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September 25, 2018

Walkability: The Key to Sustainable Communities

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Walkability - boy bike riding down sidewalk

When it comes to advancing communities, walkability has been a hot topic for the last decade or more. In fact, in 2010, The Infrastructurist, a blog focused on America’s infrastructure (now Planetizen), featured a post that caused a big electronic buzz, How Cul-de-Sacs are Killing Your Community. The post highlighted a research study performed at the University of British Columbia of the effects of cul-de-sacs in neighborhoods in King County, Washington. The study found that neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs, rather than interconnected streets, promote more automobile use. 

The UBC research and others like it showed that the higher a neighborhood’s walkability, the greater the walking and biking. More walking and biking results in less air pollution, less fuel use, and thinner residents. 

As a follow-up, the Michigan Municipal League’s magazine, The Review, published an issue focused on walkable communities. In it, Dan Burden of http://www.walkable.org shared his advice, which are good reminders for all urban planners. 

12 Characteristics of a Walkable Community 

Burden’s recommendations included: 

1. Intact Downtowns
2. Residential Densities, Mixed-Income, Mixed Use
3. Public Space
4. Universal Design
5. Key Streets are Speed Controlled
6. Well-Linked Streets and Trails
7. Properly Scaled Design
8. City/Village is Designed for People
9. Community is Thinking Small
10. There are Many People Walking
11. The Community and Neighborhoods Have a Vision
12. Decision Makers are Forward Thinking

The theory behind cul-de-sacs was that they lessened traffic, since they change the primary function of local streets - rather than offering a way to get anywhere, now they simply provide access to private residences. The problem is that this design inherently encourages car use, even for the shortest trips. - Melissa Lafsky, The Infrastructurist

Besides being focused on “placemaking” as an essential part of advancing communities, we’ve worked with many of our long-time client communities to create more walkable villages. In future posts, I’ll share some of the steps taken to increase pedestrian access, safety, and a sense of “place.”