Walkers (the living, non-zombie ones): part 1

Walkers: part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4

New York made a huge effort to become car friendly in the twentieth century with new highways et al. (thanks mainly to Robert Moses). Now there is a focus on adding bike lane infrastructure and pedestrian realm improvements. But it seems like the improvements that have shaped the transportation infrastructure of this city for the past 100 years have not been directed at those who I call walkers.

walk·er    /ˈwôkər/
1. Someone who walks or uses pedestrian transportation infrastructure to move from point A to point B directly and without deviating from their course (i.e. not window shoppers, strollers, bench warmers, site seers, etc.).
2. People on their way to work, school, or any appointment who at some point during their journey walk.

While technically zombies do fall under this definition, I am excluding any walkers for whom point B = brains.

One type of walker.

I have no idea how many walkers there are in New York. But I suspect there are (and have been for some time) a lot, especially if you consider that some people may be walkers just some of the time.

One of the ways I like to analyze functional systems or ideas, like better serving walkers, is to apply alternative thinking modes to problems that as a planner might be counterintuitive (i.e. how would a fashion designer make a city more walkable? Or how would an artist? Or policeman?). I am going to attempt to channel my inner Information Architect here, since they work on creating information pathways and this is also a pathway problem. So here is a (admittedly minimal) persona of a “walker.”

Let us call him, “Sam”:

Sam is very opinionated and enjoys coffee.

I walk to my destination and when I don’t I take public transit, not a bike, not a car. Who wants to deal with maintenance, theft, parking, and/or insurance? Not, Sam.

I want my sidewalks to be friendly for walking, not sitting. I do not regularly sit in pedestrian plazas and find the crowds that tend to coagulate in them a hassle to get through.

I want signage that I can read easily without having to put on my glasses, and that clearly tells me where I am and how to get where I am going. I resent it every time I look at a street name sign and it is only directed toward oncoming vehicular traffic. I resent it even more when I have to cross a street to read it.

I hate being disoriented when I pop out of the subway in an area I am not familiar with, and then have to spend time (or a block or two of walking) to orient myself (traffic on 8th Ave flows north, so north must be that way!).

I do not ask for directions, and while I may occasionally sneak peeks at my smartphone if I get lost, I do not want people to notice me doing it, they might think I am a tourist!

So how does one design a city to please Sam?

If you are the Pope, first try to remove all prostitutes, thieves and brigands from the city. When that fails, tear down any obstructions between points A & B, widen streets and add huge obelisks at each point to easily connect sight lines and call it a day. This should last at least 400+ years, added bonus: Sam will think you are swell in spite of all the beheadings!

For those of us without a divine mandate, there may be simpler things that can be done. Sam appears to be looking for answers to the following questions when he is on the hoof:

  • Where am I?
  • How do I orient myself to the larger neighborhood or city?
  • Where is the [comfortable or efficient] path to get to where I am going?

Dearest reader(s), I am going to work on constructing 3 new posts to answer Sam’s questions and to help me do so will attend an NYU symposium on Walking and the Life of the City. In the meantime I am interested in feedback…

  • How would you design a city, street, neighborhood or any point of interest to address these questions?
  • How important is Sam compared to other users of city streets, be they shoppers, drivers, bikers, delivery men, etc…?
  • Is there some dimension of Sam that is missing (aside from hair)?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. Walkers (the living non-zombie ones): part 2 | PlaNYourCity - July 11, 2012

    […] for the delay in this follow up to my previous Walker post… I have been mulling over what I learned in the Walking & the Life of the City Symposium […]


  2. Walkers (the living non-zombie ones): part 3 | PlaNYourCity - August 13, 2012

    […] part 1 part 2 part 3 part […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: