Street Signage and the Pedestrian Environment

We talk a lot on this site about the impact of street design of safety and a sense of place. Things like wide lanes, one way streets, signal coordination and car parking all degrade the neighborhoods they pass through, as they prioritize vehicle throughput over everything else. A similar problem is the use of highway-scale signs on city streets.

As a fairly new resident, I often find myself trying to read street signs while walking or on the bus, a basic navigational task made nearly impossible by the widespread absence of pedestrian-oriented signage. Not only do large signs encourage drivers to drive too fast and tune out their surroundings; signs intended only to be visible by approaching car traffic complicate navigation for the rest of us. It means that intersections of one-way streets have no street signs in the directions cars are not traveling, even though people clearly walk there.

Everything here is built for cars.

Where are the street signs? Only where cars can see them.

Highway signs seem only to give drivers a cue to speed up. It’s a subtle but powerful example of the way in which all thought is given to car movement and none to any other modes. Never mind the fact that many of these dangerous car-oriented signs are placed on poles on the pedestrian right of way as yet another obstacle to walking.

Any signs for people?

Design encourages drivers to ignore crosswalks, and even the walk signs don’t work.

Things like this can be added to the list of pedestrian hazards that demonstrate a complete lack of concern for anyone walking around: broken sidewalks, traffic signs blocking sidewalks, inadequate walk signal time, lack of crosswalks in obvious places or the expectation to cross three lanes of speeding traffic in a simple painted crosswalk… We still have uprooted trees from June blocking sidewalks all over the city.

For a city that promotes itself as a great place for bicycling, we still have a long way to go toward basic fairness and consideration for pedestrians. It’s time to start reclaiming our neighborhoods from the asphalt wastelands they have become, transforming them into places that are not a dangerous and confusing chore to navigate.

Jeremy Mendelson

About Jeremy Mendelson

Jeremy is a traveling geographer, transit planner, street designer, bike user and sustainable transportation advocate, originally from New York City and Boston. He has designed bus and rail networks for a wide range of transit agencies; toured dozens of cities and towns; and written extensively about transportation planning, social and environmental justice and equity. | Jeremy hosts the Critical Transit podcast focusing on sustainable transportation policy and practice. You can find him on the bus or driving a bicycle, inline skates, a pedicab or a truck filled with bikes. Or just follow him on Twitter @CriticalTransit.