6 Principles for Creating Walkable Spaces
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There are many things to consider when it comes to communities creating safe, accessible, equitable, and enjoyable walking conditions for all people. Each place is different. Context-sensitive solutions are the only way that the “right” kind of walkability will be found in any particular space.
At America Walks, we are always looking out for innovative, inclusive, and proactive examples of who is doing it right when it comes to creating walkable spaces at the individual, neighborhood, and city-wide level.
In our work, we know that the passion and creativity of community members are often the determining factors in the success of a project. We hope these examples will serve as scalable models for wherever and however you are working, living, walking, or talking to mobilize and inspire people-first design in your community.
6 Principles of Walkability
1. Speed Matters Most
Lowering speed limits can be the single most important step toward protecting people who wish to walk and move safely and freely in their cities and neighborhoods. Boston, Seattle, Portland, and New York City have all lowered speed limits recently to advance Vision Zero. Washington, DC, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, and NYC, among others, have also utilized Automated Speed Enforcement to bring down dangerous speeds.
Managing speed for safety means first identifying the role that speed currently plays in your community. Before Portland could begin chipping away at physical and visual improvements, the City of Portland identified a High Crash Network (HCN) –– a robust data compilation of the city’s most dangerous streets and intersections for people walking, biking, and driving. They found that most traffic deaths were happening on streets with higher posted speed limits.
It may sound like a no brainer, but nailing down the data is the foundation for getting buy-in for tackling next step actions and critical strategy for reducing speeds and putting people first. A sound analysis sets the stage for addressing outdated policies and road design, and allows for consideration of tackling the most equitable projects first. In Portland, areas within the HCN were cross referenced with low-income communities and communities of color to prioritize project funding.
2. Harness Underrepresented Voices
It’s one thing to design with people in mind, it’s a whole other thing to design with the minds of people. The Warrendale-Cody Rouge area in Detroit is planning a new neighborhood that centers around child-first design –– where kids who live in the area are given the opportunity to plan and develop designs for parks and playgrounds, as well as removing damaged homes and preserving affordable housing to create a stable environment for the children who live there.
The Warrendale-Cody Rouge area has the highest concentration of school-aged kids in Detroit. For that reason, The City decided to prioritize these neighborhood improvements that center around child development. The City of Detroit teamed up with Hector, an urban design, planning, and civic arts studio, to begin planning the project. Residents and youth are actively being included to identify innovative ways to improve mobility, health, safety, housing and education, with a focus on creating new, child-centered public spaces. Recommendations are expected by spring 2019 with implementation set for the summer of 2019.
3. Build Inclusive Spaces for Play
America Walks recognizes that walkability is more than just what happens on sidewalks and in crosswalks. Just as all people have the right to walk and move, all people have the right to also play. Creating public spaces where all feel welcome is an important part of getting people to come out and engage with their community. The La Crosse, Wisconsin’s All Abilities Trane Park Project is taking steps to make sure that people of all ages and abilities are encouraged to play and explore nature in the new park.
An estimated 12,190 people over the age of five have a disability in La Crosse County; 12% of the population. The proposed park is a direct solution to the statistics. It’s an enclosed play environment where children and adults with special needs can safely explore and play with others of varied abilities in a fun and accessible manner. The park broke ground in October 2018.
4. Curate Pedestrian-Prioritized Input
In an effort to actualize its Complete Streets policy and make the city more people-first friendly, Omaha, Nebraska initiated the 13th Street Walkability Study to determine how to best utilize the existing right-of-way width to accommodate all road users, especially the most vulnerable. This corridor study, with a sharp focus on multimodal transportation and land use context, is yet another example of how to set the stage for iteration and implementation from a strong foundation of data.
5. Link Up With the Like Minded
Cultivating and strengthening a diverse network of active partnerships is the pinnacle for creating lasting change for our most vulnerable road users. This last summer in Montevallo, Alabama the Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE) program partnered with America Walks to connect nine teams of walking advocates from throughout the state for a Walkable and Vibrant Small Towns Workshop. Each team included a planner, a transportation engineer, a public health professional, an elected official, and an advocate, with several other groups represented, such as educators, health care practitioners, and foundations.
The workshop featured panel discussions, a pop-up traffic calming demonstration, a series of walkability audits, and structured asset-mapping and goal-setting activities. The goal was to offer step-by-step instructions on how to turn ideas into action and improve walkability by sharing best practices in creating walkable communities.
6. Illuminate Small Changes
When it comes to prioritizing people, sometimes seemingly small flames of change can create the most critical gains. Detroit worked with the Public Lighting Authority (PLA) to implement major street lighting improvements between 2014 and 2016, taking the city from chronic darkness to a total relighting. Before the project, about 40% of the city’s street lights no longer worked, leaving even entire neighborhoods in the dark. As a result, in 2017, pedestrian deaths were down by about 40 percent since their height in 2015. The use of LED lights also reduced the city’s energy bill by 55 – 60%, according to the City.
This is a case where community members were seen, heard, and prioritized. The Mayor worked with PLA to backtrack an original plan that called for lighting major thoroughfares first, to instead light residential neighborhoods first. Not only are the streets safer, the lights are also more sustainable, creating a brighter future for the people of Detroit to walk and move safely in their streets.
Support for Any Step on the Walking Path
When it comes to empowering others to create the right kind of walkability within their communities, we want to share all the pieces of the pie. America Walks is constantly seeking new ways to support, enhance, and foster people-first safety from a grassroots level.
We just announced our Road to Zero program partners and have started working with 11 communities to assess, plan, and prioritize effective safety treatments to reduce the growing numbers of pedestrian fatalities and injuries. We also opened up our 2018 Community Change Grant Applications, where we’re awarding $1,500 in community stipends for projects related to creating healthy, active, and engaged places to live, work, and play. We welcome you to connect, apply, and join our coalition of change agents.
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This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.
Update for April 20, 2021:
After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.
-Ron & Stewart
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