You follow the sidewalk. It ends. You want a coffee from the across the street. No crosswalk. Cars zip past. You scurry—phew, you made it! You grab a coffee and wait. Yay, space! You can dart again… hoping you don’t spill your coffee. We’ve all been there.
A walk is just a walk, right? Well, that’s not always the case. Your walk could be:
1. Useful 2. Safe 3. Comfortable 4. Interesting and place you and other people first.
In Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck explores walkability and why communities that appropriately use its principles have bustling cores. Spoiler alert: walkability doesn’t only work in large cities– any town center can benefit. Let’s break down items 1-4.
Useful| Sidewalks and crosswalks are useful and give pedestrians places to walk. However, if there isn’t a destination, people might not use them. A walk should mix uses with a balance of and between activities. Walking to greenspace, a coffee shop, the post office and restaurants in the same area provides excitement and economic value.
Increase utility of a walk, think creatively about parking. Parking can often make-or-break downtown visits. Too many spaces? Create a destination; energize a spot with an art display or temporary vendor. Too few spaces? Orient the parking to maximize space. Speck also notes the importance of collaboration between businesses who share parking areas or private lots. Free parking isn’t really free — someone somewhere pays. And, when spaces remain vacant in empty downtowns, someone still pays.
Marrying other transportation types to walking can also benefit a community. Buses, light rails, subways and bike lanes can help enhance walkability because they take individuals to destinations. As we like to say, they provide options for getting about. In any case, non-car transportation options must meet the needs of people and community before it can be truly helpful. Neighborhoods can be walkable without these options, but walkable cities depend on them.
Like Speck mentions throughout his book, cars are fine but put people first and cars in their place. By doing so, your community will be recharged and open to a new world of possibilities. Changes will take time, energy and money—but if this is your community’s shared vision, it will be worth it. Stay tuned…