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Making Steps and Landings Safe
All too often, however, these elements enter into projects as afterthoughts — things to be defined and implemented after other, “sexier” issues are settled. Sometimes that works, but often it’s a huge mistake, especially with steps. First, steps are important visually, and our attention is often drawn to the transitions they embody. Second, people use them to go up and down, which presents significant safety hazards depending on the individuals’ ages, physical abilities and a long list of other factors.
The most common issue here is improper tread-to-riser ratios, followed by steps being difficult to see because of the way they blend in with the surrounding hardscape, and by steps being built at irregular intervals. Then there’s the immutable fact that the sun goes down — and all too often I find lighting systems that eliminate shadows, making the steps hard to see.
All of these issues lead to potential hazards for people ascending and especially descending these steps. And while safety may be my main concern here, I am aware that lots of steps foster feelings of insecurity in a space. After all, when a person feels obliged to concentrate on their footing they become uneasy, which more or less defeats the purpose of creating great places in which to move around and relax.
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Scott Cohen is president and supervising designer of The Green Scene, an outdoor design and construction firm based in Northridge, CA. He provides consultation for clients nationwide and gives seminars on designing landscapes, swimming pools and outdoor kitchens.