6 Principles for Creating Walkable Spaces

By Kelsey Card

Kelsey Card is the Communications and Development Specialist at America Walks.

Jul 31, 2019 | Society | 5 comments

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 A sound analysis sets the stage for addressing outdated policies and road design, and allows for consideration of tackling the most equitable projects first.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.

The city has hosted various Block Talks with community members to get firsthand pedestrian insight. The project will result in a robust Walkability Plan in the coming months.

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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  1. In addition to the good ideas presented above, there are economic and density minimums to any walkable environment. These are parameters that all stakeholders need to consider.

  2. The 65+ age and particularly the more than 80+ active aging urban resident cohorts require walking infrastructure that is different to infrastructure serving the younger members of our society.

  3. Urban sprawl is one of the major causes for energy consumption, air and water pollution, resource depletion, climate change, traffic congestion and municipal fiscal strain and bankruptcy. But sprawl is not inevitable. It is the product of infrastructure investment decisions and decisions about how to pay for them. Policies and programs have been used successfully to incentivize more compact, affordable and sustainable development patterns. “Land value return and recycling,” in particular, can be implemented in a revenue-neutral way so that, without any increase in spending or any decrease in revenue, both buildings and land can become more affordable while creating incentives for infill development in lieu of sprawl. “Funding Infrastructure With Value Capture: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” provides a brief overview of this policy at https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/2/20/financing-infrastructure-with-value-capture-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly . There’s also a TRB webinar on this topic at http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/178905.aspx .

    This is not the only policy required to remedy sprawl while promoting greater sustainability and resiliency. However, if this policy is not implemented, most of the other necessary policies are less effective or even counter-productive.

  4. It is good to read the experience of people who work so seriously and their dedicated dedication that adds to that of so many people in a history of decades amid a solution that ended up being the problem.
    I refer to the center of these 6 Principles for Creating Walkable Spaces. To read this interesting and dedicated article is to read the origin of the problem, in fact we have spent decades dedicated to the automobile, what a great invention, all dedicating their effort, heart and wealth to a solution that is a problem …, what a skillful voluntary domain.
    Let us be sensible, with all due respect to your ability and noble effort that you have, but we deserve everything, our freedom to grow and develop without limits. If we eradicate the origin of the problem, we will use the resources in a solution that is effective to achieve everything we want, and the current problems disappear, there are no limits, those are in ourselves, and then we will understand what this man in detail He is asking everyone!
    The world can change and it is in our hands, for this we must eliminate the roads and cars, this is levitation now, if you have any doubts, respond to these 6 principles yourself thinking that cars and roads have disappeared, and you will see that it is solved the current problem, now, without cement in these areas, without moving obstacles at any speed and with nothing to learn or modify from our freedom-filled behaviors that the natural rights of life itself gave us at birth, then only the solution will be missing In the future, we have the wealth to achieve it by not giving more capital to a problem but to the solution.


  5. We need each and every one of this world out of the box


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