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Can Cities Salvage the Pedestrian Experience?

Most people know walkability is important to improving a city's appeal for tourism and relocating millennials. Walkability describes a vital element of how city streets make its users feel. Sidewalks which are adjacent heavy car traffic have been shown to plunge intermittent levels of creativity by making pedestrians feel stressful. Naturally, the opposite effect has been demonstrated in green pedestrian environments, like college campuses and urban parks. The desire for a healthy and creative environment for workers and residents alike has shifted city planners' priorities from pushing for better sidewalks to evangelizing the need for pedestrian-only greenways and walking paths which are separate from car traffic.

The problem with this is that cities are already built-up. Truly meaningful achievements with pedestrian-only greenways have thus-far only happened by using discarded railroad lines to build greenways either around a central city (the Atlanta Beltline) or above one (New York's High Line). Because connected traffic can be guided onto just a few streets relative to uncoordinated human drivers, cities could face a serious set of questions about what they value in the future. Automated traffic could give cities a second chance to build meaningful pedestrian infrastructure. In Atlanta, there could be a historic opportunity to convert several streets into an inter-connected grid of linear greenways.

Some city planners have argued for transforming downtown streets so pedestrians and automobiles can share rights-of-way as connected cars become ubiquitous. The rationale for such strategies is understandable, but mathematical models give no indication this would benefit car flow, nor do studies suggest pedestrians would be made to feel comfortable. Shared rights-of-way in a automated traffic system would limit the potential and reliability of connected traffic flows while pressing traffic needs onto other streets which could have been converted pedestrian greenways----all while putting pedestrians exactly where they are most uncomfortable----surrounded by cars.

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