Warsaw still struggles with the relics of socialist thinking in terms of urban transport infrastructure. In effect, the authorities need to be regularly reminded that having to go up and down stairs to get to the other side of the street isn't the most desirable option. A campaign, including a series of happenings, was organized in 2011-2015 in places where ground-level pedestrian crossings are necessary.
The center of Warsaw is one of the most walking-unfriendly parts of the city. This is largely the effect of large infrastructure projects from the 1970s which resulted in the elimination of ground-level pedestrian crossings. Instead, underground passages were provided, accessible by series of stairs. Despite the fact that the current city transport strategy unequivocally declares that ground-level crossings are necessary, the authorities still regularly act according to the 1970s mode of thinking. In effect, large groups of people (e.g. the disabled, the elderly) have difficulties with getting around the city center and everyone is discouraged from walking as a mode of transport. Pedestrian safety is also compromised, as people try to get across the streets anyway, and are bereft of any protection.
In order to counterbalance the authorities' tendencies to preserve the dubious achievements of the era of high socialism, in 2011-2015 the Green Mazovia Association has organized a series of happenings in favor of restoring ground-level pedestrian crossings.
At the roundabout next to the Warsaw Central train station, we unrolled a roll of black and white material to show that crosswalks are not as difficult to provide as the road authority suggested. The happening provided representatives of the disabled, the elderly and mothers with children in prams with a unique opportunity to get across the street in this key public transport hub (accessible solely by stairs, bereft even of any elevators).
During the construction of the second metro line in the city center, we showed that pedestrian crossings next to the construction site did not need to be cancelled as providing crossings would not even worsen car traffic conditions. The city authorities' decision resulted in pedestrians having to cross the street three times in order to get to the other side of intersections situated along key pedestrian routes. Our happening provided pedestrians with an occasion to get across the street the natural and easy way.
A similar happening took place in the Żoliborz district where the inhabitants need to go underground in order to get across the street to the City District Office or even bus and tram stops situated side by side. In effect, people – including the elderly and even some of the disabled - regularly climb across the barriers provided by the city authorities. Signatures were collected under a petition postulating that the ground-level crossing be provided.
At the roundabout considered to be the center of Warsaw, we organized a happening with zebra stands symbolising the necessary crosswalks. We also provided the city with several variations of how the intersection can be transformed to improve walking conditions and quality of public space in order to encourage people to get around by foot, not only by car and public transport. The next day, the Vice-President of Warsaw declared that ground-level pedestrian crossings would be provided. This shows that the campaign has been effective in increasing the consciousness of the authorities concerning the needs of pedestrians and taking walkability into account in transport-related undertakings.