"Pedestrians should be loved; they are the better part of humanity."
— (Ilf and Petrov, 1931).
Every morning most of us on foot take to the streets, or rather, to that thin ribbon of pavement called sidewalks. We join with our fellow urban denizens to create a flow of humanity, traveling in sync from home to work to market to home, carrying our day's belongings. We are the pedestrians, the walkers, the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other commuter.
However, looming while we walk is a multi-ton piece of machinery, the motorized vehicle. We have redesigned our cities to meet its demands. Traffic has been speeded up with one-way raceways, making crossing a suicide mission. Roads have been widened to squeeze pedestrians onto ever-narrowed tape-widths of sidewalks where we have been forced to share limited space with a growing clutter of street "furniture" — traffic poles and parking meters, vendors and subway stairways, fire hydrants and newsstands, and dozens of other obstructions to unfettered walking.
With less space, we pedestrians must deke and dodge, alter direction and pace, slow when we want to walk faster, eyeballs moving rapidly to detect imminent collisions in acts of self-preservation. We are forced into the gutter in extreme situations, and perhaps most grievously, unable to walk in pairs or threesomes as we make our way down the street, thwarting conversation. We are reduced to single file, like sheep in Chaplin's Modern Times. Livable cities? Hardly.
In the past we acted as if it were vehicles, not people, who needed to be loved, fretting that any action that slowed vehicle traffic was bad, notwithstanding that the vast majority, at least in cities, are on foot.
If those in vehicles were forced to accept similar indignities, would they? If to progress down the street they were forced to twist and turn, their attention redirected to avoid one obstruction after another, and separated from their fellow passengers, cutting off conversation, would they suffer so meekly? No. There would be holy hell to pay!
When relief came to the pedestrian, and Broadway at Times Square was closed to traffic, as it should have been years ago, what happened? Traffic sped up in most places and multitudes of pedestrians received relief from the tripling of sidewalk space, no longer herded and curbed by limited sidewalk space.
There was suddenly breathing room; a place to stand and congregate with your party and admire Broadway even without a theater ticket. The plight of the pedestrian is changing, and New York is leading the way — if we let it.
Regional Plan Association is pleased to announce today that we are releasing a digital version of "Urban Space for Pedestrians" on the Scribd network. This ground-breaking 1975 publication, written by Boris S. Pushkarev and Jeffery M. Zupan, defines, analyzes and examines the impact of pedestrian space on city-dwellers. We hope you will find it helpful in navigating the discussion of New York City's recently created public pedestrian plazas, and that it can inform a thoughtful conversation about the success of these spaces. We welcome your feedback.