September 25, 2018

Walkability: The Key to Sustainable Communities

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 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.”