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Pedestrians on a crosswalk in Buenos Aires
A sign in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, directing pedestrians to an overpass for safe crossing.

A pedestrian is a person traveling on foot, whether walking or running.[citation needed] In modern times, the term usually refers to someone walking on a road or pavement (US: sidewalk), but this was not the case historically.[citation needed] Pedestrians may also be wheelchair users or other disabled people who use mobility aids.[1]


The meaning of pedestrian is displayed with the morphemes ped- ('foot') and -ian ('characteristic of').[2] This word is derived from the Latin term pedester ('going on foot') and was first used (in the English language) during the 18th century.[3] It was originally used, and can still be used today, as an adjective meaning plain or dull.[4] However, in this article it takes on its noun form and refers to someone who walks.

The word pedestrian may have been used in middle French in the Recueil des Croniques et Anchiennes Istories de la Grant Bretaigne.[5]


Walking has always been the primary means of human locomotion. The first humans to migrate from Africa, about 60,000 years ago, walked.[6] They walked along the coast of India to reach Australia. They walked across Asia to reach the Americas, and from Central Asia into Europe.

With the advent of the cars at the beginning of the 20th century, the main story is that the cars took over, and "people chose the car", but there were many groups and movements that held on to walking as their preferred means of daily transport and some who organised to promote walking, and to counterbalance the widely-held view that often favoured cars, e.g. as related by Peter Norton.[7]

During the 18th and 19th centuries, pedestrianism (walking) was a popular spectator sport, just as equestrianism (riding) still is in places. One of the most famous pedestrians of that period was Captain Robert Barclay Allardice, known as "The Celebrated Pedestrian", of Stonehaven in Scotland. His most impressive feat was to walk 1 mile (1.6 km) every hour for 1000 hours, which he achieved between 1 June and 12 July 1809. This feat captured many people's imagination, and around 10,000 people came to watch over the course of the event. During the rest of the 19th century, many people tried to repeat this feat, including Ada Anderson who developed it further and walked a half-mile (800 m) each quarter-hour over the 1000 hours.

Since the 20th century, interest in walking as a sport has dropped. Racewalking is still an Olympic sport, but fails to catch public attention as it did. However major walking feats are still performed, such as the Land's End to John o' Groats walk in the United Kingdom, and the traversal of North America from coast to coast. The first person to walk around the world was Dave Kunst who started his walk traveling east from Waseca, Minnesota on 20 June 1970 and completed his journey on 5 October 1974, when he re-entered the town from the west. These feats are often tied to charitable fundraising and are undertaken, among others, by celebrities such as Sir Jimmy Savile and Ian Botham.

Footpaths and roads[edit]

Outdoor pedestrian networks[edit]

Pedestrian signal in Santa Ana, California.
The pedestrian Bauman Street in Kazan, Russia.
In many jurisdictions in the United States, one must yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
Colorful pedestrian Light Tunnel at Detroit's DTW airport, United States.

Roads often have a designated footpath for pedestrian traffic, called the sidewalk in North American English, the pavement in British English, and the footpath in Australian and New Zealand English. There are also footpaths not associated with a road; these include urban short cuts and also rural paths used mainly by ramblers, hikers, or hill-walkers. Footpaths in mountainous or forested areas may also be called trails. Pedestrians share some footpaths with horses and bicycles: these paths may be known as bridleways. Other byways used by walkers are also accessible to vehicles. There are also many roads with no footpath. Some modern towns (such as the new suburbs of Peterborough in England) are designed with the network of footpaths and cycle paths almost entirely separate from the road network.

The term trail is also used by the authorities in some countries to mean any footpath that is not attached to a road or street.[8] If such footpaths are in urban environments and are meant for both pedestrians and pedal cyclists, they can be called shared use paths[9] or multi-use paths in general and official usage.

Some shopping streets are for pedestrians only. Some roads have special pedestrian crossings. A bridge solely for pedestrians is a footbridge.

In Britain, regardless of whether there is a footpath, pedestrians have the legal right to use most public roads, excluding motorways and some toll tunnels and bridges such as the Blackwall Tunnel and the Dartford Crossing — although sometimes it may endanger the pedestrian and other road users. The UK Highway Code advises that pedestrians should walk in the opposite direction to oncoming traffic on a road with no footpath.[10]

Indoor pedestrian networks[edit]

Indoor pedestrian networks connect the different rooms or spaces of a building. Airports, museums, campuses, hospitals and shopping centres might have tools allowing for the computation of the shortest paths between two destinations. Their increasing availability is due to the complexity of path finding in these facilities.[11] Different mapping tools, such as OpenStreetMap, are extending to indoor spaces.[12]


Pedestrianisation might be considered as a process of removing vehicular traffic from city streets or restricting vehicular access to streets for use by pedestrians, to improve the environment and safety.[13]

Efforts are under way by pedestrian advocacy groups to restore pedestrian access to new developments, especially to counteract newer developments, 20% to 30% of which in the United States do not include footpaths. Some activists advocate large pedestrian zones where only pedestrians, or pedestrians and some non-motorised vehicles, are allowed. Many urbanists have extolled the virtues of pedestrian streets in urban areas. In the US the proportion of households without a car is 8%, but a notable exception is New York City, the only locality in the United States where more than half of all households do not own a car (the figure is even higher in Manhattan, over 75%).[14]

The use of cars for short journeys is officially discouraged in many parts of the world, and construction or separation of dedicated walking routes in city centres receives a high priority in many large cities in Western Europe, often in conjunction with public transport enhancements. In Copenhagen, the world's longest pedestrian shopping area, Strøget, has been developed over the last 40 years, principally due to the work of Danish architect Jan Gehl, a principle of urban design known as copenhagenisation.

Safety issues[edit]

A crossing for school children in Jakarta

Safety is an important issue where cars can cross the pedestrian way. Drivers and pedestrians share some responsibility for improving safety of road users.[15] Road traffic crashes are not inevitable; they are both predictable and preventable.[13]

Key risks for pedestrians are well known. Among the well-documented factors are driver behaviour (including speeding and drunk driving); infrastructure missing facilities (including pavements, crossings and islands); and vehicle designs which are not forgiving to pedestrians struck by a vehicle.[13] The Traffic Injury Research Foundation describes pedestrians as vulnerable road users because they are not protected in the same way as occupants of motor vehicles.[16] There is an increasing focus on pedestrians versus motor vehicles in many countries.[citation needed]

Most pedestrian injuries occur while they are crossing a street.[13] Most crashes involving a pedestrian occur at night.[13] Most pedestrian fatalities are killed by a frontal impact. In such a situation, an adult pedestrian is struck by a car front (for instance, the bumper touches either the leg or knee-joint area), accelerating the lower part of the body forward while "the upper body is rotated and accelerated relative to the car," at which point the pelvis and thorax are hit.[13] Then the head hits the windscreen at the velocity of the striking car. Finally, the victim falls to the ground.[13]

Research has shown that urban crimes, or the mere perception of crimes, severely affect the mental and physical health of pedestrians. Inter-pedestrian behaviour, without the involvement of vehicles, is also a key factor to pedestrian safety.[17]

Some special interest groups consider pedestrian fatalities on American roads a carnage.[18] Five states – Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas – are the site of 46% of all pedestrian deaths in the country.[18] The advent of SUVs is considered a leading cause;[19] speculation of other factors includes population growth, driver distraction with mobile phones, poor street lighting, alcohol and drugs and speeding.[18]

Cities have had mixed results in addressing pedestrian safety with Vision zero plan: Los Angeles fails while NYC has had success. Nonetheless, in the US, some pedestrians have just 40 seconds to cross a street 10 lanes wide.[18]

Pedestrian fatalities are much more common in accident situations in the European Union than in the United States. In the European Union countries, more than 200,000 pedestrians and cyclists are injured annually.[20] Also, each year, more than 270 000 pedestrians lose their lives on the world's roads.[13] At a global level pedestrians constitute 22% of all road deaths,[13] but might be two-thirds in some countries.[13] Pedestrian fatalities, in 2016, were[needs update] 2.6 per million population in the Netherlands, 4.3 in Sweden, 4.5 in Wales, 5.3 in New Zealand, 6.0 in Germany; 7.1 in the whole United Kingdom, 7.5 in Australia, 8.4 in France, 8.4 in Spain, 9.4 in Italy, 11.1 in Israel, 13 in Japan, 13.8 in Greece, 18.5 in the United States, 22.9 in Poland, and 36.3 in Romania.[21]

Safety trends[edit]

  • EU: Source CARE,[22] 2010-2019: Source ERSO.[23]
  • United States: Source NHTSA 2016[24] (FARS ARF), NHTSA 2019[25]

Road design impact on safety[edit]

Pedestrians ready across the street next to the Forum shopping center in Helsinki, Finland

It is well documented that a minor increase in speed might greatly increase the likelihood of a crash, and exacerbate resulting casualties. For this reason, the recommended maximum speed is 30 km/h (20 mph) or 40 km/h (25 mph) in residential and high pedestrian traffic areas, with enforced traffic rules on speed limits and traffic-calming measures.[13]

Traffic lights for pedestrians are also a factor in increasing safety. Animated pedestrian traffic light showing the pan-European sign.

The design of road and streets plays a key role in pedestrian safety. Roads are too often designed for motorized vehicles, without taking into account pedestrian and bicycle needs. The non-existence of sidewalk and signals increases risk for pedestrians. This defect might more easily be observed on arterial roadways, intersections and fast-speed lanes without adequate attention to pedestrian facilities.[13] For instance, an assessment of roads in countries from many continents shows that 84% of roads are without pedestrian footpaths, while maximum limited speed is greater than 40 km/h.[13]

Among the factors which reduce road safety for pedestrians are wider lanes, roadway widening, and roadways designed for higher speeds and with increased numbers of traffic lanes.[13]

For this reason, some European cities such as Freiburg (Germany) have lowered the speed limit to 30 km/h on 90% of its streets, to reduce risk for its 15 000 people. With such policy, 24% of daily trips are performed by foot, against 28% by bicycles, 20% by public transport and 28% by car. (See Zone 30.)[13]

A similar set of policies to discourage the use of cars and increase safety for pedestrians has been implemented by the Northern European capitals of Oslo and Helsinki. In 2019, this resulted in both cities counting zero pedestrian deaths for the first time.[26]


In Europe, pedestrian fatalities have a seasonal factor, with 6% of annual fatalities occurring in April but 13% (twice more) in December. The rationale for such a change might be complex.[27]

Health benefits and environment[edit]

Pedestrians walking in winter conditions in Pornainen, Finland.

Regular walking is important both for human health and for the natural environment. Frequent exercise such as walking tends to reduce the chance of obesity and related medical problems. In contrast, using a car for short trips tends to contribute both to obesity and via vehicle emissions to climate change: internal combustion engines are more inefficient and highly polluting during their first minutes of operation (engine cold start). General availability of public transportation encourages walking, as it will not, in most cases, take one directly to one's destination.


In Unicode, the hexadecimal code for "pedestrian" is 1F6B6. In XML and HTML, the string 🚶 produces 🚶.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pedestrians With Disabilities" (PDF). Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved 19 April 2024.
  2. ^ Dunmore, Charles; Fleischer, Rita (2008). Studies in Etymology (Second ed.). Focus. ISBN 9781585100125.
  3. ^ "Definition of PEDESTRIAN". www.merriam-webster.com. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  4. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Archived from the original on 2 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  5. ^ "PÉDESTRE : Définition de PÉDESTRE". www.cnrtl.fr. Archived from the original on 29 January 2017. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  6. ^ Dr. Spencer Wells (2005). "Genographic Project". Archived from the original on 25 March 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  7. ^ Peter D. Norton (2021). "Persistent pedestrianism: urban walking in motor age America, 1920s–1960s". Urban History. 48 (2): 266–289. doi:10.1017/S0963926819000956. S2CID 210507536. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  8. ^ "Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access". U.S. Department of Transportation. 7 July 2017. Archived from the original on 29 May 2010. Retrieved 8 May 2018. Trail – A path of travel for recreation and/or transportation within a park, natural environment, or designated corridor that is not classified as a highway, road, or street
  9. ^ "Part II of II: Best Practices Design Guide – Sidewalk2 – Publications – Bicycle and Pedestrian Program – Environment – FHWA". www.fhwa.dot.gov. Archived from the original on 29 November 2011. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  10. ^ "Rules for pedestrians (1 to 35) – The Highway Code – Guidance – GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 8 January 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  11. ^ Goetz, M.; Zipf, A. (2011). "Formal definition of a user-adaptive and length-optimal routing graph for complex indoor environments". Geo-spatial Information Science. 14 (2): 119–128. Bibcode:2011GSIS...14..119G. doi:10.1007/s11806-011-0474-3.
  12. ^ Goetz, M (2012). "Using Crowdsourced Indoor Geodata for the Creation of a Three-Dimensional Indoor Routing Web Application". Future Internet. 4 (2): 575–591. doi:10.3390/fi4020575.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Pedestrian safety. A Road Safety Manual for Decision-Makers and Practitioners (PDF). World Health Organization. 2013. p. 114. ISBN 978-92-4-150535-2. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Publications – Bureau of Transportation Statistics". www.bts.gov. Archived from the original on 2 October 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  15. ^ "Tips for Pedestrian Safety". AAA Exchange. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  16. ^ "The Road Safety Monitor 2008. Pedestrians and Bicyclists" (PDF). Traffic Injury Research Foundation. p. 37. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  17. ^ Wu, Yifei; Li, Hansong (April 2022). "Signalling security: An observational and game theory approach to inter-pedestrian psychology". Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour. 86: 238–251. doi:10.1016/j.trf.2022.02.017. S2CID 247483300.
  18. ^ a b c d Aratani, Lauren (12 March 2019). "'Boulevards of death': why pedestrian road fatalities are surging in the US". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  19. ^ Eric D. Lawrence, Nathan Bomey and Kristi Tanner (1 July 2018). "Death on foot: America's love of SUVs is killing pedestrians". www.freep.com. Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on 14 December 2019. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  20. ^ "European Pedestrian Crash Standards Will Make Global Changes in Car Design Inevitable". Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. 1 April 2005. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Reported road accidents, vehicles and casualties tables for Great Britain".
  22. ^ "Pedestrians" (PDF). Traffic Safety Basic Facts. European Road Safety Observatory. European Commission. 2018. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  23. ^ European Commission (2021) Road safety thematic report – Fatigue. European Road Safety Observatory. Brussels, European Commission, Directorate General for Transport
  24. ^ "Pedestrians". Traffic Safety Facts. U.S. Department of Transportation. 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2019. {{cite journal}}: Unknown parameter |agency= ignored (help)
  25. ^ National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2021, May). Pedestrians: 2019 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 813 079). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  26. ^ Murray, Jessica (16 March 2020). "How Helsinki and Oslo cut pedestrian deaths to zero". The Guardian. London.
  27. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 July 2020. Retrieved 27 July 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. ^ "Transport and Map Symbols" (PDF). Unicode Consortium.

External links[edit]