By Dom Nozzi
June 11, 2004
Speaking as someone who works in a city where folks hardly walk at all (Gainesville, Florida), and as someone who is a strong advocate of promoting walking and urbanism, I am convinced that it is, indeed, quite possible to build sidewalks that are too wide.
If a street is not vibrant or compact or active enough to experience more than a tiny trickle of pedestrian volumes, a relatively wide sidewalk can create a perception that the streetlife is dead, even if it is not entirely dead. A narrower sidewalk can, in such a circumstance, make the street seem more alive, even if the pedestrian volume remains the same. In addition, a relatively wide sidewalk can create an ambience that is not human-scaled and the feeling of being over-exposed — particularly if there are few or no pedestrians using it.
In my experience, pedestrians often enjoy the sociability of walking a moderately crowded sidewalk (often produced by a relatively narrow sidewalk), in stark contrast to our preference when driving a car on a crowded road.
I would add that some of the best walking experiences I’ve had have been on Charleston
and Nantucket sidewalks (or many ancient European cities), which tend to be quite narrow.