October 7, 2004

Here's how to get out of your car

  • Proper designs and planning could lead to greater pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
    Mirai Associates

     University Village
    Jim Garner Photography
    University Village was transformed into a pedestrian-friendly shopping center, with plenty of sidewalks and street-level storefronts.

    Traffic congestion, air pollution and sedentary lifestyles all contribute to urban malaise. A growing movement supporting non-motorized transportation points to pedestrian and bicycle systems as a way to reclaim urban vitality.

    Walking and biking is a healthy, ecologically friendly and economical way to travel. Pedestrian and bicycle systems allow people to exercise and provide a setting for social interaction on sidewalks, trails, paths and greenways.

    Walkways and bikeways can extend to a regional network, or simply provide a circulation path in a neighborhood park.

    Design elements

    Well-designed pedestrian and bicycle systems can enhance and enliven the urban environment. It is crucial to design these systems for the user while keeping the context in mind.

    Too often, one will see an underutilized trail or neglected pathway that just seems to be in the wrong location. On the flip side, a popular trail can become problematic when users intrude upon neighbors' yards or impede access to adjacent businesses.

    Both examples can be the result of a poor design that failed to account for its surroundings and serve the interests of the pedestrian, bicyclist and community.

    Successful planners, designers and developers use design elements to enhance and promote pedestrian and bicycle systems. Design must provide a sense of safety, security and comfort.

    Conveniences and amenities such as restrooms, drinking fountains, benches, public art and bicycle racks can all convey a sense of welcome and ease. Trees act as visual breaks as well as provide shelter and buffers to adjacent uses. Signage and way-finding signs will enhance the use of non-motorized systems.

    Pathway design should relate to the function and the anticipated users. The design of spaces should be spacious enough for all users but not so generous as to be out of scale with the setting. Sidewalks and trails should take advantage of views and other amenities when appropriate, especially when bordering residential and retail developments.

    Successful designs

    Tools of the trade
    The drive for development of pedestrian and bicycle systems comes from both the public and private sector. A variety of ideas and tools can be used.

    System design
    • Establish a program to coordinate efforts, educate the public, enforce the program goals, and promote pedestrian and bicycle travel.
    • Update design standards that accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.
    • Establish neighborhood traffic calming programs.
    • Provide linkages between desired destinations with common origins. These systems should be continuous.
    • Require developers to provide convenient right-of-ways for pedestrian and bicycles.
    • Encourage development that enhances the pedestrian experience, such as shade trees, awnings, lighting, transit access and zero lot lines.
    • Accommodate users of all ages and abilities.
    • Review planning and public works projects for pedestrian and bicycle character.

    Commuting policy
    • Develop strategies that reduce vehicle volumes and not capacity, such as the Washington Commuter Trip Reduction Program.
    • Provide incentives for employers to promote non-motorized commuting.
    • Encourage employers to adopt flextime policies.

    Land use and building codes
    • Design business, office and public service buildings to be convenient for pedestrian, bicycle and transit users.
    • Direct land use and transportation development through the permitting process to provide better access.
    • Require retail, commercial and residential to provide a safe environment for pedestrians and bicycles.
    • Promote clustering of higher density developments through zoning.
    • Restrict neighborhood developments to pedestrian scale.
    • Coordinate land use decisions with existing and planned public transportation services.
    • Construct buildings to meet disability needs.
    • Construct buildings with non-motorized travel amenities, such as secure storage, changing rooms and showers.

    Non-motorized facilities
    • Require development of facilities as land is developed.
    • Provide amenities to accommodate physically challenged persons.
    • Require bicycle storage in commercial and recreational areas.
    • Provide sufficient secure bicycle storage at transit facilities, such as the bike station in Pioneer Square.

    • Conduct public meetings to allow community input.
    • Promote awareness campaigns such as Bike to Work Day and School Pedestrian Safety.
    • Use context-sensitive design as a comprehensive approach to transportation design.

    Communities in the Pacific Northwest provide a number of outstanding examples of good pedestrian and bicycle design. Many of these come out of partnerships between the public and private sectors, and the best reflect creative integration of public spaces with private development.

    Adobe development

    When Quadrant began development of the Lake Union Center in Fremont, the company worked closely with the community so that the design would be accepted by neighbors as well as Burke-Gilman Trail users. The design sought to fit into the character of the neighborhood, and also allow public access to the waterfront, recreational areas and the trail.

    Benjamin Conwell of Quadrant admitted that the project had its challenges. But, several design elements that evolved out of meetings with the Fremont community were key in integrating the development with the Burke-Gilman Trail. Access to the trail has been enhanced through new plazas, open areas and trail configurations. In addition, it provides a unique amenity by allowing the public to access its waterfront plazas.

    University Village

    With the decline of first- and second-generation shopping centers and strip malls, developers have used the design and development of pedestrian- friendly networks as a way to attract shoppers. Stuart Sloan, former CEO of Schuck's Auto Supply and former chairman of QFC, bought University Village in 1993 with the intent of rejuvenating the declining strip mall through a pedestrian-oriented design.

    From the start, Sloan wanted this 1950s shopping center to have a village feel with the sidewalk as the stage for shoppers. The use of quality materials, kiosks, pavilions, benches, way-finding signs, shelters and lush vegetation creates an inviting environment for pedestrians. Pathways have been carefully laid out to provide convenient connections between retail shops and to prioritize pedestrian movement over vehicles. These design elements bring people to U Village just to enjoy the ambiance.

    North Creek Trail

    The city of Mill Creek's 10-foot-wide North Creek Trail has been constructed in bits and pieces through new development. Developers were allowed to construct the trail at the outer edges of the stream buffer to preserve buildable land on the site. At the same time, Mill Creek's Town Center Project will construct a large section of the trail to serve nearby residents who want to walk to the new U Village-like shopping center.

    The city reports that the trail is nearly 90 percent complete, thanks to new developments by Lozier Homebuilders, Devco, Renaissance Homes and Legacy Residential Partners.

    The North Creek Trail will extend into Snohomish County and the city of Bothell.

    Interurban Trail

    When completed, the city of Shoreline's Interurban Trail will be a 3-mile pedestrian and bicycle pathway developed along the former Interurban rail line. Owned by Seattle City Light and used as an electrical power transmission corridor, the 100-foot-wide former rail corridor runs from Seattle to Everett, roughly parallel to Aurora Avenue.

    Shoreline and Seattle City Light have a 25-year memorandum of agreement allowing Shoreline to construct a trail in the transmission right-of-way corridor. At the same time, Snohomish County has completed about 80 percent of its Interurban corridor from Everett to just north of the King-Snohomish County line. Seattle is in the planning and design stages on its section between North 108th and 129th streets.

    The Interurban Trail's proximity to Aurora Avenue North and the economic core of Shoreline will provide access to nearby shopping, services and employment, plus access to transit centers at Aurora Village and the Shoreline Park and Ride. The project, when completed, will also include rest stops, trailhead, interpretive historical and natural features, and directional signs.

    Trail construction is a condition of development when frontage improvements are required for new construction or redevelopment. SGA's Gateway redevelopment at the old QFC site at 185th and Aurora is just one of the private projects that will construct a section of the public trail. At locations where the trail runs along Aurora Avenue, frontage improvements will build the trail instead of sidewalks.

    A successful pedestrian and bicycle system integrates good urban design principles that address the needs of all users and the communities that it serves. Depending upon the size of the system and the affected property owners, planning of such non-motorized systems can be complex and involved.

    Government, private developers, and the public all play a role in providing bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and we all have a stake in a well-designed system.

    Howard Wu is a transportation planner for Mirai Associates, specializing in multi-modal transportation planning and traffic analysis. His master's thesis on pedestrian design strategies for downtown Seattle was awarded the Myer R. Wolfe Thesis Award in Urban Design.

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