Crossing the street can kill you, even in the most pedestrian-friendly cities. Are crosswalks part of the problem?
A firm called Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects is trying to reduce accidents by rethinking how people get from one side of the street to the other. The company, which is based in San Francisco (where an average of three pedestrians are hit by cars every day), has come up with a network of pedestrian lanes and planters that blur the usual boundaries between walkers and drivers. Its radical idea: Blending the street and sidewalk might actually save lives. "We saw the street as a kind of undiscovered public place," says cofounder Zoe Prillinger. "We wanted to challenge the conventional expectation that the pavement belongs to vehicles and the sidewalk belongs to pedestrians."
Here's how the concept—for which we've created our own rendering—would work.
The design starts with "bulb-outs," which make sidewalks bulge into the street and pedestrians more visible. Since putting pedestrians closer to traffic is riskier, the extensions have high ridges for more protection. The ridges also work as planters. "It becomes a kind of occupiable public space," says Prillinger.
Safety interventions sometimes go unnoticed, so the architects wanted a design that's impossible to miss.
A bold hatch pattern covers parts of both the sidewalk and street, creating a "hybrid zone" that alerts drivers. "We're questioning who the street belongs to and making that question very visible and prominent," says Prillinger "We didn't want a strict dichotomy between street and sidewalk."
The plan isn't just about safety. Prillinger hopes the crosswalks will connect to each other visually and help create a "network of green" that "stitches everything together and pulls nature into the streets."
[Illustration by Sinelab]
A version of this article appeared in the May 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine.