General principles of barrier – free open space design street furniture, motorized traffic, parking based on the example of Downtown of Budapest

Present paper investigates the possibilities of creating barrier-free urban open spaces which have been constructed as the results of recent large-scale urban renovations. Our research team focuses on the application of general open space design principles based on the example of Budapest. We have examined whether the attitude of barrier free construction has been incorporated in the currently formed urban designs,and whether the actual legal requirements on barrier-free construction have been put into practice (are satisfied in the newly constructed open spaces.)The study area is based on the newly renovated open public spaces located in the downtown of Budapest shown in Figure 1.Our findings are based on site visits that occurred different times of day (day and night), in different weather conditions(in sunny and (or) rainy weather)and were performed in different seasons (summer, autumn and winter).The examination of each element was based on the following criteria:

  • Title Original : Egyetemes szabadtértervezés Budapest belvárosában berendezési tárgyak, járm?közlekedés, parkolás
  • Website : http://
  • Notes : The publication can be found: 
    4D Journal of Landscape Architecture and Garden Art no 25. 2012
  • Project start : 2012
  • Project end : 2012
  • Contact Person : Albert Fekete
  • Funding Agency : TÁMOP-4.2.1/B-09/1/KMR-2010-0005 research fund
  • Project Partners : Albert Fekete, Gabriella Szaszák, Anita Szöbölödi, Dániel Takács
  • Project structure : Results and conclusions 

     The analysis concerning outdoor construction works focusing on barrier-free surfaces of walkways was published on the TÁMOP closing conference held on Buda Campus of the Corvinus University of Budapest on January 12, 2012. This paper deals with an extension of the previous topic considering urban design, namely barrier-free street furniture and vehicle traffic and parking.

     Barrier-free street furniture 

     Street furniture basically must meet the following two criteria for barrier-free accessibility: 
     1. It should be safely and conveniently accessible for everybody - including permanently or temporary handicapped people with physical, mental or sensory (vision, hearing) disabilities - preferably without any help, (safely and conveniently) , due to the fact that it must be equipped with signaling elements that are necessary for the movement of the disabled person- including adequate free space for manouvering. 
    2. The other important aspect of the barrier-free design is the proper position of outdoor furniture and street objects (billboards, benches, etc.) so that pedestrian route or walkway is not reduced or blocked for handicapped people. Street furniture should be arranged in groups and logically in a clearly defined path that is easy to follow. It is recommended that street furniture is grouped in an expanded, wider space along the walkway. 

    a. Seating surfaces 

     The determination of the optimal seat level is based on ergonomic data.According to this, the seating platform should be positioned at 28 to 42 cm from the ground level with an inclination of 5-20° towards the back of the seat. One has to consider the possible difficulty of impaired users facing with when standing up from these benches. The bench without backrest should have no slope, and generally the CRL is 42-45 cm.
    Considering our study area, we can say that the accessibility, size and materials used for benches are satisfactory and the obstacle-free accessibility is mostly satisfied. The proposed benches are ergonomically adequate with comfortable design, Sitting height is at 40 cm for both seats with and without backrest. The given product does not have an inclination backward towards the rear backrest, but the seats of both versions (with or without backrest) only provide with a fixed height of 40 cm. However, the edges and rims of the firm seat furniture are higher (45 cm) which means it may cause discomfort for shorter people, since the legs of the short person rest on the unrounded edge. 

    Both on Károly boulevard and on Kecskeméti street in both in parallel or perpendicular directions to the traffic there is sufficient amount of free space around the benches for people using wheelchairs even in case of pedestrian traffic. According to our findings, benches next to the road, facing towards the traffic are not frequently used. On the Egyetem square, the benches are scattered In spite of their custom-design, their quality and condition is not adequate: the surface of the wooden blocks is already cracked and broken. 

    On F?vám square there is only one type of seating is available, the benches are elongated and curved without back support but satisfy the barrier-free accessibility requirements. 

    b. Street lights and visibility 

     Natural light is the best light source for visually impaired people. However, it is the characteristic (character) of natural light that its strength varies, in case of twilight or covered skies (grey weather) the visibility is significantly reduced. It is therefore very important that the street lighting is appropriate, since it can significantly help people with disabilities in orientation or finding directions. 

     A street object is properly visible when its shape , details and its distance can be detected realistically. Artificial light may alter our perception The position of the light source is adequate if it neither blinds people (and) nor it causes eye-strain, and it does not cast shadow that reduces the visibility of an object. 
    The oblique placement of the lamp posts on main street has been rejected during the design process and after some modification and variation the presently used types were applied. In terms of energy efficiency, the lamps work with LED light, resulting in a whitish colour at night , instead of the warm, yellowish colour. At night the brightness of the lights is lower than in the evening, due to power saving measures. 

     It is important that at night the artificial light is sufficient for orientation, so the lighting system requires revision. The small cylinder shaped robust lights provide adequate visibility on Károly boulevard. The chandeliers in the area of observation are placed next to the surface of the walkways along the side of the road, in a dedicated strip, without disturbing the pedestrian traffic.

    c. Plant(er) Boxes 

     Planter boxes are frequently placed along the edges are traffic areas, hence it is important to know the design rules and principles when placing these items. In order to support the movement and orientation of the blind or visually impaired people, the main line connecting the curbs should preferably be continuous, visible and well-detectable. In order to provide high visibility , the minimum height of the edges should be preferably 7.5 cm and with a rounded edge. High curbs would prevent the movement of wheelchairs and stroller coming off surface unintenentially, but they would make manouvering and turning rather difficult. 

     On the study area we could find planter cassettes and low plant containers also known as planteners. The low edge plants serve as edge, also as a tape- placed at the right position, separate between car traffic and pedestrians. The mobile planteners are usually scattered all over the area. Since it is possible to move them freely, their current position does not interfere with pedestrian traffic, if moved this needs to be maintained. However, one has to know that these items should not be placed on the tactile lanes, or in tight spaces, where wheel-chairs or strollers can get stuck. 

     It is an important to note that no planter boxes, tree- branches can block the traffic, so the proper height and space for barrier-free movement should be provided by all means. 

    d. Building accessories (Subparts of buildings) (ATM, mobile terraces, etc.) 

     Urban environment ? such as the center of Budapest ? is typically a public space which is formed by the planes determined by the facades of adjacent buildings and it sets the boundaries for landscape designers. Along the band formed by the edges , it is a common problem that due to the existing objects? (are in) unfavorable position (location) (and) it is impossible to correct errors by a new design, and often the existing elements and the new ones cannot be connected properly. Other possible conflict can occur when additional mobile furniture, advertising signs, cantilevered elements are added to a functionally compact environment because there is no guarantee of logical spatial arrangement of the previous and new elements created by two- or more different concepts. 
     In case of recently renovated open spaces in Budapest downtown, we can observe that the designers tried to create a framework for connections between buildings and the surrounding public space. Furthermore, in front of the buildings the pedestrian walkway is not restricted by street furniture or by any other obstacles. At the building doors the necessary maneuvering space is provided, the slantings of the roads are coherent with the standards, hence they are appropriate. The bumps and protruding façade elements such as busy pre-stairs are connected by walking stones of textured pavement, the K-shaped special stone (?K-stone?) can be used to join buildings with main leading lines for visually impaired people. There can be found numerous public institutions and other service units within the area of observation. The elevation of old buildings at the entrances of usually is one or two steps high, i.e. there is a 10-30 cm height difference which cannot be always smoothed by slanting surfaces, it has to adapt to the level of the road and tramway, the degree of unevenness is so large that it is impossible to eliminate the step and this phenomenon is very common outside the limits of the design area. However in case of some service units at the entrances, it can be observed that the step leading to the department store or a public building could be eliminated by a sophisticated cladding system that is found between Deák square and Astoria, and on Kecskemét street.  

    The surfaces of communications found on buildings and other components (e.g. windows, ATM, mail boxes, pick up windows of restaurants, window shades) sometimes use a cantilevers so they can pose obstacles or barriers for wheelchairs. The objects being placed more than 40 cm above the street level, are usually undetectable for visually impaired people so it maybe hazardous. Therefore, according to the requirements that the cantilevered elements should be surrounded by "tactile and very different walkway pavement which is at least 0.10 m high and 0.60 m wide, around hinges or elevated objects so that it could be detected by feet". 

     Nevertheless, no such marking pavement was found in our area of observation in case of high and obstructing elements. 

    The solution of the problem above- unfortunately- is not the responsibility of the designer, as these blocking elements are not permanent parts of the buildings, they may change in time, disappear or reappear with the season. The operator of these elevated objects must ensure that the regulations are complied with, the authorities are responsible for the control. The position of cantilevered elements (as well as the area that is affected by swinging doors of a public area public area) may be designated by altering the surface texture of the road in a consistent way - or with some installed railings in front of the high obstructive elements, that can be perceived from 40 cm above. The outdoor area of an ATM is hardly accessible for people in wheelchairs, as the walls of buildings prevent them from accessing and approaching it, convenient interfaces are located too high for people sitting in wheelchairs. Nevertheless, this problem was solved by most banks located in this area. They could provide a barrier-free access into the building, where people sitting in wheelchairs could access the teller machine. We should also mention the terraces of catering units and mobile street objects such as billboards around shops and restaurants. AT the renewal of public areas it was important to increase the pedestrian zones form rather spacious squares and place sidewalks. However, even in case of enlarged sidewalks, the space outside is still not enough to put tables and chairs in front of restaurants and pubs The pedestrian walking area is usually restricted by the terraces, thus making difficult the move for pedestrians and disturbing the tranquility of dining guests. Most façades are dangerous for blind people hence there is no line to follow for them and they can bump into the furniture placed outside. The safe and convenient public land use is possible only when terrace bar is located outside of the main walking zone in a separate, wider place of the street. 

    However, very often the pedestrian zone is too narrow and the shade that are mounted to the walls- or buildings do not protect the outer tables from the sun. In terms of accessibility, however, it is essential that there would be a minimum of 1.50 m of unobstructed place next to the building facades because people with disabilities are most likely to use that area, hence there should not be any obstacle that would interfere with walking. This principle should be applied to not only for the terraces, but also for billboards or signs placed in front of the shops, because they could be dangerous obstacles and traffic zones would be narrowed by them excessively. Concerning temporary structures, such as scaffoldings, one has to consider the detect ability in advance, so that it would be possible to avoid them. If the section is not closed from traffic, a safe zone should be provided for safe progress. In our country unfortunately, only a little attention is paid for these during construction work.  

    e. waste bins 

     From all the waste bins found in the observation area can be stated that their opening is conveniently placed at the height of 90 to 106 cm, so they are convenient to use both from standing or sitting in a wheelchair. The waste bins are regularly and frequently placed next to the sidewalk, or near junctions, stops, parking lots. According to the traffic volume, a sufficient number of waste bins have been installed, with regular trash collection and in organized environment. They are placed on fixed columns or pollers and are easy to access, their openings face to the sidewalk. In some places - especially at pedestrian crossings - a problem is that they may cross the walkways. The waste collectors provide possibilities for selective collection and dog dropping bins provide the chance for keeping the city cleaner, more livable, more sustainable. 
     On the new main street of Pest, the grey, metallic containers to collect dog waste have a columnar shape with a slope positioned in a bit irregular way, hence they are rotated in a way that the diagonal of their horizontal cross section- is parallel to the walking direction instead of the lateral edge, which would be a natural direction. The waste bin for dog droppings leans toward the sidewalk forming sharp, acute angle with the ground. It also has a protective roof against the rain. Due to the slanting and rain protection roof, the opening of the waste bin is very narrow and awkward, making the waste collection nearly impossible. This is opening would not be sufficient even for a normal waste collection , but for the selective dropping collection ? is practically insufficient. Due to slope, it is very difficult to detect for visually impaired pedestrians and because its even edges are sharp and are not rounded it may be dangerous to use for handicapped people. 

    One can find new and stylish, dark gray painted metal waste bins with columnar shape on Károly boulevard between Astoria and Deak ter. These are a bit smaller and less robust bins than the similar objects placed on the main street of Pest, their opening is not slanted so in spite having a smaller size, it is relatively easy to access. They are equipped with fixed metal roof for rain protection. 

     On the segment of Kiskörút between F?vám square and Astoria - considering waste bins, one can find dark gray, cylindrical bins without any roof (see Figure 11). Due to the round shape, it is relatively safe to use except from the poller, which has sharp edges and corners. On the study area all the pedestrian crossings are equipped with signs to guide traffic and several pedestrian crossings it can observed that waste containers are set on them in a hardly perceptible way so it may cause tripping or collision. The majority of the bins, however, is properly placed. All the waste bins in our area of observation are can handle cigarette stubs properly. On the new waste bin models in case of a rectangular model, there is a metal place on the top to extinguish the cigarettes , while on the cylindrical type there is an outer metal ring that serves for the very same purpose. On the old types of waste bins, there is a metal box attached on the mid part of the bin to extinguish the cigarettes. Unfortunately it is rather common that the cigarette stubs are left on the top without proper disposal. 

     On the entire study area one can still find those old-style, vivid green waste bins that can be fixed to transport boards, or pole-mounted to railings that have been here prior to the downtown renovation. 

     f. Pollers 

     It is neccessary to use traffic bollards on streets in order to protect the pedestrian zone from parking cars that would occupy every possible place. Bollards and pollers play a protective role specially in those places- for example in bus stops and pedestrian crossings- where special borders or other suitable objects cannot be placed to keep off the vehicles from the area reserved for pedestrians. It is difficult to detect traffic bollards, especially in crowded bus stops and intersections where there are many people waiting, then they all start at the same time at a green light or when the bus comes blocking the visibilty of the pollers because they are covered by the crowd. In addition to this problem, the bike lane is placed next to zone of traffic bollards. Therefore it is important to put a special care at their design to minimize the risks : e.g. using rounded corners and edges with good visibility besides aesthetic aspects which are required in a historic environment. 

     The main materials used for pollers on public areas are the dark gray metal and natural stone. In general, the new main street where the road pavement is on the same level as the pedestrian walkway the pollers have been consistently applied to protect the pedestrian zone, and effective traffic reduction has been carried out to increase safety and convenience of pedestrians. The section of small boulevard (Kiskörút) between Astoria and F?vám square is also accompanied by a continuous colonnade of pollers next to the pedestrian zone, even in the full width of pedestrian crossings, which- due the above-mentioned reasons- can be dangerous. Between Astoria and Deak square pollers were used only where it was absolutely necessary. Hence, some pedestrian crossings can be approached safely, without any physical barriers and still avoid motorists parking on the pavement. At some other cases -additional elements: e.g. street furniture, railings, curved columns for bicycle parking, plants - will take over the role of bollards. 

    On the main street of Pest - similar to the style of the new street furniture- dark grey metal pollers with square cross-section and slanted design are placed to protect sidewalks. The design concept was to revive the old country roads where the old stones were sunken and slanted a bit toward sidewalk by using appropriate slanted street furniture. However, during construction, the direction of pollers was parallel to the traffic direction. In the parking facilities and intersections pollers cannot be tilted, because it would be insvisible for the drivers, posing a hazard risk to the traffic. Therefore, in these places the pollers were rotated by the angle of 90?.

    These pollers are slanted inwards, hence crossing the walkways of wheel chairs, in addition to these they have sharp corners and edges ? causing a real traffic hazard. There are natural stone blocks in vertical position on the street to regulate the traffic, but for safety reasons the sharp edges of stone blocks should have been reduced by applying a slanting cross section at the sides. On Egyetem square, there are glass cubes of artwork called "Wandering spots" which also serve as a traffic guidance. 

     On the section of Károly boulevard between Astoria and F?vám square there are dark gray metal pollers with edges. However, a similar bollard with round shape would be a better option. On this section unfortunately, the sidewalks are not as wide as between Astoria and Deák Square, so in this part of the city the pollers make the sidewalk less than 150 cm wide. This situation is mainly true for areas with doorways and car parking places.

    The section on F?vám square and between Astoria and Deak square one can find pollers made of natural stones. The architectural design can be expressed by angular geometry and the sharp, cristal character. These stone pollers ? as it was mentioned before- pose a traffic hazard due to the sharp edges. 

    Between Astoria and Deak square however, the pollers of 'K'-shaped lime stone prisms have a slanting cross sections at the edges- minimizing risks of the traffic hazards. It can be seen that on this part of the city a careful design was applied to make city traffic barrier-free and safe. 

    g. Indicator lights / traffic signs 

     In order to provide a more detailed analysis, two types of street objects should be considered separately. 
     The traffic lights,due to their light-emitting nature can provide information only for those who have normal vision, or whose eye sight is only partially damaged. The traffic lights found in our study area can be found at locations (e.g. intersections) where the different modes of transport (vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian / wheelchair / baby-car traffic) would collide without them, so their mainly serve as traffic regulators and awareness indicators. They thus are being used for safety and traffic optimalization. 

     The color and light type choice of light sources in finding the optimal strengths, it is important to take into account effects of contrasts, so it must be ensured that the light source is sufficiently striking and visible, its color stands out from the surrounding blocks. The Kálvin square and on the renovated Kecskeméti street, and on the Károly boulevard all the traffic lights meet both of the above requirements, such as height and proper direction, making them easy to perceive. In many cases, an acoustic signal can be used with light to facilitate orientation of the visually impaired. On the study area at certain pedestrian crossings (e.g. F?vám square and Deak Ferenc square) traffic lights with auditory beeps have been installed. The auditory signal can be turned on by a remote device. This method used here in Budapest follows a uniform method, all the traffic lights with auditory signals are activated with the same remote control system. 
     Concerning the audio tone of traffic lights, the following basic requirements can be formulated

    - it should be loud (it's not audible all day, so as not to interfere with night sleep or rest, but when you need it, then it should be loud and clear) - this refers to tone dialing and the information heard 

     - should be easy to understand (to be heard and understood at the same time) 

     - the information should be important and in correct order The barrier-free design of road signs has been analyzed in a number of studies. The following criteria have to be observed : 

     - They have to be available and safely accessible / may be avoided by everyone. Their position should be determined by incorporating the fact that the eye level of a person sitting in a wheelchair is lower- by approx. 50 cm - than that of a standing person .

     - should be easy to read for everybody, even for visually impaired people (by choosing the appropriate letter size and contrast) 

     For the visually impaired persons information should be coded with Braille characters considering minimum and maximum access height. These heights for wheelchairs are 40-120, while for standing people is between 90-130 cm. 

     On the study area all the signs comply with the requirements set out above. 

     Traffic and vehicle parking 

     a. Parking spaces 

    The OTÉK regulation deals with the development of barrier-free and accessible parking spaces for handicapped people Accessible parking spaces should be created as close to the main entrances as possible (up to 50 meters), so it would be possible to reach it easily and quickly[14]. In any case, 1.5 m traffic lane should be established next to the parking space near which ramp which is to be bridged with the parking lot if there is a height difference and between walkway and parking space. According to this, the size of the parking lots should be at least 3.5 x 5. 5 m. 

     There are several barrier-free and accessible parking spaces for handicapped created on our study area. On Vámház boulevard, several handicapped parking spaces were created at the curb delimited by pollers, or surrounded by tactile pavement. 

    Parallel to the car traffic of Kecskeméti street handicapped parking spaces have been designed to improve accessibility of the environment in the same level. In both cases, pavement marking and panel calls attention to these parking spaces. Unfortunately in both cases we find illegal parking of unlicensed cars on disabled parking spaces creating a problem for those who would need special parking. 

     b.Tram and bus stops 

     The accessibility of public transport safety is a major factor in Accessibility.The vast majority of disabled people can not or will not drive a car, so they can only rely on the public transport. The test area proved to be very good example in this respect, since there bus-, tram- and metro stations which are designed also for the blind or visually impaired people or wheelchair users. One of the best example is Kálvin square and its neighbourshood. Tram stops and subway station is located on the square , which can be approached by the subway line no. 3.The tram tracks are leading the tactile guide visually impaired people of all stairs and through the underpass, as well as both can be reached by elevator.Tactile tracks show the direction to the stairs. 

    The elevator for wheelchairs and strollers leading to the subway is not ready yet, because the area is still under construction work.The tactile pavement is not used on the surface of tram stops.Neither the edge of the platform, nor the beginning or the end of it is marked , as well as the first and the last door of the vehicle is not indicated by any tactile signs, so the visually impaired passengers have no signals how to use the vehicles. Another example to follow is tram stops on Károly boulevard, because of their accessibility and for being covered by contrasting tactile strips to guide disabled people. The same is true for bus stops and in addition to these ? pollers are added to secure pedestrians form car traffic. 

    On Kiskörút boulevard there are enough places for sitting and waiting space which is covered by rain proof roof.The pavilions covered with glass-roof can be very hot and uncomfortable in the blazing summer sun.The side walls of glass at the road should be placed at eye-level for appropriate detection. 

    In summary, we can say that the newly renovated open spaces in downtown of Budapest, it is clearly visible that a significant effort has been made to pursuit barrier-free accessibility for handicapped people. 
    The transport, orientation and relaxation facilities usually were placed in separate bands, not narrowing the pedestrian traffic areas, making them safe and comfortable for everyone and enabling barrier-free public access. T
    he proposed color of street furniture is not striking, but different and detectable from the pavement and vegetation.In most cases it has a logical place and position in groups . The main features, services and travel directions are easy to follow and can be accessed in a user-friendly way. 
     The designers of the area instead of historical, more traditional street scene have turned into a contemporary design that meets the needs of modern people ? including the handicapped population. It is an enjoyable public space, having created a contemporary urban feeling with appopriately used street furniture ? still providing barrier ?free accessibility. 
  • Location : Hungary, Budapest, lat : 47.498405600000000000 - lng : 19.040757799999938000
Image Title: General principles of barrier - free open space design street furniture, motorized traffic, parking based on the example of Downtown of Budapest