Women Walking: Designing Safer Pedestrian Routes 

Women worldwide report that they are less likely than their male counterparts to feel comfortable commuting on foot. A survey of 1,000 women living in major cities by the Thompson Reuters Foundation found that safety was the main concern for 52 percent when considering which form of transportation to use. It even impacts activity levels, with one Stanford University study finding that women actually take fewer steps each day than men. 

At Culdesac we believe that public spaces should be safe for everyone, and that nobody should have to adjust their behavior to counter a potential threat. But we also know that the anxiety many women feel on sidewalks and public transportation wasn’t born in a vacuum.

Street harassment is real, and women and girls learn early on to factor it into their decision-making. One study from Cornell University found that 85 percent of women in the U.S. experience street harassment for the first time before the age of 17, and 67 percent before the age of 14. This means that for most women, street harassment begins just as we’re beginning to head out into the world on our own.  


Reimagining cities also means reimagining public life. We believe that the cities of tomorrow must be both safer and more connected—and at Culdesac Tempe, we’re already working hard to make that happen.


Lighting Isn’t Everything, But It’s a Start

Sometimes, walking after dark can’t be avoided, especially for women who live in cities where sunset begins in the late afternoon during wintertime.


Conventional wisdom says that sticking to well-lit areas will decrease the safety risk for women walking at night. It’s also backed up with data. In a study published by Leading Cities, 56 percent of women said that they feel most unsafe when walking in an unlit urban space. But in practice, it’s not so simple: the brightness of an area doesn’t necessarily correlate to a perception of increased safety. That’s because there’s more at play than the presence of light; the temperature of light also matters, with most women preferring to walk in warm light rather than cool.


The aesthetics of a space also impacts experience, with natural elements and clean landscaping contributing to a feeling of safety. When we asked the women on our team to share what makes them feel safest, many mentioned lighting, with Alexys placing particular emphasis on finding routes with wide, well-lit walkways that provide increased visibility. That’s why at Culdesac Tempe, we’ve taken these nuances into account, designing the community around a wide promenade with natural accents and bright lighting.

Culdesac Tempe Main Promenade


The Role of CCTV


The implementation of CCTV (closed-circuit television) has increased in cities worldwide, with the UK leading the pack. From the start, these cameras have been a subject of debate. Do they actually deter crime or simply record it? Is criminal activity decreased or just displaced?

Experiences may vary, depending on where in the world you live, but there is some good news. A 2012 study in South Korea found a significant reduction in crime in areas with CCTV coverage. Robberies and thefts went down by 47 percent, and nearby neighborhoods without CCTV even saw a reduction in crime, meaning that displacement was minimal.


At Culdesac Tempe, we’ll have security cameras set up to cover the main promenade and other walkways, so that all residents have an extra layer of safety while navigating the neighborhood.  


Carving Common Paths  


If you’re commuting during rush hours, you’ll probably find that you’re not the only one pounding the pavement. Finding a route that sticks to common thoroughfares is a great way to ensure that you’re not alone. Think of it as a “walk-share,” where you and your pedestrian peers have each other’s backs.

Forward-thinking urban design means building neighborhoods to reflect the way we already travel. By analyzing the flow of foot traffic, planners can improve upon the ways people already move throughout cities. Major thoroughfares are “major” for a reason: they connect residential and commercial zones, and form vital links between one neighborhood and the next. Walking along one of these busier streets is its own kind of communal exercise. At Culdesac, we’ve drawn on years of research regarding the ways people use public spaces. The result is a car-free Tempe neighborhood organized around well-lit walkways that emphasize safety for all and create opportunities for community interaction.