Perils for Pedestrians

TV talk about people who walk

Gallery of Sidewalk Obstructions

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Poles, signs, and other permanent fixed obstructions located in the sidewalk block pedestrian traffic and degrade the pedestrian environment 24/7 for decades -- or even for centuries if the replacements are put back in the same spot. We have a look at some typical problems with poles, posts, and hydrants in our main Sidewalk Obstructions page. There are good alternatives to placing obstructions in the travel zone of the sidewalk where they block pedestrian traffic. Here is a rogues gallery of the good, the bad, and the ugly for some common obstructions.

Doing It RightSidewalk zones, Augusta

A sidewalk in Augusta, Georgia, is split nicely into 3 distinct areas. The Furniture Zone near the curb has trees, poles, signs, trash cans, and other street furniture. The Travel Zone in the middle is clear of all obstructions and is wide enough to comfortably handle all the pedestrian traffic. This would be the "Pedestrian Access Route" in the new PROWAG (Public Right Of Way Accessibility Guidelines) under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). And finally there is the Frontage Zone near the buildings. Sometimes the Frontage Zone just provides shy distance from the wall and space for people to exit doors, but here it has space for sidewalk cafes.

SprawlSidewalk cafe, Montreal

An unruly cafe in Montreal, Canada has spread across all three zones of the sidewalk realm. Pedestrians have to thread their way past the tables and chairs.

HeartburnSidewalk cafe, Paris

A sidewalk cafe in Paris, France extends too far into the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to go by single file or step into the street. Cafes give life to the streets of cities, but they have to leave adequate space for pedestrians.

When there is spaceBicycle racks, Madison

Bicycle racks occupy the furniture zone of a sidewalk in Madison, WI. There is plenty of width, so the bicycles are out of the way of the travel zone.

When there isn't spaceBicycle corral, Portland

A bicycle corral fits into the parking lane of a street in Portland, OR. The sidewalk was too narrow to accommodate the high demand for bicycle parking, so three car-parking spaces were transformed into three dozen bicycle-parking spaces.

EnforcementPolice car parked on sidewalk, Landover.

Police vehicles block the pedestrian route from the Morgan Boulevard Metrorail Station to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Football fans have to walk through the access lanes of the parking lot to get around the police cars. The Maryland State Troopers arrive early to direct traffic into the parking lots. Even with 5.6 million square feet of asphalt with 22,000 parking spaces in the stadium lots, the police still parked on the sidewalk.

SurpriseUtility box in sidewalk, Landover

A utility box sticks up in the sidewalk on another route to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. While the space left next to the utility box might meet some standards, crowds of pedestrians will fill the entire sidewalk on game days. Any obstruction is a problem when moving large crowds, but encountering a short utility box can be a memorable experience for the shins of football fans who can't see it because of the crowds.

Another surpriseUtility box missing lid, Augusta

A buried utility box can also be a hazard if not maintained, like this one in Augusta, GA. If the cover is slightly dislodged, it becomes a tripping hazard. If the cover is broken or missing, it becomes a tiger trap for unwary pedestrians.

It's a gasGas meter over sidewalk, Richmond

A blind pedestrian is about to discover a gas meter in Richmond, VA. Walking here can be quite an adventure, with the poor pavement condition below, the gas meter to her right, and the utility pole to her left.

Squeeze playSidewalk narrows by parking lot, Augusta

This sidewalk in Augusta narrows abruptly with a short wall where it goes past a parking lot. However, the same pattern of street trees and lamp posts used on the wider part of the sidewalk continues in the narrow section, leaving little space for pedestrians. It would require the sacrifice of a few parking spaces to fix the problem.

Triple playNarrow space and low branches, Augusta

It's a bit tight to go between this lamp post and the brick wall in Augusta. Then the pavement narrows further to go by an empty tree pit. But don't spend too much time looking down, or you will go face-first into the low tree branches.

Making spaceTree in curb extension, San Diego

The curb was extended to make space for this street tree in San Diego, CA. Bulb outs are a way to create additional room for all kinds of things that won't fit into a narrow furniture zone.

SandwichedSandwich boards in sidewalk, Augusta

This sidewalk in Augusta has ample space in either the frontage zone or the furniture zone for the shops to place their sandwich boards. They add a bit of color to the street, and they let pedestrians know what they can buy inside. However, like other things that aren't nailed down, sandwich boards have a nasty habit of creeping out into the travel zone.

News anchorFixed news racks, San Diego

These fixed news racks keep the fourth estate from becoming a nuisance for pedestrians in San Diego. Mobile news racks have a habit of congregating at street corners, just where the space is needed most for pedestrians using the crosswalks.

Dumped onDumpsters block sidewalk, San Diego

A single trash can is an obstacle on a narrow sidewalk. When you have a wide sidewalk like this one in San Diego, it takes a bit more effort to block it with a whole fleet of dumpsters.

Green thumb in your eyePink shrub blocks sidewalk, Bethesda

This homeowner in Bethesda, MD, has one shrub in his entire front lawn. He thoughtfully put it right next to the sidewalk so pedestrians would be sure to notice it.

Artful placementPublic art in furniture zone, Greenville

Public art adds interest to a public space. This sculpture in Greenville, SC, is positioned outside the travel zone. It gives children an opportunity to stop and play, while giving a bit of joy to adults walking by unimpeded.

SadDrab sidewalk on busy street, Brussels

While having a sidewalk free of obstructions is important for pedestrians, it is not enough to make a walkable place. This sidewalk in Brussels has very few obstructions, but the bleak environment (squeezed between nondescript office buildings and a five-lane traffic sewer) will suck the joy out of your soul before you have walked two blocks. We need the furniture zone. We need art and trees.

More on Sidewalk Obstructions.