The entire public street – building face to building face – used to be the realm of pedestrians. As transportation modes changed, the pedestrian got pushed farther and farther towards the edges, first by streetcars, and then by cars.
Now the pedestrian may be losing the last refuge, the sidewalk, to bicycles, as more bicyclists take to the sidewalk as a way to avoid traffic, or because they feel safer than in the street.
The New York Times looks at the history of the pedestrian in the street, and why being on the edge changes one’s view of the city.
“Over time, without express agreement or even acknowledgment, the streets gradually became off-limits to the unwheeled.”
“The retreat to what is left of the sidewalks changes the very essence of the common public realm, just as certainly as if, say, tourists had to stay within the arcades surrounding St. Mark’s Square in Venice, or look out on Red Square from the porch on St. Basil’s. New York’s gridiron allows precious few vistas or plazas, but a citizen could at one time have viewed each block as an entirety, with walls and a floor. Now everyone must hug the baseboards.”