Most public planners understand intuitively that safety is the number one priority for public spaces — so why do so many of these newly-constructed areas look and feel so unsafe?
One issue is the developer’s interests and intent. A developer does not inherently come into a project wishing to optimize the experience of people visiting a site. Developers and their associated businesses have in mind the profit margin, along with the best ways to build and profit from their projects.
That means that third parties have to be involved in careful and deliberate consideration of how individuals will use public spaces. A new acknowledgment of this role has led to the proliferation of safety advocates, sustainability experts, alternative transportation planning teams and other parties that look at how a development will work, from a practical standpoint, where it is built.
There are many safety precautions and safety features built into the majority of new shopping centers, according to local ordinances. The infrastructure of these projects will usually be sound — there will be handrails in specific places, adequate numbers of parking spots (including disability spots) and fully functional doors and windows with appropriate safety designs.
What’s often missing is a truly fundamental accommodation of pedestrian traffic. Too many shopping centers are primarily built for vehicles, not people, and the lack of well-designed parking lots is putting too many people in jeopardy.
Desirable Safety Features
Shopping center developments have to have adequate curb space for pedestrians to walk from one business to another. They also need to have dedicated crosswalks and reasonable accommodations for pedestrians moving from any part of the lot toward the center sidewalk areas. That includes the points of entrance and exit to the lot where there is the need to balance the flow of incoming and outgoing vehicle traffic with the needs of pedestrians.
Where these types of crosswalks and other features don’t exist, getting around becomes a lot more dangerous for anyone who’s not in a car. Pedestrians may take risks or get hit by vehicles because of poor sight distance for the driver. Parking lots without adequate traffic controls can allow drivers to speed in these sensitive areas, which raises risks enormously.
It’s important that local officials and others look to hold developers accountable for the spaces that they build. This starts at the beginning of a project, and extends through all of its processes into the “production phase” of the development when people are actually using the property. It serves the common good to keep the spaces as safe as possible for future generations of shoppers and visitors.
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