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Walking along the sidewalks of Minneapolis and St. Paul, every block the pedestrian must undulate, going down to meet the road, walk across (a sometimes marked, sometimes unmarked) cross-walk, and then up a curb, or at best a curb-cut, to meet the level of the sidewalk again.

Why does the pedestrian need to lower themselves to the level of the road? The road should instead rise to meet the pedestrian. This accomplishes several things.

  1. It slows down traffic, providing an effective speed-hump for turning and through traffic. (Increasing safety and residential interaction)
  2. It reminds vehicle traffic (cars and bikes) there are pedestrians about, and they are the aliens, not the other way around.
  3. It increases pedestrian speed, as pedestrians will obviously have the right-of-way at such street crossings, and won’t fearfully cower before the motor.

This kind of design is seen in many places in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But you say “we have no woonerf here”. Yet we do. We call them alleys. When entering an alley, the car rises to the level of the sidewalk (or nearly so). The car goes slower. The driver is more likely to be on the lookout for pedestrians.

I wrote about Rotterdam, though this applies to other cities in the Netherlands:

 The sidewalks are often continuous elevation across streets (i.e. there is no cross-walk, there is a cross-drive). This helps remind drivers they are entering a woonerf. Drivers must slow down since they are crossing the pedestrian right-of-way, rather than vice-versa. If there is one thing I could do to American residential neighborhoods, it would be implementing the woonerf. If there is one thing I would build to tell drivers they are in woonerfs, it would be this sidewalk extension across the local street (when it joins a major road) as a way of signaling to drivers they are in a new space. This is far more effective than signs or changes in pavement surfaces alone.

Let’s rethink our residential streets as residential spaces, where cars are permitted but not preferred. We can use the alley as an element of the model, though obviously the wider road requires difference in design.

Alley exiting view
Alley exiting view
Alley side view
Alley side view, the sidewalk mostly holds its ground, though it tilts slightly to accommodate the alley entrance.
Alley entering view
Alley entering view
The sidewalks of Rotterdam bow to no street.
The sidewalks of Rotterdam bow to no street.

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