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Surprising Science

How the Science of Walking Will Shape Cities

For decades, automobiles have taken priority over pedestrians in city planning offices. That is set to change as we come to grips with what actually makes cities work: pedestrian traffic.

What’s the Latest Development?

The need for social cohesion, as well as a greater understanding of how pedestrians behave, is changing how planners plan tomorrow’s cities. What is called ‘shared space’ is becoming increasingly popularareas of the city where pedestrians, cyclists and motorized traffic mingle. Typically free of barriers like curbs and handrails, planners say shared space not only creates a more pleasant atmosphere for pedestrians but also makes the area safer, as drivers are encouraged to pay closer attention to their surroundings.

What’s the Big Idea?

A strong scientific undercurrent is changing the way we think of cities, where more than half of the world’s population currently lives. Sociologists are better understanding a phenomenon known as ‘desire lines’, or the path humans naturally take while walking rather than ones they are forced to follow because of sidewalks and handrailsthink of worn down paths in the park which veer off from the officials trails. In general, humans seem to prefer trajectories that afford them the most visibility, suggesting open, vibrant spaces.

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