Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sidewalk Buffer Zones

By: Emily Boley

Sidewalks consist of three zones:  
Sidewalk Zones

1. Edge zone on the building side
2. Walking zone
3. Edge zone on the street side

Distinct Zones
As seen pictured above and below, sometimes these three zones are paved with different materials to make them more distinct. If created with enough width, the third, edge zone can be considered a buffer between the pedestrian on the sidewalk and the potential traffic danger and noise in the street (motor vehicles, bikes, etc.). This buffer zone can be filled various items.

A distinct buffer zone paved with cobble stones, separated from the walking zone with granite, wide enough to contain trees, light poles, benches and vertical separation from the street

Brick walking zone and concrete street side buffer zone

Trees and Planting Strips
The buffer zone can be filled with trees, which are not only beneficial to the environment, but can also offer shade to pedestrians. 
Buffer zone planted with trees

Planting strip


Far wider planting strips providing more green space and separation from the street

Other Buffer Zone Objects
The buffer zone can be used as a planting strip for trees, but signs, poles, benches, trashcans, parking meters, and so on, can too be placed here when they might otherwise enter the walking zone.

Benches, trash cans, trees, bikes, light poles

T signs, electrical poles
Parking meters, signs
Trees, signs, meters
Trees, hydrants, parking meters
Mailboxes, signs, light poles
Driveways and Curb Ramps
This buffer zone offers space for driveway and curb ramps such that they don’t interfere with the pedestrian’s walking zone.

Sloped driveway in buffer zone


Sudden Turn Into The Street
The buffer zone helps to avoid a pedestrian’s ‘sudden turn’ into the street. It allows them space to stop and look before entering the street and time for the oncoming traffic to see them before they do so.

Space to stop and look before entering street

Bad Buffer Zones
While there are benefits to having a buffer zone, a sidewalk can be laid out such that items that might serve as protection from the street or offer shade begin to impede pedestrians.

Electrical boxes

Trees, poles, signs, meters
If the buffer zone is not wide enough, a pedestrian may have to walk suddenly into the street.

Skinny sidewalk without buffer zone

Skinny sidewalk without buffer zone
Skinny sidewalk with meter in buffer zone forces pedestrian into the street

If a sidewalk has a substantial enough buffer zone between the walking zone and street, it can offer safety, green space, shade, a place for signs, and various other objects. If not, it can pose a sometimes dangerous and unpleasant experience for pedestrians.

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