Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Take back the …sidewalks?

Below is an article that I wrote for my university's English magazine but was unable to submit. I think I can submit it next semester but I can also publish it here. This is a photo-heavy post; please click to enlarge photos.

Streets are more than utility spaces, good only for transportation and storage. They are community spaces where people should be comfortable interacting.

The subject area is too big to be covered here in detail so I will leave out how street design can affect crime rates and various international attempts to improve the sense of community in city streets and try to focus on engineering and how sidewalks specifically should be more than an afterthought when the real work streets and spaces for automobiles is completed.

I am mostly going to be describing obstructions to foot traffic, so let me start with a counter-example: something that slows pedestrians but that I approve of. The point of the following picture is to show that my criteria are admittedly subjective and contradictory.

Street markets are a sign of life, of the sidewalk being actively used in positive ways. On occasion, I have had to struggle to push my stroller down the street but I do not begrudge the vegetable sellers their space.

In the city of Sokcho, the sidewalks are generously sized, but all too often, obstructions like this are to be seen:

Here, we have a transformer and a light standard squeezing the streets width. Can a stroller fit? Maybe.

Would drivers accept this on the road, not stopping their passage but slowing them down and forcing careful maneuvering? Almost definitely not.

So, why are pedestrians expected to? Not everyone is a driver, but everyone is a pedestrian. Everyone has to walk at least a little.

Here are some more light standards and communication poles:

These are two shots of the same site. Wow, three poles, all exactly in the middle of the sidewalk. People can get used to anything, but this just has to be considered annoying.

Or, perhaps it should be considered bad planning. What city planner okayed these obstructions? Next are a few photos of bad planning in Gangneung.

Which one is the crosswalk? The lines on the left appear to be for a speed-bump, while those on the right look correct for a crosswalk. But the left side has an inclined curb. Who planned this? By the way, the other side of the street has no inclined curb, for either set of lines. You could roll your wheelchair off the sidewalk, cross the street, but then have to ask for help to mount the curb on the other side.

Inset crosswalks are another sign of pedestrians needs being second class. Below are two photos taken in Sokcho: we are looking across an intersection but where is the crosswalk? See the illegally parked white van on the left side of the picture? Thats where the crosswalk is.

Although the crosswalk is dangerously hidden from view by cars parked on both sides of the road on both sides of the crosswalk, I am more concerned about the value, or lack, given to speed and direct travel for pedestrians. To cross this street, pedestrians are expected to go far out of their way.

Lets have a look at the five way intersection below Gangeungs city hall.

First, note that there is no way to cross the major road, but pedestrians can only walk alongside it. There was a crosswalk on the right side but it has been removed the inclined curb remains, although it is unnoticeable in this photo.

The crosswalk at the bottom left is a good example of how planning for foot traffic is an afterthought. The street at the bottom left is the exit from the highway and so is one-way. There is only a brief period when those cars can enter the intersection but a longer period for vehicles to leave City Hall, then vehicles to cross in one, then both directions in front of City Hall. Only for a small portion of that time can pedestrians legally cross the highway exit lanes, even though it is safe to do so for the entire time.

In Canada, people typically live in single family houses and are spread out. For good financial reasons, public transit is uncommon and infrequent. I could not imagine living without a car in most places. I lived in a town of 15,000 people: there were two pharmacies and almost everybody had to drive to visit them. We actually drove to the closest convenience store (about 4-5 km).

Koreans typically live in apartments and so are more densely packed. Personally, I would like more open space but I do like being able to walk to most of the stores and services I need.

Let me finish with a request or a charge to Kwandongs civil engineering students. Please, care about the pedestrian. Again, everyone is a pedestrian at some point so they should be considered first, not second, in designing streets. Make us comfortable and happy walkers.


Patrick said...

You've really done your homework there... what a mess!

kwandongbrian said...

thanks. It was easy.

I mostly had to edit down the number of photos and restrict my post to a single topic. I could easily do the same post describing automobiles, uh, abusing the sidewalks - I touched on the subject a little in the photo of the inset sidewalk- with four illegally parked vehicles around it!

Patrick said...

Driving in Gangneung is like driving in rush-hour London... still, the efficiency's a lot better in Korea. Their work ethic is admirable!

Masuro said...

Perhaps you could submit your photo collection to City Hall and ask them to think about it.
But they won't, because there would be a revolution if street space was taken away for the use of 'peasant' pedestrians.