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improving the value of the public realm


What is the effect of traffic on the pedestrian experience in centres?

street and carsredFor town centre design, traffic congestion is generally the friend of vibrant centres if we look outside of continental Europe. In USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand we generally do not have the benefit of the European pre – car settlement and street pattern. Some European consultants score streets in non European countries on the basis of car volumes (lower is better). This indicates an overly simplitic view of the role of traffic in modern towns and cities.


Density and diversity is not as apparent in the centres of newer nations and therefore the relationship between the car and the pedestrian is differentto Europe. Generally traffic itself is not the problem. The speed and character of the traffic is the issue. Good main streets, with a single travel lane in each direction and parallel parking on the side, should be congested. Such streets should be signalised (no roundabouts in such centres or at their gateways). Such streets should carry between 15,000 and 20,000 vehicles per day. However, not all centres should have "main streets" and not all parts of all centres should have traffic going through them. The key characteristics of a centre will inform the nature of the streets and how to work with them.


Generally speaking malls (as in pedestrian malls) are bad for retail and should be avoided or removed. The USA experience is sobering in this respect with almost more than 600 pedestrian malls restored to vehicles since the 1970s. Malls act as a network blockers, reduce overall accessibility to a centre and increase the amount of time spent in the car.

A pedestrian mall also expands the dimensions of the footpath, which makes the place look less active. Great streets generate between 7 and 15 pedestrians per square metre per minute. High volumes of foot traffic are essential for malls to work. Sydney CBD for instance should have more pedestrian-only places, which indicates the level to which density and diversity is a factor in pedestrian only spaces.