Pedestrian cities are growing in popularity in many top regions around the world. The incredible beauty, enjoyment, and convenience a network of connected pedestrian streets and squares provides to the residents on a daily basis is unsurpassed. Being able to walk to a mix of shops, restaurants, newsstands, coffeehouses and open-air markets within car-free neighborhoods and work centers delivers the highest quality of life, and adds great variety and vitality to an area. Jane Jacobscalls this “an intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially.” There is a growing demand for entire city districts to be made pedestrian, and directly connected to a train line.
Designing great places for the comfort and enjoyment of the pedestrian is one of the most important aspects of New Urbanism. Taken to the highest level of urbanism, the finest places in the world are cities with entire networks of car-free streets, known as pedestrian cities.
Venice, Italy is considered the greatest pedestrian city in the world because it contains the largest pedestrian street network completely free of cars. The entire city has no cars operating on its streets. The city is quite dense, yet the most relaxing and pleasant city in the world.
Copenhagen is another of the world’s great pedestrian cities. A recent issue of ‘Metropolis’ magazine talks about Copenhagen and its growing pedestrian street network. Although it’s blessed with certain inherited characteristics – such as a narrow medieval street grid – the city has worked steadily to improve the quality of its street life. In the 40 years since Copenhagen’s main street was turned into a pedestrian thoroughfare, city planners have taken numerous small steps to transform the city from a car-oriented place to a people-friendly one. “In Copenhagen, we have pioneered a method of systematically studying and recording people in the city,” says Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and co-author of ‘Public Spaces-Public Life’, a study on what makes the city’s urban spaces work. “After twenty years of research, we’ve been able to prove that these steps have created four times more public life.” Here is Copenhagen’s program for a more pedestrian-friendly city:
COPENHAGEN’S 10-STEP PROGRAM
1. CONVERT STREETS INTO PEDESTRIAN THOROUGHFARES
The city turned its traditional main street, Stroget, into a pedestrian thoroughfare in 1962. In succeeding decades they gradually added more pedestrian-only streets, linking them to pedestrian-priority streets, where walkers and cyclists have right-of-way but cars are allowed at low speeds.
2. REDUCE TRAFFIC AND PARKING GRADUALLY
To keep traffic volume stable, the city reduced the number of cars in the city center by eliminating parking spaces at a rate of 2-3 percent per year. Between 1986 and 1996 the city eliminated about 600 spaces.
3. TURN PARKING LOTS INTO PUBLIC SQUARES
The act of creating pedestrian streets freed up parking lots, enabling the city to transform them into public squares.
4. KEEP SCALE DENSE AND LOW
Low-rise, densely spaced buildings allow breezes to pass over them, making the city center milder and less windy than the rest of Copenhagen.
5. HONOR THE HUMAN SCALE
The city’s modest scale and street grid make walking a pleasant experience; its historic buildings, with their stoops, awnings, and doorways, provide people with impromptu places to stand and sit.
6. POPULATE THE CORE
More than 6,800 residents now live in the city center. They’ve eliminated their dependence on cars, and at night their lighted windows give visiting pedestrians a feeling of safety.
7. ENCOURAGE STUDENT LIVING
Students who commute to school on bicycles don’t add to traffic congestion; on the contrary, their active presence, day and night, animates the city.
8. ADAPT THE CITYSCAPE TO CHANGING SEASONS
Outdoor cafes, public squares, and street performers attract thousands in the summer; skating rinks, heated benches, and gaslit heaters on street corners make winters in the city center enjoyable.
9. PROMOTE CYCLING AS A MAJOR MODE OF TRANSPORTATION
The city established new bike lanes and extended existing ones. They placed bike crossings – using space freed up by the elimination of parking – near intersections. Currently 34 percent of Copenhageners who work in the city bicycle to their jobs.
10. MAKE BICYCLES AVAILABLE
The city introduced the City Bike system in 1995, which allows anyone to borrow a bike from stands around the city for a small coin deposit. When finished, they simply leave them at any one of the 110 bike stands located around the city center and their money is refunded.
For more information, check out New City Spaces by Jan Gehl