Making Government Work

Can a New Kind of Sidewalk Save Lives?

January 15, 2014
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Can a New Kind of Sidewalk Save Lives?
Courtesy Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects
To prevent pedestrian traffic accidents, San Francisco officials are looking for ways to redesign their streets.

In San Francisco, up to 50% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians, nearly four times the national average. In fact, three pedestrians are hit each day, accounting to a yearly average of 20 deaths. With statistics like these, it’s obvious that something has to change. So why not the streets?

An architecture firm from the Bay Area has come up with an idea that will not only help make pedestrians more visible to drivers, but also turn street corners and medians into useable public space. The design, which was dreamt up as part of a project by pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, creates “bulb-outs” — curb extensions that make sidewalks bulge into the street, increasingly the visibility of pedestrians who are waiting on the corner. These extensions have high ridges that not only protect pedestrians from drivers, but can also be turned into planters for community gardens.

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“We didn’t want a strict dichotomy between street and sidewalk,” says Zoe Prillinger of Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects, the firm that created the plan. “We’re interested in ambiguity, the idea of sharing and negotiation — between park and city, street and sidewalk, and cars and pedestrians.”

The firm’s design is part of a larger project called WalkFirst, a collaboration between San Francisco agencies — including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Planning Department, the Public Health Department, and the City Controller’s Office — that will prioritize capital improvements over the next five years to make the city a safer place to walk. The hope is that projects like this one will decrease pedestrian injuries and fatalities by 50% over the next seven years.

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