Growing up in Tel Aviv, Israel, my parents often told me: “Don’t run into the road”. It was a dangerous place, and I knew I should stay away from it. There was a clear distinction between vehicles’ and people’s territories, and the only reason for me to actually step on the road was crossing it through a crosswalk. Crosswalks are a very interesting part of urban design: sure, they are only a small part of the street, but they are also a unique shared space for pedestrians and cars.
The usual zebra crosswalks are many times more of a statement than a necessity. In my opinion, when urban planners set up a zebra crosswalk, they unconsciously choose cars over pedestrians. I’m sure that their intentions are good: they want to provide people a safe way to cross road. But they also make pedestrians enter the vehicles’ territory, and even when pedestrians cross on green light, they still go off the sidewalk and use the vehicles’ space.
Take for instance these two pictures, taken on sunny days during the last summer. I found two similar street corners in Stockholm and Tel Aviv city centers: an intersection of a relatively wide and noisy road with a narrow one-way traffic street, as the ‘no entry’ signs imply.
So, looking at those two pictures, we can see several elements that project how some cities are designed for people, while others are planned for cars:
Zebra crosswalk vs. continuous sidewalk: do you see the guy wearing the light blue shirt in the left picture? For him, walking to the next block will not involve crossing a crosswalk. It is the cars coming from the narrow street that will have to wait before they enter the pedestrians’ zone. And what about the guy with the green shirt in Tel Aviv (in the picture to the right)? He will need to wait for the cars to stop on a red light, then exit his safe sidewalk, and cross the road.
Two sided parking vs. one sided parking: Should people be walking on narrow sidewalks just so the car owners will have more parking space? If we look at the small streets in both cities, we can see that Stockholm’s answer is NO, while Tel Aviv’s answer is unfortunately YES. That leads me to the last element. One sided parking allows the city to make sidewalks wider, and add other people-friendly infrastructures, such as bicycle lanes.
Separated bicycle lane vs. no bicycle infrastructure: as I said before, Tel Aviv prefers to provide car owners with more parking space. Stockholm, on the other hand, offers its dwellers a dedicated bicycle lane.
These two pictures are only one example of the differences between Tel Aviv and Stockholm in the way they treat pedestrians and cyclists. When it comes to this, the Middle Eastern city can learn quite a lot from the Swedish capital.
(Images: Lior Steinberg)