In the past, cities focused on urban design that allowed vehicles to travel with as few obstacles as possible. Drivers were the primary concern and the needs of pedestrians were often ignored. Today that may be changing. Cities across the world are taking action to make streets more pedestrian-friendly.
In a recent New York Times article, Richard Conniff notes:
Denver, for instance, is proposing a plan to invest $1.2 billion in sidewalks, and, at far greater cost, bring frequent public transit within a quarter-mile of most of its residents. In Europe, where clean, safe, punctual public transit is already widely available, Oslo plans to ban all cars from its city center beginning next year. Madrid is banning cars owned by nonresidents, and is also redesigning 24 major downtown avenues to take them back for pedestrians. Paris has banned vehicles from a road along the Seine, and plans to rebuild it for bicycle and pedestrian use.
Conniff explains that streets designed with pedestrians in mind can help to reduce the costs of living in a city and improve the lives of residents. Many city dwellers cannot afford to own a car, yet they live in neighborhoods that do not cater to other types of transportation. Reducing the amount of street space devoted to cars would allow cities to plant trees and build parks, both of which contribute to the "health and well-being of residents."
In some places, organizations have been formed to demonstrate the positive aspects of pedestrian-friendly streets. The "Walk Your City" movement gives communities the tools to create signs displaying the distance to local attractions. The Better Block Foundation creates temporary pop-ups that show how parking spaces can be replaced by curb extensions that allow for more walking space as well as bike lanes, benches and social spaces.