The prolific Yonah Freemark has penned a piece in Next American City on the revitalization of Downtown Raleigh when a pedestrian mall was transformed:

Like the central business districts of many state capitals, North Carolina’s (Downtown Raleigh) was plagued by its almost overwhelming reliance on office workers, its few residents, and its decided lack of street life.

Part of the problem, it seemed, was the presence of a pedestrian mall at the center of the city on Fayetteville Street. Much as in other U.S. cities, Raleigh planners had assumed that moving cars off the city’s main drag would improve quality of life and expand business, but the result was unfortunately frequently the opposite. By the early 2000s, the Fayetteville Street Mall was downright dour at night.

The city’s Urban Design Center (UDC), a division of its planning department, decided to attempt to undo the damage by bringing cars back in and opening up the perspective between the old State Capitol and the performing arts center …  A formerly pedestrian-only space would once again be shared with automobiles.

Four years later, the new street has become a wild success, at least considering the number of people I noticed using it day and night.

Kent Lundberg with the Isthmus Group in Auckland commented:

I think there is a critical population density that makes ped malls workable. Though in saying that, I was surprised to learn that Copenhagen doesn’t have that many people living in the CBD and they seem to be able to support a lot of ped-only spaces. Maybe it’s a function of the quality of the urban environment overall…

His colleague Scot Bathgate, thinking of Granville Street, would like to put together a collection of ped malls for comparison around the world.  Contributions welcome. 

Add your comments.


  1. Copenhagen’s car-free spaces are not ped only, they are ped and bicycle only. In Copehagen, with 40% of trips by bicycle, the bicycles serve to bring people to these streets much as the cars do to the example in Raleigh. While not that many people live within walking distance of the ped streets in Copenhagen, a lot of people live within cycling distance.

    On Granville Street, often much the bike parking is full while the car parking spaces on the sidewalks are often empty. I suspect Granville Street would do just fine as a car-free (and bus-free) street. It is a shame the buses are going back on soon. Even more unfortunate, is that the city is not planning to provide any accommodation for for cyclists along Granville, Howe or Seymour in spite of the fact that Granville is likely the most popular north south route in downtown and that Howe and Seymour were identified as bicycle routes in the city’s transportation plan.

  2. I have three examples, from the UK:
    Bath: they recently converted a failing ped mall adjacent to the centre of town to another regular street. I haven’t seen the results but I did visit the mall and it was a pale shadow of the vibrant life on the streets outside, some of which are pedestrianised.
    Southampton: The West Quay Shopping Mall opened in 2000, with its main entrance off the pedestrianised High Street. Very quickly it was evident that all the higher end stores moved into the mall, leaving the high street with a cheaper, poorer selection of shops.
    Kingston-Upon-Thames: similar to Southampton with the Bentall Centre Mall (not to be confused with the underground mall of the same name here in Vancouver). In this instance though, the pedestrianised High Street has remained vibrant. I think the difference was that the Bentall Centre complimented the High Street while West Quay in Southampton was on a different scale and tried to take over it, effectively shifting the CBD.

  3. Sorry, I just reread this post and the article. I was confused over the definition of a ‘pedestrian mall’. In my ‘english’ mind a pedestrian mall is a covered space like a shopping centre (Metrotown, Pacific Centre etc in Vancouver). What we’re talking about here is a pedestrianised street.
    If the city is big enough then it will likely work. Otherwise, its better to have some vehicular activity. Of course, then you can get into the complication business of part time closures in order to provide activity at night. Many of the UK’s pedestrianised High Streets have become ‘no go’ areas at night for families etc as they’re full of intoxicated teenagers.

  4. Sparks Street Mall in our nations capital is an unmitigated disaster. It is really the combination of a few things – at the same time that it was pedestrianised, they built the almost adjacent Rideau Centre Shopping mall. This absorbed all the commerce that used to be located on Sparks. There is virtually no residential and even very few hotels fronting on Sparks, so there is no life. Finally, it is a very 9-5 CBD, so it attracts businesses that can survive off breakfast and lunch rushes.

    Add to that the fact that overwhelming major tenant is the federal government, ho cannot or won’t spend on any frills and Sparks Street Mall is as dead a place at night as can be.

  5. Glasgow has a pair of streets that function as pedestrian malls for much of their length. Sauchiehall and Buchanan streets run through central Glasgow and are almost entirely lined with street level shops and pubs of varying size. Interestingly the two streets meet at their end-points where a north-american style indoor shopping mall sits.

    Interestingly the most dead and grungy part of the whole pair of streets is a single block packed with McDonalds and other American chains.

  6. there is a virtually infinite collection of ped mall, and in Europe, you could have easier work to tabulate city without them rather city with them! Most of them are working pretty well.

    …but I am afraid people then draw wrong conclusion when they said it is a ” function of the quality of the urban environment overall”.

    Shenzhen, China has its vibrant Ped Mall (dongmen street), but architectural quality is here very questionnable at best.

    I believe more often than not, “urbanist” fail to recognize that pedestrian mall are successful because it was people walking there in the first place, and this because they had a reason to do so. Urban environment quality will make them spend more time, that is pretty much about it.

    More often that not, I see “urbanists” taking example on Tourist resort, be it Disneyland or Whistler, to draw guiding principle of “successfull pedestrian plaza”, but as I have said in my blog: “in real life people eventually work, and have little reason to go especially to a place just to “hang around sipping a coffee“ “( ) I see that as the reason why outside resort area where people have nothing else to do, the “Disney” guiding principles invariably fail.

    Back to Granville Mall, I am always surprised how people ignore ostensible the fact that people need to walk there to take the new Canada line in very large number as I have shown the recent Translink statistic.

    Vancouver is not Bath, UK (or Strasbourg, France), neither Granville Mall will be Covent Garden, Montmartre but Vancouver can learn eventually of what make Dongmeng street (Shenzhen) or Time Square (New York) a success.

    Also, interesting comment on Sparks street in Ottawa: you could do the same for La Defense parvis (Paris): scarily dull after 6pm. Density is not all, you need to have the right mix of density.

  7. Pedestrian shopping areas are common in UK towns and cities. Examples I have personal experience of are Reading, Croydon, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Bournemouth and Ipswich, where the main shopping streets are car and transit free, at least during shopping hours. There are many others. If comparing to Vancouver, UK pedestrian areas are closer to Robson Street rather than Granville Street, because pedestrian areas are often the town’s main shopping street/area. Like the pedestrian areas in UK towns, Robson Street has the main nationally and international recognised stores. While Granville Street, between Robson and Dunsmuir, is a secondary shopping street dominated by two large department stores, with only limited side entrances. Between Robson and West Georgia there is one department store, with only two entrances, for the entire side of that block.

    London is different from the rest of the UK because the main shopping area, Oxford Street, is clogged with traffic (mainly buses). But there are other pedestrian shopping areas nearby including Covent Garden and Carnaby Street. The central piazza at Covent Garden is completely pedestrianised, and the area surrounding the piazza is a warren of narrow one way streets with very limited parking. A number of streets including Neal Street and New Row are almost pedestrian areas, as pedestrians have taken over the street, making it very slow progress for any vehicle attempting to drive there. The Carnaby Street area is a similar warren of narrow streets for pedestrians only. But both Covent Garden and Carnaby Street are more like Gas Town or Granville Island when compared to Vancouver. Stores and restaurants are in smaller units, and there are more one of a kind experiences.
    It is also worth noting that none of these UK towns or cities, with successful pedestrian areas, are as densely populated as downtown Vancouver. Vancouver has a much larger population within easy walking distance of Robson Street, than any UK town does in relation to their pedestrian High Streets.

  8. Voony that is an interesting comment. I recall reading a report on pedestrian streets by The National Trust for Historic Preservation that concluded that the successful pedestrian streets have a “captive” audience, (usually a university). Your example of Granville with its transit function seems to meet this requirement.

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