Pedestrian comfort – in times of crisis and beyond
Date published: 28 April 2020
Author: Amélie Cossé
In the different countries where Momentum’s teams are located, and elsewhere, we’re seeing initiatives emerge to promote walking by securing urban space for pedestrians and cyclists and redistributing space to their benefit.
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“Being able to walk outside while keeping social distance is one of the keys to maintaining the mental and physical health of the population.”
This extract from a press release from Piétons Québec (a Canadian organization representing pedestrians) dated March 31, 2020 reminds us of the importance of promoting walking at a time when our primary needs to exercise and to access our local shops must be encouraged.
In the different countries where Momentum’s teams are located, and elsewhere, we’re seeing initiatives emerge to promote walking by securing urban space for pedestrians and cyclists and redistributing space to their benefit. In Brighton, the local authorities are evaluating the possibility of converting certain streets into a cycle track to create additional space for sports and to avoid too many groups on the seafront. In Dublin, works are being undertaken to remove loading bays and parking spaces and provide extra space to people travelling on foot or by bike, including a contraflow cycle lane in the city centre. As Green Party councillor Lawrence Hemmings puts it: ‘I can’t understand why it has taken a crisis to implement, but it will be very welcome once operational!’
In Montreal and Quebec, initiatives calling for a redistribution of space to the benefit of pedestrians are multiplying, as presented by an opinion piece published in Le Devoir on April 15, 2020. The petitioners applaud the temporary redevelopment of Mont-Royal Avenue increasing the width of the sidewalk, and the closure of the Curé-Marchand bridge to vehicular traffic in Drummondville. The city of Boucherville proceeded to close a vehicle lane on the Marie-Victorin boulevard to allow pedestrians to use the cycle lane, whilst cyclists were transferred onto the main road. Following that, the City of Montreal announced on Friday 17 April that other boroughs would widen footways on street segments by removing the parking lane to help maintain social distance.
The current mandatory distance of two metres highlights the limited space traditionally allocated to pedestrians in our cities, but also the need to plan and arrange streets according to the space necessary to maintain pedestrian comfort, in times of a health crisis or not. This approach is valid at all times because evaluating pedestrians’ comfort is key to encouraging their use of spaces. At Momentum, this principle is at the heart of our approach to planning internal and external spaces. Based on various international standards, we assess the capacity available to pedestrian flows based on the level of comfort which is acceptable for a certain type of space and make recommendations to improve the layout of those spaces.
Indeed pedestrian comfort can vary according to the spatial context, for example if the space is occasionally occupied by passengers waiting for a bus for example (Figure 1), or according to the user, which could be a family with a stroller or children, which requires additional space (Figure 2). Our static and dynamic analysis and modelling tools allow us to consider the user’s need and comfort and to adapt the design of each space to existing and future users.
Although social distancing won’t last forever, we hope that the idea of pedestrian comfort remains key for urban planning if we put user needs first at the start of our design process and prioritize pedestrians and cyclists to create friendly and attractive streets. If we can repurpose street space in times of crisis, why switch it back afterwards? Let’s hope this is an opportunity to reclaim our streets for pedestrians and cyclists for good where possible!
Figure 1 – Clear Footway Width Available at Bus Stops – Pedestrian Comfort Guidance by Transport for London (2019)
Figure 2 – Pedestrian Space Recommended by the Street Guidance for Montreal Streets (2017)
 Piétons Québec, Press Release from 31 March 2020, accessed on 16 April 2020 : http://pietons.quebec/communique/2020/marcher-en-securite-un-service-essentiel
 The Argus, “Coronavirus : Brighton roads could switch to cycle lanes”, Harry Bullmore, 13 April 2020, accessed on 16 April 2020: https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/18375729.amp/?ref=twtrec&__twitter_impression=true
 The Journal.ie, “Dublin City Council to reallocate space to allow pedestrians and cyclists to social distance”, Ceimin Burke, 18 April 2020, accessed on 21 April 2020: https://www.thejournal.ie/dublin-city-cycle-lanes-foot-paths-social-distancing-5077763-Apr2020/
 Le Devoir, “Redistribuer l’espace dans les villes“, Marie-Soleil Cloutier, 15 April 2020, accessed on 16 April 2020 : https://media1.ledevoir.com/opinion/idees/576992/redistribuer-l-espace-dans-les-villes
 La Relève, « La Ville restreint l’accès au Vieux-Boucherville », Diane Lapointe, 10 April 2020, accessed on 24 April 2020 : https://www.lareleve.qc.ca/2020/04/10/la-ville-restreint-lacces-au-vieux-boucherville/
 Ville de Montréal, “COVID-19: La Ville de Montréal et ses arrondissements ajoutent plusieurs corridors sanitaires sur le territoire“, Published on 17 April 2020, accessed on 21 April 2020 : https://bit.ly/2ScrvIA