Safe Routes Scoop

Increasing Pedestrian Safety and Mobility in Suburban Areas

As anyone who has attempted to walk or bike in the suburbs can attest, suburban areas in the United States typically treat bicyclists and pedestrians like second class citizens. Many suburbs are oriented exclusively to automobile travel, rarely accommodating bicycle and pedestrian travel. Walking and bicycling through these communities, in fact, is often considered unsafe, inconvenient and not pleasurable.


To accommodate all transportation choices, our suburbs can be adapted for bicycle and pedestrian travel. The car does not always have to be king; improving pedestrian and bicycle access can reduce the need for driving.


What Can Be Done?
Creating a safe and effective pedestrian and bicycling network will require retrofitting the American suburb. A frequent issue that needs to be resolved is how to create safe and clearly marked street crossings. Some proven strategies include:

  • shortening street crossing distances
  • retrofitting existing crossings with pedestrian refuge islands and curb extensions, both of which encourage slower driving speeds and provide bicyclists and pedestrians with an advantage
  • utilizing devices such as clear signage, traffic signals and lighting to increase visibility of and awareness to pedestrians and bicyclists; also, removing sight obstructions
  • adjusting traffic signal timing–crossing times can be lengthened at locations that expect to draw significant pedestrian activity


The Sidewalk Issue
As the most obvious element of the pedestrian network, sidewalks usually receive the most attention when improving pedestrian accessibility in the suburbs. Many subdivisions developed during the past 50 years were built without sidewalks because of the emphasis on motor vehicle access. In other cases, sidewalks may have been placed only on one side of a street or in a non-continuous, disjointed manner.


Adding sidewalks after the fact, however, can be challenging. The needed right-of-way is often unavailable or difficult to develop.  Sometimes, residents view this undeveloped area as part of their front yards and can be resistant to the addition of sidewalks. Others are hesitant due to perceived liability issues. In some cases, it is thought that sidewalks might change their community’s “semi-rural” character.

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