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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
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This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-99-089
Date: December 1999

Research, Development, and Implementation of Pedestrian Safety Facilities in the United Kingdom


7. Footways

7.1 Footway standards

Footways — sidewalks in the United States — are defined as a path for pedestrians adjacent to the carriageway. They are commonly referred to by the public in the United Kingdom as pavements. They are provided on nearly all roads in urban areas. However, the standard of provision varies considerably with the age of the town, the function of the street, the townscape, and the local highway practice. Roads running through rural villages often have no footways for historic reasons.

There is no dedicated manual of UK footway design. Footway standards tend to be included in highway design standards and guidance. Transport in the Urban Environment (IHT, 1997, Chapter 22) recommends that all pedestrian footways should have a minimum width of 1.8 m (6 ft) but should be wider wherever possible. Dropped crossings (i.e., dropped curbs) should be provided where pedestrians with push-chairs (buggies) or wheelchairs are likely to need to cross. There should be no vertical face on the upstand. The gradients of ramps should be not greater than 8 percent (1:12) but a gradient of 5 percent (1:20) is preferred. Additional references on technical standards for footway design are also given.

May and Hopkinson (1991) undertook systematic studies to assess pedestrians' perception of their environment. Leake et al (1991) assessed ergonomic issues affecting disabled pedestrians.

7.2 Pedestrian route networks

York is a UK city with a particularly high level of walking (24% of journeys to work), and it has sought to consolidate and increase use of this mode. Part of its strategy has been the identification of a 120 km (76 mi) Pedestrian Route Network where higher standards for pedestrian facilities will apply. These include:

  • A minimum footway width of 1.8 m (6 ft) increasing to 4.5 m (15 ft) at shops.
  • Higher maintenance and lighting standards.
  • Traffic calming with at grade crossings.

The cost of implementing these measures is estimated at £1million ($1.6 million) spread over 10 years (White, 1994).

7.3 Maintenance

The issue of footway maintenance has received considerable attention recently, because of budget cuts, concerns that footway standards are declining, and increases in injury claims. Parking on the footway, overruns by vehicles, and work taking place in the footway are all increasing problems for various reasons, including pedestrian safety and amenity. Reinstatement of highway works on utilities (water, electricity, etc.) must now be carried out in accordance with a national specification (DOT, 1992b).

National footway maintenance standards are regularly monitored (DOT, 1996d). A major study (Burtwell (Ed), 1995) reviewed management methods, design and construction, the causes of footway problems, repair and monitoring techniques, whole life costing, the needs of the mobility handicapped, and current research. A follow-up study into pedestrian attitudes has also been undertaken.

7.4 Tactile paving surfaces

Tactile paving is now widely used to help alert and guide visually-impaired pedestrians on the footway. The DETR (1997d) has recently completed a comprehensive guidance note on the use of tactile paving surfaces. It covers surfaces to guide visually-impaired people at crossings, (blister paving), hazard warning surfaces, (corduroy paving), tactile lines to segregate cyclists and pedestrians on shared-use routes, and other forms of warning and information surfaces. It confirms (section 1.1) earlier guidance that, at dropped curbs, there should be no vertical upstand as even a minimal vertical upstand can be a hazard to wheelchair users. Tactile paving should be used to assist visually-impaired pedestrians, as a curb upstand of less than 25 mm is insufficient for them or their guide dogs to detect. Revised guidelines on providing for pedestrians with mobility impairment are provided by the IHT (1991). (See figure 10.)

7.5 Pedestrians and cyclists

Although there are few reported accidents between cyclists and pedestrians, there is growing concern amongst pedestrians, particularly visually-impaired people, about cyclists riding (illegally) on footways and shared-use schemes where part of the footway is converted to a cycle track. Pedestrian and cyclist organizations agreed that cycle routes should normally be provided by redistributing space from cars, not pedestrians (CTC & PA, 1995). There are calls for a moratorium on further shared-use schemes (Bendixson, 1997), and the DETR is reviewing its previous guidance (DOT, 1986). Tests have been undertaken to try to establish the best form of tactile white line delineator to separate the cycle track from the footway. It was concluded (Savill et al, 1997) that the currently authorized profile line (to Dia 1049.1) (DOT, 1990) was the design most easily detected by visually-impaired pedestrians using canes, without causing a hazard to other users. This has a height of 12 to 20 mm with sloping shoulders; the 20 mm height is recommended.

7.6 Other footway issues

Cullen (1997) provides an comprehensive overview of shared-use issues, not just cyclists, from the pedestrian's perspective. A significant and growing problem is parking on the footway (Pickett, 1995). Binns (1991) reviews the experience of the London footway parking ban.

7.7 Pedestrian guard rail

Pedestrian guard rail is sometimes used to prevent pedestrians from crossing at locations deemed particularly hazardous, such as at junctions or roads with high-speed traffic. It is also used to channel pedestrians towards designated crossing points. Safety auditors will often insist on its installation in new schemes. However, guard rails are generally unpopular with pedestrians as it restricts their freedom to cross and narrows the usable width of the footway. (See figure 11.) It is also disliked because most designs are unattractive and obtrusive in the street scene. Rather oddly (considering how widely it is used), there is very little research into its effectiveness. Stewart (1988) found that the traditional guard rail reduced adult pedestrian casualties but increased child pedestrian casualties because children were masked from drivers by the railings. He developed Visirail which permits drivers to see through the railings.

Figure 10. Tactile warning in a curb ramp.

Figure 10. Tactile warning in a curb ramp.


United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration