous guidelines, including:

  • Curb cuts at intersections
  • Fewer driveway crossings
  • Pedestrian short cuts in areas with curvy streets and cul-de-sacs
  • Benches, shelters and information kiosks

How to Improve the Indicator
It would be useful to look at the percentage of main roads that meet the pedestrian friendly criteria, as these are the routes most likely to take pedestrians where they need to go. Another option would be to measure the percent of the area's residential areas connected to 'destination' areas (schools, shops, restaurants) by pedestrian friendly streets. Because improvements are dependent on the availability of funds, a measure of the cost benefit of pedestrian friendly streets would be useful but much more difficult to gauge, since the benefits include many factors not easily measured with current accounting methods. These benefits potentially include: increased health from walking; lower air pollution through reduced auto emissions; increased business for shops because of foot traffic in the area; lower crime rates from increased social connections; and increased community cohesiveness due to greater interactions between people meeting on the street.

Indicator and Data Sources
This indicator comes from the 1998 "State of the Environment Report" from the City of Richmond, British Columbia. The report was created through the joint efforts of the Richmond City Council and Richmond's Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE). Numerous City of Richmond staff members also worked to help select indicators and provide data. This first report contains fourteen environmental indicators chosen to measure the status of Richmond's natural resources and quality of life as well as their stressors. It is intended to be the first step in developing an overall environmental management system for the city. Many thanks to Laura Tate from Richmond's Urban Development Division, who brought this indicator to our attention and provided much of the material for the discussion of this indicator spotlight.

A description of the State of the Environment Report can be found on Richmond's web site at http://www.richmond.ca/services/Sustainable/environment/policies/soe.htm. Portions of the document may soon be available at that site as well.

The source for the data is the City of Richmond, Urban Development Division.

We are very interested in including comments from reviewers that add to the general discussion of measuring sustainability. As we receive appropriate comments, we will add them here. If you have comments about a particular indicator that you would like to include, please send us a message. Likewise, if your community or organization has an indicator that you think would be a good indicator to spotlight, please let us know.

These comments are from Mikulas Huba:
Mikulas Huba: Greetings from Bratislava. Added indicator is fine, but I propose to calculate it in relation to Pedestrian "Un-friendly" Streets.

Dr. Indicator: That is a terrific suggestion! The comparison helps put the indicator into context.