We have codes and regulations describing everything from avoiding dangerous pitfalls to accommodating wheelchair accessibility. The intent of these rules is supposed to make a better environment for everyone, but sometimes mindlessly following them can create hazards of their own. One of my pet peeves is when a sidewalk forces the pedestrian to negotiate unnecessarily an uneven surface. Take for instance these examples where the rules were followed by the book resulting in poor sidewalk design.
The above example is at Jefferson County High School off Floyd Street and shows a sidewalk with wheelchair cuts at several handicapped parking spots. Would anyone really walk on a sidewalk that acts as a sort of fun-house obstacle course forcing you up and down little hills repeatedly? My guess is that pedestrians are more likely to avoid the sidewalk and walk in the driving lane instead.
A similar example is shown below on West Market Street where two curb cuts to a parking lot create a small island in the middle. The sidewalk again dips to allow wheelchairs access but really only creates a small hill to maneuver. While this case is less extreme as the above example, it’s far more common.
This isn’t making a mountain out of a small sidewalk hill, it’s pointing out one detail that makes walking slightly less enjoyable. In both cases, a better design could have opted to keep the sidewalk flat at the level of the parking lot, making it easier for both wheelchairs and walkers alike. Sidewalks are elevated slightly on curbs for many reasons, but it’s certainly not a mandatory position for all cases.
According to the book, however, there’s nothing wrong with these sidewalks. Imagine, though, if we began to use some common sense when we create our public realm and realize the implications of what exactly we’re building.