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Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

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Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

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How to Create a Pedestrian Mall

by Michelle Wallar

When describing his first gasoline buggy, Henry Ford described it was "something of a nuisance, for it made a racket and scared horses." Lewis Mumford, in his City in History, posits that the automobile contributes tangibly to the disconnectedness and classism prevalent in the modern world. The car insulates and isolates its passengers by transforming contact with the outside world into interactions with brake pedal, windshield wiper, and radio dial. The automobile's debut enabled the rich to physically and mentally separate themselves on wide streets from the poor who had no such "luxury."

Cars today are more of a nuisance now than Ford predicted. They gobble up one-third of the total area in cities with paved surfaces. As Mumford wrote:

"Waterfronts might be made inaccessible to the stroller, ancient trees might be slaughtered and venerable buildings torn down to speed traffic. This paved desert, adapted primarily to wheeled traffic, became also park, promenade, and playground: a grim park, a dusty promenade, a dangerous playground."

Pedestrians use twenty times less space than an automobile, and are able to communicate and interact with one another as they travel. In Jane Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities ( 1961), the author appreciates the significance of pedestrian traffic to a city's vitality: "Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contracts are the small change from which a city's wealth of public life may grow."

During the late fifties and into the seventies, many people recognized the unpleasantness of automobile exhaust fumes and the danger motorized traffic posed to pedestrians and bicyclers. The time was ripe for experimenting with car-free streets and commercial zones felt like an appropriate place to have such experiments .

The most common form of a pedestrian zone in large cities is the pedestrian mall, a street lined with storefronts and closed off to most automobile traffic. Emergency vehicles have access at all times and delivery vehicles are restricted to either limited delivery hours or entrances on the back streets.

In the beginning of this movement, most shopkeepers who were approached with the idea of removing car traffic from the streets lining their storefronts were adamantly opposed to such a proposal. For the most part, these people had good minds for business: it just didn't make sense that in this car-culture, people would be more likely to shop on streets blocked off to their main form of transportation. Counter-intuitive as it may be, pedestrian malls have proven to be successful despite people's car dependency.

In Essen, Germany, merchants found that even on rainy days, pedestrian streets are frequented by leisurely strollers, suggesting that heavy traffic is a greater impediment to walking than bad weather. Many cities, including Bonn, Cologne, Hamburg, and Munich have all reported a visitor increase of 50% following the creation of pedestrian areas. Merchants on Copenhagen's Stroget-who initially opposed closing the street to vehicles-reported sales increases of 25-40%. An interesting phenomenon was thus observed: people in cars do not window shop, people on foot do. It should be noted that shops specializing in furniture or large appliances either were not found along these streets or had decreased sales while other shops prospered.

Eventually, pedestrian malls had demonstrated their value to such an extent that many storekeepers stopped opposing pedestrian zones along their storefronts. In Minneapolis, retailers were all for the idea of a pedestrian mall. In fact they supported the idea so much that they picked up most construction and maintenance costs.

Increased sales, however wonderful for retailers, are not the only goal many city planners have in creating pedestrian zones. City planners in Germany stated that one objective of closing off a street to traffic was to improve traffic flow. This may not seem logical at first. Intuitively, most people assume that the traffic from the closed street will automatically move to the side streets. Interestingly enough, evidence from numerous street closures shows that 100% of the traffic does not go to the adjoining streets. In Copenhagen only 72% of vehicles formerly on Stroget, now a pedestrian mall, reappeared on parallel streets. During peak hours the percentage of cars displaced to parallel streets dropped to 38 %.

Another example can be found in Norwich, where only 40% of the traffic from London Street was found in surrounding areas after its closure. Other objectives given by German city planners are more easily imagined in conjunction with closing a street to automobiles:

  • preserving central city functions
  • facilitating access for shoppers
  • enhancing city's image
  • reducing noise and air-pollution and,
  • improving a city's appearance.
Following a street closure in Bonn, property value along the street went up, the number of consumers increased, as did the amount of retail trade. An experimental closing of Madison Avenue in NYC found that the number of pedestrians more than doubled without any decrease in the foot traffic along the equally popular Fifth avenue. This seems to indicate that people who wouldn't have otherwise left the confines of their office ventured out once walking was more pleasant. Shopkeepers along pedestrian malls, initially in opposition to the street closure, are now said to believe that people take more interest in window displays in traffic-free zones than elsewhere. While people in cars tend to be cut off from their surroundings, people in pedestrian areas are said to be more considerate.

Another advantage to this is a nicer, cleaner, and quieter central area results. The addition of channels for water, flower boxes, showcases, water sculpture, mushroom-shaped shelters, seats and special street lighting, greenery, trees, and outdoor cafes all give character to the city. In Norwich, restaurant owners along a pedestrian street spoke positively of the change. They noticed that people left less food on their plates, claiming that less exhaust fumes led to no more loss of appetite. They also enjoyed the quieter atmosphere, and the lessening of dust made it easier to keep things clean. Twenty-eight out of thirty businesses along this same street in Norwich did more trade than before-one shopkeeper claiming to have experienced an increase of 20%. A poll in Germany found that in sixteen cities, foot streets are used for art exhibitions, concerts, parades, processions, and political campaigns. Open markets serve not only as a cultural centers, but as political ones as well.

Although there are many advantages to removing automobile traffic from a street, there can be disadvantages as well. Some may find it difficult to walk long distances with parcels. Personal safety becomes a concern for many when the sun goes down, especially if the pedestrian mall is in an area of high crime. These concerns are being addressed in various ways in different cities. In Munich, lockers were placed in the subways for people to store their purchases. In some places, car-free streets make space for public transportation to operate. On Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, city buses were permitted along the street. (See related story, page 31. -ed) German city planners found that aesthetically pleasing street lamps that give off adequate low-glare light are important to success of traffic-free streets.

 A Standard Protocol
Through many trials and quite a few errors, cities gradually established a standard protocol for creating pedestrian malls in their cities: The first step is generally to communicate with traders along potential car-free streets in order to educate them about other pedestrian malls and to build a working relationship in which concerns are easily addressed. Secondly, prior to any change in traffic patterns, data is gathered on numbers of window shoppers and actual customers, and then corresponded to times, days and weather conditions. This is followed by an experimental closure, usually during nice weather or Christmas, with parallel data being collected. Only then, if the results are positive, are steps generally taken towards extending the experiment; and if all goes well, making the closure permanent with landscaping and publicity.

Out of thirty-two German cities with pedestrian zones, none accomplished their vision in one step. They implemented their respective plans step-by-step. The common pattern was to shut down a congested area, then as public support grew and financial resources became available, individual foot-streets were connected to form a traffic-free zone. City planners learned a great deal from these initial street closures.

Planning the experimental closure is of utmost importance for a successful attempt. It is important to link public and private transport with pedestrian precincts. Streets cannot be too long nor too far from tram stops, railway halts or car parks. They also should not be so wide that meandering is not possible. These streets should not just be mere roads closed to traffic, but creatively transformed-paved with colorful bricks, lacking curbs and filled with greenery. Basic tools in the initial decision making process are traffic data and zoning plans. The cost can differ widely depending on size, location, need for new street equipment or additional transport facilities (i.e. improved public transport, ring roads, fringe car parks). (For arguments against alternate paving facilities, see our "Traffic Calming: Taming The Beast Or Feeding It?" as published in the journal Population and the Environment, Spring 1992. -ed.) If you think that some type of pedestrian-only area would be an asset to your community, find like minded people and research these many success stories. Educate the community and build relationships among storefront managers/owners and pedestrian advocates. There is low risk to a business's profit with experimental closures although they allow the community to experience what it might be like to close a street to automobiles. Such experiments give everyone a more practical idea of what would and would not work with such a closure and also allow people to feel more comfortable with the potential change. Many street closures have been highly successful in the past, and perhaps your community will be the next success story.


Articles of interest:
Measuring and controlling the actions of governments 

Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results. 
WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius 

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.


Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)

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