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Widths of footways and footpaths

One of a series of street environment design guides

Description of the element

photograph of an older person having to walk on the road due to streetworks on the footway

This design guide provides information on the most suitable widths of footways taking account of numbers of pedestrians and their safety when using the footpath; the effective positioning of permanent features such as trees and bus shelters; and the preferences and needs of older people who use the footway with a variety of mobility aids such as walking sticks and scooters.


Footways and footpaths should be designed so that they provide safety for pedestrians from traffic. The Department for Transport Manual for Streets (2007) confirms that there is no minimum width for footways. It suggests that in lightly used streets, the minimum unobstructed width for pedestrians should generally be 2000mm, and that is areas of higher pedestrian flow the quality of the walking experience can deteriorate unless sufficient width is provided. Inclusive Mobility (2002) advises that ideally the width of the footway should be 2000mm to facilitate two people in wheelchairs to pass each other comfortably. Where this width is not possible, a clear width of 1500mm should be provided, with an absolute clear minimum width of 1000mm in exceptional cases. The phrase ‘clear’ refers to the effective width taking into account permanent obstacles on the footway such as street lamp standards, trees, telegraph poles, bus shelters for example.

What older people tell us they prefer and why

Very few participants (16%) feel comfortable with using narrow footways. Typical reasons for this are:

“You have to go on the roadway to get passed people on narrow pavements”
“You can’t stop and talk to anyone because people can’t get by, especially those with buggies”
“I have to take it steady and hope that people are polite enough to walk around me”

Participants find temporary obstacles to be both a nuisance and hazard:

“Parking on pavements is a problem. Sometimes you have to walk on the road to pass parked cars”
“I have to drive my mobility scooter on the road because pavements are blocked by parked cars. Riding a scooter on the road is unsafe”
“…it can be a marathon for frail people and those with walking sticks to get around them [temporary building works]”
“Many people park their cars on the pavement, they even drive on the pavement”

Most participants (79%) much prefer wider uncluttered footways. Typical reasons for this are:

“I feel safer from cars on wider pavements”
“I’m less likely to bag into people or things with my walker on wider pavements”
“I need room for my scooter and so that other people can get past me safely”

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Findings from the physical audit survey

Whilst most footways are designed to meet good design standards (68% of footways in our survey exceeded 1500mm), the effective width of the footway is compromised by the positioning of permanent obstacles which cause an obstruction such that a significant number of footways (62%) have a clear width of less than 1500mm. This means that pedestrians are using narrower footways than design guidance recommends which may compromise personal safety.

Bar chart 1. Design width of footways in a participant’s street

Bar chart 1 Design width of footways in a participant's street description

Bar chart 2. Effective (real) width of footways in a participant’s street

Bar chart 2. Effective (real) width of footways in a participant's street description

top of pageAdditionally, a person living in an urban environment is more likely to have a wider footway, with suburban footways typically being quite narrow, and some rural villages having no footway at all.


Whilst most footways were originally designed to provide minimum requirements, the subsequent poor positioning of permanent features has meant a significant reduction in the effective width of the footway. It is recommended that:

  • Footways in new developments are designed to minimum width standards of 2000mm to include the diverse needs of users;
  • Clear design information is provided on the positioning of permanent obstacles such that minimum widths of footways are maintained;
  • Personal safety of pedestrians is prioritized such that temporary obstacles on footways are discouraged;
  • The parking of cars on pavements should be discouraged.

Where to find further information

On recommended footway widths:

DfT (2002), Inclusive Mobility: a guide to best practice on access to pedestrian and transport infrastructure. London. Department for Transport. Available online at
www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/access/tipws/inclusivemobility or free from Enquiry Services, DfT, Ashdown House, 123 Victoria St, London SW1E 6DE. Tel: 020 7944 8300, Fax 0207 944 6589, Email: publications@communities.gsi.gov.uk

DfT (2007) Manual for Streets. London. Thomas Telford Punlishing

On the widths required by different path users:

Fieldfare Trust (2005). The Countryside for All Good Practice Guide. Sheffield. BT Countryside for All / The Fieldfare Trust.
CD available from www.fieldfare.org.uk/cd-gpg2005.htm


This Design Guide is first printed in 2007 and is protected by Copyright Notice © Rita Newton and Marcus Ormerod, I’DGO Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors.

Corresponding author of this Design Guide:

Rita Newton, SURFACE Inclusive Design Research Centre, The University of Salford, Maxwell Building, The Crescent, Salford, M5 4WT, UK. Email:r.newton@salford.ac.uk

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© Rita Newton and Marcus Ormerod, SURFACE
I'DGO - Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors. Last updated December 2007

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