Saturday, March 28, 2009

Walkway width and surface treatment

Two important features of walkway design that affect how easily they can be used and people’s desire to use them are walkway width and surface treatment.

To ensure that these proposed walkways can be used throughout the year and are as accessible as sidewalks, while also being cost effective to build, it is suggested that they be hard surfaced with asphalt (as a minimum standard). For walkways that are within a wetland buffer, or other similar environmental feature there will likely be standards that allow compacted rock chips as the walkway surface (similar to portions of Oak Harbor’s existing waterfront trail/walkway).

Since most of the walkways in new subdivisions will be directly bordered by properties, and therefore private front, side and backyards it is important to design them wide enough to make them appear as distinctly different from the private property. This will make them comfortable for pedestrians to enter them and use them.

The width of the walkways also impacts how safe they are, and how safe they appear to be. Again, given that these walkways will be bordered by private properties, they will likely have fencing (6ft high is max. allowed and typical) along significant portions of their lengths. The kind of enclosure created by narrow walkways and sight obscuring fencing can make the walkways feel very narrow, reduces sightlines into the walkways (the “eyes on the street” often referred to for passive oversight and safety), and creates an overall uncomfortable sense of enclosure when walking through them.

Although walkway users may not be able to look over the fences in these cases, their close proximity to people’s private yards resulting from narrow walkways also impacts the private residential users. The perception in these cases is that people’s privacy is being compromised.

Overall walkways, with these characteristics are less likely to be used and are often viewed as less of an asset for the community/neighborhood. Therefore the proposal will be to require walkways that are:
1) wide enough to provide ease of view through the walkway from the street and a comfortable sense of enclosure;
2) incorporate landscaping to clearly define the walkway and enhance its visual characteristics; and,
3) are wide enough to create a comfortable distance between walkers and private yards to support the sense of privacy for neighboring residents.

Staff will be discussing the specifics of these elements with the Planning Commission at the next meeting. Feel free to comment on the blog about walkway ideas, or examples within Oak Harbor, as these can be incorporated into the meeting’s discussion.

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