Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Veeriku-Näituse-Downtown: A Functioning Pedestrain Highway in Tartu

Tartu is not the best place to move around on foot.  Although not a big city in terms of population, large business areas are impractically far for pedestrians, and there are few convenient options to cross roads, the river and the railway even in the urban core.  It also seems like the municipality has little clue what makes pedestrians thrive in the city.  But Tartu has examples of rather well functioning solutions.  One of these connects Veeriku neighborhoods over Näituse street to the inner city.  This route includes many such details that make a street a place where people thrive.  It also includes a number of obstacles, many of which can be easily fixed. Let's start from Veeriku.

A number of streets merge at the far end of Näituse making it the shortest route to downtown for many residential neighborhoods.  There are not too many cars and the sidewalks are of adequate width and quality.

 Far end of the Näituse street.  The sidewalks are wide enough and good enough here given the moderate number of cars.

 Unfortunately, the sidewalks turn less-than-adequate rather soon.  Up to the railway crossing, they are muddy and too narrow.  This is partly because of broken pavement, and partly because of the potholes in the roadway.  The situation might be acceptable for an unimportant street but not for such a central "pedestrian thoroughfare."  These problems are easy to fix by widening and improving the pavement.
Näituse street approaching the railway crossing.  The walkway suffers from broken pavement that renders it rather narrow on rainy days.
The first real bottleneck is the railway crossing.  One can easily see two problems: first, both ends of it are muddy and unpaved, and second, the sidewalk is too narrow between the tracks.  In places, the walkable width is only about 0.5m, far too little for this much walked route.  The main roadway is very close to the walkers with virtually no separating barrier in-between, but as the rails are not suitable for driving at full speed, the pedestrians are saved from the worst of the motorized traffic.  Fortunately, it is plenty of space here to widen the footpath.  Note also that as only the left-hand-side of Vaksali street (when looking toward the inner city) has a pedestrian crossing, that side is perhaps more important than the other.
Näituse street railway crossing.  The sidewalk is too narrow, and of too low quality at both ends.  It can easily be widened here.

Across the rails, the street is beautiful, tree-lined and with a separate footpath.  This is very nice.  The pavement is of sufficient quality for walking (but not for cycling).  My main complaint here are the parking cars: too often they occupy a substantial part of the walkway.  This may be acceptable for unimportant streets, but on such a major route the motorists should show much more respect for pedestrians.
A car on the sidewalk on Näituse street.  For most walkers this is a little obstacle but it substantially disturbs cyclists.  Note that there is enough space in front of the car to move it out of the walkway.

The final part of Näituse street, down from Kastani, suffers from somewhat narrow sidewalks.  Fortunately, a lot of pedestrian traffic heads to the other areas and cars are slow.  Further downhill, behind the wonderful Kassitoome, the sidewalks are just ridiculous.  In the lower end of the Baeri street, the right-hand side is far too narrow even for a single walker, and often cars are parking just next to it.
A sidewalk that is just plainly too narrow. Baeri Street.

The same is true around the Krooks pub: both sides are too narrow given the large number of pedestrians here.  In this place the street is substantially more important than in the beginning of our walk as it also connects Tähtvere and Supilinn neighborhoods with the downtown.  Wider sidewalks are needed.

Jakobi street in front of Krooks pub.  The sidewalks are inadequate and pedestrians are forced to stay very close to cars.  One should narrow the roadway, give more space to walkers, and install a speed table here.
The last obstacle, Jakobi-Lai crossing, recently got an adequate solution, although I was in favor of shortening the turn radius instead of installing the traffic islands.

It is rather easy to fix many of the existing problems. At the further end of Näituse street, one could simply widen the pedestrian area and pave it adequately.  There is plenty of space for it.  In the inner part of the city, this is not possible without squeezing the motorized traffic somewhat.  It is acceptable in my opinion, even in front of Krooks. One can remove one or two parking lots at the upper side of the street (these can potentially be moved over to the lower side) and widen the sidewalks on both sides by 0.5m.  This would roughly double the walkable width and make it a much more pleasant place. It is also a good idea to install a speed table to slow down cars driving so close to pedestrians.  Finally, parking on pedestrian areas must not be the default option.  If really necessary, one should take all the possible measures to avoid obstructing pedestrian traffic.