6 Principles for Creating Walkable Spaces
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 A sound analysis sets the stage for addressing outdated policies and road design, and allows for consideration of tackling the most equitable projects first.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.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Accenture analysts recently released a report calling for cities to take the lead in creating coordinated, “orchestrated” mobility ecosystems. Limiting shared services to routes that connect people with mass transit would be one way to deploy human-driven services now and to prepare for driverless service in the future. Services and schedules can be linked at the backend, and operators can, for example, automatically send more shared vehicles to a train station when the train has more passengers than usual, or tell the shared vehicles to wait for a train that is running late.
Managing urban congestion and mobility comes down to the matter of managing space. Cities are characterized by defined and restricted residential, commercial, and transportation spaces. Private autos are the most inefficient use of transportation space, and mass transit represents the most efficient use of transportation space. Getting more people out of private cars, and into shared feeder routes to and from mass transit modes is the most promising way to reduce auto traffic. Computer models show that it can be done, and we don’t need autonomous vehicles to realize the benefits of shared mobility.
The role of government, and the planning community, is perhaps to facilitate these kinds of partnerships and make it easier for serendipity to occur. While many cities mandate a portion of the development budget toward art, this will not necessarily result in an ongoing benefit to the arts community as in most cases the budget is used for public art projects versus creating opportunities for cultural programming.
Rather than relying solely on this mandate, planners might want to consider educating developers with examples and case studies about the myriad ways that artists can participate in the development process. Likewise, outreach and education for the arts community about what role they can play in projects may stimulate a dialogue that can yield great results. In this sense, the planning community can be an invaluable translator in helping all parties to discover a richer, more inspiring, common language.
While the outlook for the environment may often seem bleak, there are many proven methods already available for cities to make their energy systems and other infrastructure not only more sustainable, but cheaper and more resilient at the same time. This confluence of benefits will drive investments in clean, efficient energy, transportation, and water infrastructure that will enable cities to realize their sustainability goals.
Given that many of the policy mechanisms that impact cities’ ability to boost sustainability are implemented at the state or federal level, municipalities should look to their own operations to implement change. Cities can lead as a major market player, for example, by converting their own fleets to zero emission electric vehicles, investing in more robust and efficient water facilities, procuring clean power, and requiring municipal buildings to be LEED certified.