Even when the white walking man is illuminated, a car making a left hand turn can zoom by, startling you as you cross the street.  It’s easy to blame the driver.

You had the right of way, and they are careless and geez what’s the rush? I’m not making excuses for those who zoom through a walk light, but our city is largely designed to encourage this kind of behaviour instead of negotiating shared space.

Our urban environment is designed to prioritize cars over other methods of transportation such as bicycles, buses, or pedestrians. So how did cars get on the top of this totem pole when most of us know the benefits of a walkable city?

Many moons ago, motor vehicle companies wanted to make driving fun and easy so they could sell more cars. Historic downtowns are downright inconvenient to drive in. But Harbour Drive on the other hand, what a dream!  These companies successfully lobbied until our policies reflected their priorities instead of what is best for our cities. Now, Ford Motors is investing in bicycles and public transit. So why in St. John’s are we still letting cars be the king of the castle?

Pedestrian Priority Paving is one piece of infrastructure that we can use to help reorganize this hierarchy, making it more pleasant for people to walk around. At the airport, I was pleased to see that they are adding Pedestrian Priority Paving.  These guys see the benefit of a marginally more expensive design well worth benefits that can’t be as easily measured in dollars and cents.

As you exit the airport doors and walk to the parking lot, you can continue walking on a surface of a similar material and height as the sidewalk. The pedestrian surface disrupts the flow of the road. Cars have to drive up from the asphalt road to a slightly raised and different colour surface.

The change in road texture helps alert the driver to look out for pedestrians and is designed to slow them down. This small move helps walkers and drivers make eye contact so they can negotiate the space they share.

Conversely, in most intersections, the concrete sidewalk ramps down to the asphalt driving lane. To cross the street, the pedestrian enters into the car’s territory. Some crosswalks like this seem to work well enough, but others are downright dangerous: Think about the crosswalk in Rabbitown near Jackman and Greene’s and Leo’s.

In any street, different methods of transportation intersect and a negotiation is required to avoid mishaps. To have a safe city we have to prioritize the walkers, because in the case of an accident, they’ve got the most to lose. We can design our cities to help foster compromise, to help drivers notice and care for pedestrians.

It makes sense in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, but Pedestrian Priority Paving wouldn’t make sense on the Pitts Memorial. That said, there are lots of places in St. John’s where cars share the road with cyclists and walkers and we’d all benefit from better design.  Within the core of our city, Pedestrian Priority Paving is one measure we can use to help make it safer and more pleasant to move around on foot.  This helps us all negotiate the city we share.