Toward a standardized rating tool for pedestrian urban streets

Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA, image from Wikipedia

Quality-of-service: toward a standardized rating tool for pedestrian quality of urban streets

Elizabeth Macdonald, DCRP & LAEP Professor and Louise Mozingo, LAEP Chair and Professor


Coauthored by Elizabeth Macdonald, Professor City & Regional Planning, Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, and Urban Planning; Louise Mozingo, Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Planning; Dr. William Eisenstein, Executive Director of Center for Resource Efficient Communities; and Dr. Nicola Szibbo, Urban Designer


Published in the Journal of Urban Design, 2017

Research team is aviliated with the Center for Resource Efficient Communities at UC Berkeley

Project Description

This coauthored paper presents research to develop a quality-of service rating system for assessing the pedestrian-oriented characteristics and functions of streets that can be used easily and quickly by practitioners. Most existing methods of assessing pedestrian quality fail to take into account micro-scale landscape and urban design elements that significantly enhance the pedestrian experience, and those few that do are difficult and time-consuming to use. The proposed rating system is (a) context-sensitive, (b) capacity-sensitive, (c) takes into account micro-scale design factors, (d) is feasible to use in a professional planning practice setting, and (e) has built-in flexibility.

Well-designed pedestrian environments are critical to vibrant, sustainable cities and regions. Scholars regularly document that pedestrian-friendly streets enhance the social quality of the public realm. The presence of pedestrians has positive economic effects for local businesses and walking is a sustainable transportation mode that contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, most street design practice still largely focuses on reducing congestion and increasing level-of-service (LOS) for automobile travel, as it has since the mid-twentieth century.1Likewise, current street assessment methods primarily consider functional qualities related to vehicle throughput and capacity.

Current assessment techniques attempt to examine how streets function for pedestrians, but as yet no widely accepted technique fully and efficiently assesses the elusive quality of walkability. The Walk ScoreTMmethod, which is often used as a proxy for walkability, measures a pedestrian’s potential access to services and amenities from a given location, but does not look at how the design of streets in the area may influence the quality of the pedestrian experience and whether or not people will actually walk. Methods of assessing how streets work for pedestrian travel typically measure walkability using either engineering-based LOS analysis or suitability analysis. The LOS models emphasize sidewalk capacity and connectivity, but do not address qualitative factors. Existing suitability assessment approaches do consider how micro-scale design factors influence the pedestrian experience, but the techniques used are so elaborate and complex that they have not been adopted widely in planning practice.

This paper presents a pedestrian rating tool for urban commercial streets. It addresses a significant gap in practice as planners and designers are increasingly attempting to implement pedestrian improvements through Complete Streets and Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) programmes. Nevertheless, they do not employ consistent analytical pedestrian rating tools to inform citywide or regional pedestrian project prioritization. This research proposes a standardized assessment tool that captures and rates pedestrian environmental quality and can be easily used by practising planners and designers.

Full article is availabe at the Journal of Urban Design.

1. Southworth and Ben-Joseph 1995, Southworth, Michael, and Eran Ben-Joseph. 1995. “Street standards and the shaping of suburbia”. American Planning Association.” Journal of the American Planning Association 61 (1): 65–81.10.1080/01944369508975620 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]; Hebbert 2005, Hebbert, Michael. 2005. “Engineering, Urbanism and the Struggle for Street Design.” Journal of Urban Design 10 (1): 39–59. doi:10.1080/13574800500062361.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar]; Macdonald 2011, Macdonald, Elizabeth. 2011. “Streets and the Public Realm.” In Companion to Urban Design, edited by Tridib Banerjee and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, 419–30. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. [Google Scholar].