Pedestrian Engineering Article
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Pedestrian Engineering Article

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Urban Design for Pedestrians

Urban Design for Pedestrians

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  • 1. Pedestrian Engineering Michael Fishman 2009 (Image credits: Seth Taras Bowery Station Photo, GCT photo, drawings completed at Sam Schwartz Engineering) The phrase ‘Pedestrian Engineering’ initially sounds like the minimization of a field of study. In fact, pedestrians are far from banal but the most dynamic element of the urban environment. Designing for the pedestrian is not simply a matter of widening sidewalks or connecting dots with bridges or tunnels. Considering the future of New York (or any City), Pedestrian Engineering can result in a more fluid, safe and comprehensible environment. Other Cities have taken a lead in this realm (Hong Kong, Shanghi, Paris and others) separating grades to make access safer for pedestrians; enhancing the public realm by separating the multitude of functions that the ‘traditional main street’ has come to bear in dense urban environments. In this way, New York can now integrate transit and street life, specify appropriate site specific land use, program, urban design and deliver on urban revitalization and sustainability. Quantifying the Pedestrian Experience For generations traffic engineers have been quantifying and predicting traffic behavior with modeling techniques and analyses to maximize vehicular throughput and improve safety on our roads and highways. Pedestrian modeling is a relatively new technique as it is far more complex to predict human behavior than vehicles. The implications of Pedestrian Engineering are economic social and physical in nature allowing for improvements to the urban environment that facilitate pedestrian flows for day to day, emergency evacuation or peak event scenarios. Knowing how pedestrians will behave in a given environment (indoors or out) saves money on infrastructure investments, improves Levels of Service and safety as well as give investors and decision makers a clear sense of how a site/project will function without making costly investments in the field after the design and construction process.
  • 2. Elements of Pedestrian Engineering: Predicting human behavior from concept through construction. Staging operations, maintenance and protection of pedestrians, signage and way-finding. Pedestrian Engineering Results: Safer, more comfortable, internationally comprehensible and universally accessible public spaces. Appropriate sidewalk, bridge and tunnel widths, vertical circulation, traffic calming and physical improvements to stations, hubs, event venues and streetscapes. From Grade Separation To Grade Integration New York invented the concept of grade separation to maximize space for urban movement with tunnels and bridges. First in Prospect and Central Parks, Fredrick Law Olmsted was able to fold the landscape upon itself allowing two people to occupy virtually the same space, yet exist on separate planes. Then, again, Louis Risse planned the Grand Concourse upon a natural ridge to avoid intersections at grade, this was the precursor to our national highway system. Tunnels and bridges were technical innovations at the turn of last century; today redefining at grade must go beyond such a simple understanding of grade separation. Pedestrian bridges and tunnels are often criticized as confining or only successful when they connect directly to land use. People in pedestrian tunnels disappear and reappear without a sense of direction or place. Anyone who rides the subway understands this feeling of disorientation when you resurface from the underground. It is time for these century old techniques to reach their potential with state of the art technologies and design. Future densities require evolutionary solutions. From the waterfront, to the existing street network, and underground rail or vehicular links, we can make seamless connections between existing and future grades that will move people vertically as well as horizontally. Daylight and convenience can give the public the feeling that they have never left the street, (plaza, ground, concourse, entry, platform) level. Designing a framework, system, network or landscape upon which people will travel from where they are to where they want to be, with minimal effort or confusion might best be described as ‘grade integration’. Diligence toward this end will define a new urban landscape, as Olmstead did a century ago, addressing the complexities that have been brought to bear on our City since his time. The Most Frequently Asked Question: Won’t grade separation detract from street life activity? In some cases, yes, but this cannot be an across the board assumption. Street can often be relegated predominantly to vehicular use (service, valet, parking, pick up and drop off.) As we see at Grand Central Station, retail is interior and often below grade adjacent to Metro North and Subway entrances, N/S vehicular through movements on Park Avenue are elevated and local street functions remain at grade with entrances, service and bus access at grade. Several levels of movement are occurring in the same space and this allows the main atrium at grade and the track levels below to act as a pedestrian only zone for a complete City block. In NYC (originally planned as a multi-level City) grade separation is already without any ‘master plan’. One development at a time, pedestrians ascend and descend onto elevated on decks, terraces viaducts tunnels and passageways.
  • 3. Manhattan Examples: Downtown - WTC, SI Ferry Terminal, the Brooklyn Bridge, 55 Water Street, the FDR Deck. West Midtown - Rail Yards, Highline, Port Authority. West Harlem (upper Manhattan) - Riverside Park, Riverside Viaduct, 1/9, the Intrepid Museum. East Side – FDR Drive Deck, East River Park, the UN, Brooklyn Bridge Esplanade. Building upon this type of integrated landscape need not be as expensive as it sounds. As needs are defined by the current and future demands of residents, commuters and tourists, there is an opportunity to make use of much of our existing infrastructure. Highways and adjacent land uses must be considered properly, this could generate revenues for maintenance of an enhanced public realm by opening up valuable real estate. No More: ‘Pardon Our Appearance’ During Construction Public and private infrastructure projects require a wide variety of constituents, significant intellectual and economic investment up front and enduring commitment over time. Improving levels of service for commuters, patients, visitors should start at the beginning of renovations to existing facilities. If impacts to pedestrians are a focus from ground breaking through ribbon cutting, not only will levels of service be maintained or improved during construction but also staging can be designed to feel invisible (instructive) for daily and first time users. On-going strategies to protect an investment and the safety of it’s users from conception through construction, operations and maintenance is crucial. Some Public Works include a Percent of Art Program ensuring that at a fraction of the budget will tap a creative person for input. This is an excellent concept although, all too often this input is not seminal to the function of the system or facility but conceived of by those executing the projects as decorative or ‘softening’ the rough perception that comes with infrastructure. Especially projects devoted to pedestrian movement or public infrastructure located in people’s back yards.