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One of a series of street environment design guides

Description of the element

photograph of two men sitting on a bench

This Design Guide provides information on the most suitable style and materials for seating; the positioning of seating within a footway or similar; the provision of seating within neighbourhood environments; and the preferences and requirements of older people using external public seating in their everyday activities. Seating at bus stops is included in a separate Design Guide.


There are 3 aspects to public seating which have emerged from our research: the seat itself - both style and material from which it is made; the positioning of the seat - is it on a suitable paving surface, is it causing an obstruction, is it where people would want to sit?; and the provision of seating within the neighbourhood - is there sufficient seating and is it on routes to places as well as at places - on the way to the shops, and at the shops for example.

The seat itself:

There is a range of guidance on the style of seat and the appropriateness of a seat in meeting user needs especially given that users in public spaces will be so varied. There is a general consensus about: the provision of a back rest; mixture of seating with and without arm rests; the height of the seat from the floor (450 to 475mm, plus other heights where multiple seating permits this); constructed from a material which does not retain heat / cold; colour and luminance to contrast with the background environment.

Positioning of the seat:

The seating should be set back from a footway such that it does not cause an obstruction; there should be space for a wheelchair user to pull up alongside a companion; end parking on a firm surface for a wheelchair or scooter. DfT (2007) suggests that seating should be located where there is good lighting and natural surveillance because it can sometimes attract anti social behaviour, and that consideration should be given to pedestrian desire lines.

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Provision of seating:

There is limited guidance on the provision of seating within neighbourhoods and residential areas, the emphasis is on the end part of a pedestrian journey rather than the journey itself. Lacey (2004) suggests that ‘seats should be provided at intervals along long routes or where waiting is likely’. DfT (2007) suggest seating should be provided every 100m along key pedestrian routes. However, more typically guidance emphasises seating in pedestrian areas and at transport interchanges (ie the end of the journey) (BS 8300, DfT 2007 for example).

What older people tell us they prefer and why

Style of seating:

“The arm rests are very important if you want to move from wheelchair to bench and vice versa”
“Arm rests are good for getting up and down, I can’t get up without an arm rest”
“Back and arm rests are very important because I get tired”
“Sloping backs are not comfortable”
“The slats help to drain rain water”
“Benches are often too low to be comfortable”
“People who have had their knees and hips replaced need at least 19 inches [height of seat] otherwise it’s hard to get up again”

Choice of material:

“Wood is warmer”
“There could be splinters in them”[wood]
“Wood is much easier to vandalize”
“Stone is uncomfortable and cold but less liable to vandalism”
“Metal is cold and gets rusty”

Findings from the physical audit survey

There is very little seating on an older person’s street. Where there is seating (16% of instances), it will typically be a single bench or similar, with back and arm rests, made of timber or metal, and it will be in a reasonable condition.

Bar chart 1 Provision of seating in a participant’s street

Bar chart 1 Provision of seating in a participant’s street

Within the wider neighbourhood, there is single (one-off seating) in 40% of neighbourhoods, and regular seating (every 100m for example) in only 8% of neighbourhoods. This may make it difficult for some people to walk to the local facilities because there are insufficient resting points along the route. At central points, there is seating in 25% of locations, examples being parks, church grounds, shopping areas, local markets.

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“Anything is welcome sometimes” was a familiar phrase from our participants. They referred to the limited number of rest points between home and their local facilities, they would use informal seating such as garden walls, seating in bus shelters, even concrete litter bins as a form of seating. However, it is recommended that:

  • seating is provided that is warm to sit on, comfortable and easily maintained. Arm and back rests are preferred to bench type seating;
  • the seat should be set back so as to not cause an obstruction, and should be positioned in places where people would want to sit;
  • wherever possible, some form of seating is provided at 100m intervals and if the neighbourhood is hilly, then the intervals should be less than 100m. this is particularly important to help people make the journey on foot from their home to the local facilities;
  • in central areas such as the local shops, seating should be provided, and if possible more than one seat in a space.

Where to find further information


BSI, BS8300:2001. Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people - Code of Practice. London. British Standards Institute.

DfT (2007) Manual for Streets, London, Thomas Telford Publishing http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/sustainable/manforstreets/

Lacey, A. 2004. Designing for Accessibility. London. Centre for Accessible Environments and RIBA Enterprises.


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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I'DGO - Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors. Last updated December 2007

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