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Yield to Pedestrians
The significance and history of the design and use of pedestrian corridors is well-known throughout the industry of community design and urban planning. Consisting of sidewalks, greenways, multi-use pathways and other public ways, pedestrian corridors provide unobstructed paths of travel used primarily for foot traffic. These corridors are also unique in that they can serve as both a pathway or route (i.e., a cobbled street restricted from vehicular traffic housing storefronts or markets), as well as a destination or node (i.e., Times Square in New York City, NY). From a historical perspective, pedestrian corridors were essential to the development of towns as foot or animal traffic were the only available means of transportation for most early cities and settlements.
With the progression of transportation vehicles, including the omnibus, trolley, heavy and light rail, subway, and personal vehicle, these street elements (widths, curves, and structure densities) became wider, longer, and more spread out. Since progressive design inevitably follows technological advancement, in most areas, city design found the need to transform pedestrian pathways into roadways or infrastructure that would adapt to the increasing volume of residents and vehicular or rail traffic. While the populations and demands for vehicular travel continue to grow, there is also still a great deal to be gleaned from the historical relic that is the pedestrian corridor; and, though they may have ancient roots, many designers and community planners have seen the cultural and civic benefit of reviving and modernizing the traditional idea of the pedestrian corridor, bringing new life to both the design and its benefactors in the process.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, downtown Greenville, South Carolina found itself riddled with crime, drugs, and disinvestment. The river had been nearly toxic from fabric dyes being dumped by the nearby manufacturing site, and it’s even rumored that the water would turn various colors from the chemical content flowing into the supply. In or around the City’s 2000 master plan - a cooperation of both the public and private sectors - the City set out to revitalize the downtown area with the development of a new pedestrian corridor and reinvestments in physical infrastructure. The resulting pedestrian corridor has electrified the downtown market, conference hosting & tourism, and active biking scene. It provides access and stunning overlooks for the Swamp Rabbit Bike Trail, local artist studios, civic event spaces, restaurants, and high-rise hotels.
In Texarkana, Texas, a grassroots collection of artists and local groups came together to pitch an idea to convert a downtown alleyway into a pedestrian corridor promoting and linking the downtown district and the art scene. Stimulated by the community’s other downtown redevelopment efforts - which include an entertainment district, art galleries, event venues, residential developments, and other longstanding businesses - the goal of the pedestrian corridor project is to transform downtown alleyways with lighting, art, and other creative mediums to encourage more pedestrian traffic throughout the entire downtown scene.
Another goal of incorporating a pedestrian corridor into design is to increase safety for pedestrians. While most corridors are ground-level pathways surrounded by buildings and businesses, a unique example exists in the downtown tunnels located in Dallas, Texas. In the 1960’s the City of Dallas worked with Urban Planner Vincent Ponte to design an underground tunnel system that would allow for workers and residents to travel throughout downtown safely underneath the busy roadways and protected from the natural elements including rain and the Texas summer heat. Various shops and restaurants in downtown Dallas are connected to and can be accessed through the tunnels, and some are housed in the tunnel system itself. While these tunnels have successfully achieved their goal of providing safety from vehicular traffic and natural elements, the unfortunate risk of elevated crime required that a locking system be placed on the tunnels and access restricted during the evening and overnight. Due to this necessity, this particular pedestrian corridor may not be able to be utilized to its fullest potential for the downtown area.
MHS Planning & Design had the opportunity to work directly on a pedestrian corridor design project recently with the installation of Market Street, “The Bowery,” in Winnsboro, Texas. After a fire led to the loss of several buildings and downtown infrastructure, infill redevelopment led to a plan to not only revitalize the downtown area affected by the fire, but to also create a closed off market street public area and a center for the performing arts. Driven by local and cultural forces, the redevelopment plan for downtown Winnsboro sought to encompass the arts-rich, culturally diverse community vibe while preserving the small town Texas heritage of downtown Winnsboro. To achieve this long-term, multifaceted revitalization, MHS created a design to convert two city blocks into a pedestrian-only corridor (named the “The Bowery”) and provide access to public space, shops, and restaurants. The pedestrian-only city block provides a relaxed area for people to congregate and channel the laid back, slower paced life of Winnsboro’s past while also partaking in the vibrant arts, shopping and restaurant scene that is the future for this emerging cultural hub. Phase One of the project included re-pavement of the street, installation of tree wells and shade trees, plantings, benches, custom seating, a water feature, and decorative lighting. Artistic crosswalks and other personalized features bring local and cultural character to the design. Since its grand opening, the project space has hosted multiple city events, festivals and markets as well as attracted new business and interest into downtown Winnsboro.
While many cities default to prioritizing the development of high-traffic infrastructure, by taking a closer look at some of the benefits and successes of the concept of the pedestrian corridor, it’s clear that this relic of the past definitely holds a place in the future of infrastructure design. As the pace of life for most residents continues to increase at an unsustainable rush, the answer for breathing new life into our bustling cities might just lie in our past. Pedestrian corridors create a space for people to slow down, connect with each other, and engage their community at a face-to-face level that has been almost eliminated in recent years. While the need for traffic solutions and roadway development is by no means history, let’s remember that all those vehicles are still required to yield to the pedestrian. And perhaps our design plans should as well.
About The Author
John has been employed at MHS since May 2022 as a senior planner. He assists in project management, research, and site design for residential and commercial developments and legal ordinance updates. He is passionate about fostering a better setting for a city and its people to grow together, and he is driven to know others from all jogs of life.