Some transportation agencies use volunteers or hired college students to perform field surveys of pedestrian and cycling conditions. If possible, surveys should include special user groups, such as people in wheelchairs and elderly pedestrians, particularly in areas they frequent.
When evaluating facilities it is important to clearly maintain the distinction between nominal (“in name”) and functional (“working condition”) dimensions. For example, many sidewalks and paths are nominally 1.8 to 2 metres wide, but functionally they may be much narrower, due to objects such as telephone poles and signposts located in their right of way, and due to surface failures, such as cracks and potholes. As a result, a walkway that meets technical specifications may be inadequate for some potential users. Similarly, a bike lane may be useless if it has poor surface conditions or is frequently used for vehicle parking.
Curb cuts, ramps and other universal access facilities.
Pedestrian road crossing facilities.
Lighting along streets and paths.
Roadway and road shoulder widths and pavement conditions.
Presence of parked cars adjacent to the traffic lane.
Presence of potholes and dangerous drain grates.
Bicycle parking facilities.
Security, cleanliness, vandalism, litter, and aesthetic conditions.
Public washrooms and other services along trails and bike routes.
It may be difficult to obtain consistent evaluations of roadway conditions by different surveyors. Some cyclists are comfortable riding on roads with heavy, high-speed traffic, and are critical of paths that restrict cycling riding speed due to design limitations. Other cyclists have the opposite preferences. This problem can be minimized by establishing clear evaluation criteria. For example, rather than simply rating a highway condition as “good” or “bad” for cycling it may be better to record traffic volumes, shoulder width, shoulder condition, and “special problems for cyclists.” Training and supervision can help guarantee consistency between survey teams.
Identify and Evaluate Constraints and Opportunities20
Common constraints to nonmotorized travel include:
Non-existent, incomplete, and poor quality sidewalks and crosswalks.
Roads and bridges with heavy vehicle traffic and inadequate lane space for cyclists.
Highways and other roadways with rough pavement, potholes, drain grates, or other surface irregularities along the right lane and shoulder.
Wide roads and intersections that are difficult for pedestrians to cross.
Rough railroad tracks crossing a roadway (particularly if at an angle).
Inadequate lane space for bicycles.
A lack of bicycle and pedestrian connections where it would be suitable, such as between a residential area and a school or shopping mall.
Street environments that are perceived as unsafe to pedestrians, either due to crash risk or crime.
Signal lights that are not activated by bicycles.
When evaluating constraints and potential improvements, consult current users (to identify the problems they encounter), potential users (to identify the problems they perceive), and experts (who may be able to provide technical information and suggestions).
It is important to differentiate between nominal (in name) and functional (working condition) when evaluating facilities. For example, typical sidewalks and paths are nominally 1.8 to 2 metres wide, which is sufficient for light- and medium volume pedestrian traffic, but functionally they may be much narrower due to objects such as telephone poles and signposts located in their right of way, and surface failures, such as cracks and potholes. As a result, a walkway that meets technical specifications may be inadequate for some potential users. Similarly, a bike lane may be useless if it has poor surface conditions or is frequently used for vehicle parking.
Although a typical pedestrian or cyclist is only about 0.5 metres (1.5 feet) wide, when moving they need a buffer between themselves and other objects. Traffic engineers call this “shy distance.” As traffic speeds increase, so do shy distance requirements. This should be taken into account when evaluating the adequacy of sidewalks and paths for the volumes and mixes of users. It means, for example, that two people walking quickly side-by-side typically require about 2 metres of total width (0.5 metres of body width each, plus 0.5 metres of shy distance on each side, and that a 3 metre sidewalk or path is just sufficient to comfortably accommodate a couple of pedestrians heading in one direction passing another pedestrian. Wider paths are needed to accommodate moderate speed skaters and cyclists.
Not all pedestrian and cycling improvements require a specific project or funding. Many improvements can be implemented by incorporating appropriate policies and standards into other projects. Implementation tasks may include:
Adopting appropriate road, path and sidewalk design and maintenance standards.
Changing development and zoning codes to require pedestrian and bicycle facilities in new developments and when old ones are reconstructed.
Establishing nonmotorized transportation safety, law enforcement, and promotion programs.
Establishing a pedestrian and bicycle coordinator position within a planning agency.
Establishing nonmotorized transportation evaluation programs, including data gathering and ongoing public surveys, and consultation.