Measuring the Pedestrian Level of Service

The level of service concept for vehicular traffic has been around for decades. Segments of road, or intersections, are rated by the how well the motorist is served. A number of US states and cities apparently mandate intersection widening when a level of service F is hit.

I know very little about LOS, but apparently if you don’t get through the intersection on the first light after joining the queue, then that is level F. It can scarely escape our notice that rating F is frought with connotations of unacceptability, of could do better.

Pedestrian sidewalks, however, are made to a standard width, because they are only appendages or decorative elements glued to the curb. I first discovered this unfortunate fact of life, which has plagued me ever since, when in high school. Good ole’ Robert Boredom HS *  had narrowish asphalt sidewalks out to Greenbank Road, which had standard-width concrete sidewalks. Both of these were grossly overrun by bodies at peak hours, but Nepean certainly didn’t care. Then the School Board pooh-bahs built an administration building adjacent to the school. Their building was accessed (from their parking lot) by enormously wide sidewalks paved in red bricks, the first application of interlocks I saw in Ottawa. Why was the seldom-used walk so big and the well-used walk so paltry? And thus started a lifetime of inquiry and observation into the piss-poor way we design and build walks. I owe it all to school.

So I was intrigued to discover this table in the Downtown Moves study materials. Pedestrian Level of Service quantified. Hallelujah.

Alas, I didn’t see these tables actually applied to our downtown sidewalks. It would be fun to find out how downtown sidewalks, measured on a block by block basis, fare according to this table. After all, there is lots of data to justify widening roads, or not narrowing them, so it is only fair to have the sidewalk LOS data too.


 The left side of the table shows Effective sidewalk width. This is the total width (building face to curb) minus the width lost to utility poles, signs, meters, bike racks, vending boxes, planters, tree wells, etc. Platoon flow, in the top axis, means peds cluster together for more efficient travelling in an informal pack. Commuters do this naturally; tourists do not, they prefer to walk four to six abreast at very slow speeds with frequent stops.


* Boredom High had its share of illustrious students. If readers ask nicely, I might post some anonymous pic tomorrow.


3 thoughts on “Measuring the Pedestrian Level of Service

  1. Judging by this chart – it takes a lot more for a sidewalk to receive an F rating than a roadway.

  2. Compare and contrast – Vehicle LOS D means free-flowing. Here, D means annoying walking.
    More and more, I admire New York – they are going to ram through 6 and 1/2 Avenue, against the car lobby, because there are more pedestrians than cars.

  3. I’d also like a focus on intersections that force pedestrians to cross on only one side. Nothing like wanting to cross diagonally but being forced to wait for THREE lights to change. Pinecrest and Iris, I’m looking at you.

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