Designing Sustainable Streets and Pedestrian Traffic Coatings to Cultivate Community

By Dawn Killough 06-20-2023
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How streets are designed and constructed can have a significant impact on the community surrounding them. In fact, street design influences much more than the flow of traffic in a neighborhood. It can affect the safety of local residents, lower pavement surface tempertaures, protect the underlying pavement, and help shape how a community connects.

"Sustainable Streets," as defined by the Transportation Research Board, are designed to help positively influence all these factors—and materials like pedestrian traffic coatings can help play a role in their success.

What Is a Sustainable Street?

During it's 88th annual meeting in 2009, The Transportation Research Board (TRB) outlined objectives for sustainable streets that would help them meet the three Es of sustainability: equity, environment, and economy. According to these objectives, sustainable streets:

  • Increase bicycle use
  • Increase transit use
  • Increase pedestrian traffic
  • Improve aesthetics
  • Mitigate the heat island effect

The first three objectives are accomplished by making biking, taking mass transit, and walking easier and safer. Strategies to accomplish this include marking specific areas for each form of transportation, providing physical barriers to keep riders/walkers safe, and strategically locating businesses to encourage the use of alternative transportation methods.

With this in mind, a sustainable street, as the TRB identified, must be:

Designed to Meet Environmental Goals

The construction of sustainable streets must be environmentally conscious, including in material selection, which should be based on the recyclability and durability of the materials. For example, asphalt is more easily recycled and transformed into new asphalt with no loss of function, while concrete can only be used as aggregate for future concrete.

Visually Appealing

Streets should be aesthetically pleasing to visitors and occupants. This can include incorporating a variety of plants, flowers, and trees in landscaping; selecting materials based on appearance; and using colored pavement coatings to create designs or patterns.

Durable and Economical

Designs and materials should be studied to ensure resources and costs are sustainable over time. Streets should be durable, practical, and economical over their life span.


Sustainable streets are designed with safety as their first priority. All users must be made more aware of each other, and the street must contain traffic controls that serve to keep users safe and ensure smooth traffic flow.

Able to Support Multiple Modes of Transport

Where feasible, streets should be designed to support multiple modes of transport, such as bicycles, pedestrians, passenger vehicles, and mass transit. Residents can then take advantage of this variety for exercise and convenience.

How Sustainable Streets Lead to Safer, Stronger Communities

Research projects and case studies have shown that sustainable street design can help build communities with better safety, cohesion, and overall liveability.

Reduce Traffic and Increase Driver Awareness

By encouraging alternative modes of transportation, like biking or walking, sustainable streets can help reduce vehicle traffic, which may then lower the number of accidents and provide increased protection to all street users. Studies have shown that when there are multiple forms of transportation on the same road, drivers slow down and pay more attention to their surroundings, increasing safety for everyone.

A joint University of Colorado Denver and University of New Mexico report found that drivers were more aware of their surroundings and slowed down in areas that had extensive cycling infrastructure—more than just painted lines. The report also stated that cities with better protected bike lanes had fewer fatalities and serious injuries to all road users. In Padova, Italy, changing the spacing of vehicle lanes, adjusting the speed limit, and defining areas for bicycle and pedestrian traffic led to a 63% reduction in accidents, for example*.

Enhance Community Connectivity

Providing flexible transportation options improves community connectivity. Residents can choose how they get around, facilitating communication and contact with their neighbors and encouraging them to shop locally, supporting neighboring businesses.

Improve Road Traction

Using pedestrian traffic coatings on asphalt roads can improve safety for drivers and walkers. Coatings with aggregates added provide traction that can help prevent slipping and skidding for walkers, bikers, and drivers.

Mitigate the Heat Island Effect

Sustainable streets also help mitigate the urban heat island effect, which increases the temperature of surfaces in cities with little to no shade. Increased temperatures can affect livability and occupant health. In New York City, planting trees and adding reflective surfaces from 2007 to 2016 has led to a 19% reduction in carbon emissions since 2005, which has the city on track to reach an 80% reduction by 2050**.

5 Benefits of Using Pavement Coatings

Using high-performance pavement coatings to help define traffic areas and provide directions can help communities in a variety of areas. Here are five advantages civil engineers should keep in mind when planning such projects:

1. Reduce Pavement Surface Temperatures

The higher reflectivity and emissivity of cool pavement coatings can reduce pavement surface temperatures, which in turn can help reduce average local air temperatures on sunny days.

2. Enhance Safety

Pedestrian and rider safety may be increased as road users slow down and are more aware of their surroundings. Coatings can also help increase visibility in intersections and crosswalks.

3. Add Visual Appeal

Aesthetically pleasing environments may encourage play and neighborhood interactions, helping to create a more connected community.

4. Improve Cost Efficiency

Coatings can help reduce maintenance costs and extend the life of both pavement and cement surfaces. The coatings can be flexible and help improve durability.

5. Help Meet Environmental Goals

Many high-performance waterborne coatings like Streetbond® 120 and 150 can be recycled with asphalt and are low-VOC.

How StreetBond® Can Help

StreetBond® pavement coatings can help designers meet their clients' needs for durability, safety and aesthetics. The low-VOC formula is durable, comes in a wide variety of colors—including custom options—and can be recycled with the asphalt it coats at the end of its useful life.

Curious to learn more? Visit the StreetBond® website to explore available options or email GAF to get support and discuss specific projects.

*From a report in Il Mattino, 24 June, 2007

**The City of New York, PlaNYC 2016 report

Dawn Killough is a freelance writer in the construction, finance, and accounting fields. She is the author of an ebook about green building and writes for construction tech and green building websites. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband and four cats.
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