Monday, February 21, 2011

Clearing the Clutter

A Cluttered Sidewalk
Photo Courtesy of

When two people cannot walk shoulder to shoulder on a sidewalk, that is when you know you have bad sidewalk design.  Cities and businesses often crowd our sidewalks with lamp/traffic light poles, utility/newspaper/mail boxes, fire hydrants, parking meters, bus signs/shelters, benches, trash/recycle/ash cans, menu/business boards, information kiosks, patios, and trees/planters.  Sidewalks are usually only built to be one meter. A one meter wide sidewalk is simply not enough space to place all of the listed items, and still provide enough space for people to walk.

Jasper Ave Redevelopment Streetscape Cross-Section
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It should be mandatory for city planners to include at least 1.5 meters of walking space, space that is dedicated only for pedestrians.  This means that at least an additional 1.5 meters of sidewalk space is dedicated for trees, fire hydrants, parking meters, benches, bus stops, etc.  Ideally the pedestrian zone should be 3 meters with 3 meters dedicated for the clutter.  Keeping the walk way clear of clutter allows people to get where they need to quicker, it also creates a more open and appealing atmosphere.  The sidewalk dedicated for the clutter also serves to act as a buffer to protect pedestrians from errant automobiles, and splashes.

Where would all of this space come from, you ask?  Most often roads will have parking lanes, median boulevards.  A typical lane will be 3 meters, so if you eliminate just one parking lane from a roadway, you will have more than enough room to widen both sidewalks by 1.5 meters and provide the buffer from the clutter.

Row of Parking Meters
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Another thing if you are going to install rows of parking meters that take up important space on the sidewalks, at least make them useful.  Most often cyclists have trouble finding places to lockup their bicycles due to the lack of bike racks, and have to resort to utilizing awkward trees, street poles etc.  IF you are going to install parking meters, at least install a model with a simple hoop so that cyclists can always find a spot to lock their bikes.

Example of Parking Meter with Bike Lock-Up Capabilities
Photo Courtesy of

Now what can we do about some of the other clutter that line our sidewalks such as the newspaper stands, and trash cans? 

Curb Bulb at a Sidewalk Corner
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Curb bulbs should be built at intersection corners.  These bulbs essentially widen the sidewalk by another 1.5 meters at intersection and can serve  multiple purposes.  You can develop a utilitarian power center at every intersection by placing newspaper stands, trash/recycle/ash cans, and benches all in one spot.  The bulb can also serve to disrupt through-traffic in a parking lane during peak hours, and make it safer for pedestrians as you suddenly don't have drivers speeding through the inner most lane.  Curb bulbs also make it easier for transit to function since buses don't have to pull into a parking lane in order to get to the bus stop.  This usually forces the bus driver to have to wait 5 minutes to pull out from the bus stop due to inconsiderate drivers.  A bus bulb instead comes out from the curb to the travel lane, and also allows transit patrons to keep clear of the pedestrian travel zone.

Edmonton's Ash Can
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Edmonton has taken another innovative step towards clearing clutter from sidewalks, one that I would like to see applied everywhere.  The most common trash I see on the ground, tends to be cigarette butts, and smoking packages.  Edmonton has decided that enough is enough, and installed these nifty small ashcans along Whyte Ave. and Jasper Ave.  The ashcans are small making them easy to install on any pole, and cheaper to build.  A few of these should be placed along every block, providing no excuse for the disrespectful tossing of butts.


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