Foot Patrol - What Makes a City Walkable?
What makes a city walkable? Some of the key features of a walkable community include; 1. Proximity: Destinations, such as homes, schools, shops, green space and workplaces, all within easy walking or cycling distance. 2. Infrastructure: Sidewalks, ramped curb cut-outs, street crossings and speed controls designed to make walking safe and accessible for all. 3. Attractiveness: Clean, bright and well-maintained “human scale” environments featuring ground level storefronts and activities that promote sidewalk interest. In this article, we look at the nation’s most walkable city as well as a city in Europe which encourages foot travel via its gorgeous tree lined streets, charming boutiques, iconic sidewalk cafes, and cobblestone side streets. Finally, we take a look at a city better known for its traffic jams than its walkability that just may have the potential to become a hub for pedestrian-oriented development over the next 10-15 years. If you are interested in making your city more walkable, search “site” on CADdetails.com for additional ideas.
New York, New York
New York, the nation’s most walkable city, has increased its lead over No. 2 ranked San Francisco in the latest results by Walk Score®. With a score of 87.6 / 100, the Big Apple extended its lead over the City by the Bay, which essentially tied for first place in the United States in 2011. Walk Score, which was recently acquired by real estate brokerage Redfin, ranked 141 U.S., Canadian and Australian cities with populations of more than 200,000 based on the Street Smart Walk Score algorithm that incorporates walking routes, pedestrian friendliness and neighborhood and population characteristics. Walk Score co-founder Matt Lerner is quoted as saying: “New York is clearly leading the way in walkability by reclaiming space from cars for people. One look at Times Square (pictured above) shows how New York has become a leader. It’s just one example of a place that went from being a gridlocked road full of cars to a park for pedestrians.” Indeed, nearly 70 percent of New Yorkers don't even own a car. How can they so easily go about their lives without the American average 2.2 cars in the driveway? A unique combination of ‘fleet’ and ‘feet’. First, the fleet. New York City boasts iconic, 24-hour public transportation connecting its five boroughs and the largest fleet of subway cars in the world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest American Community Survey, more than 55 percent of New York commuters ride buses, trains and light rail. In addition, the New York metro area has the highest number of walkable urban places in the United States. A network of pathways and bike lanes connecting the five boroughs make walking and biking a popular - and practical - mode of transportation. In Midtown Manhattan alone, there are thousands of residences, hotels, cultural establishments and stores, in addition to the more than 300 million square feet of office space. Another plus: Streets are numbered logically, so, even if you left your GPS behind, it’s easy to stay on track! Above: Maya Barkai's whimsical “Walking Men 99” at 99 Church Street in New York’s financial district features 99 versions of the international “walk” sign.
It should come as no surprise that many major European cities are very walkable, simply because they were built long before cars. Take Paris, France, for example, which is often cited by architects and city planners as their favourite place to visit. Paris’ beautiful, winding streetscapes and “human scale” neighbourhoods packed with bustling ground level restaurants, nightlife, cafes and boutiques play a major role in the city’s walkability. Much like New Yorkers, Parisians tend to walk or take the Metro in lieu of driving - more than 60% don’t even own cars. More people walking and more activity in the streets leads to even more people walking. Now, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo wants to strictly limit the number of four-wheeled vehicles in the French capital’s historic center, making electric and low emission vehicles and emergency vehicles the only vehicles allowed in the four central districts aparts from bikes, buses and taxis. Beginning this July, trucks and buses registered before 2001 will be prohibited from entering the city between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Then, next July, the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. prohibition will extend to all cars registered before 1997 and motorcycles registered before 2000. The restrictions will grow tighter through 2020, when the bans will extend 24 hours and will include all vehicles built before 2011. As a further push, Paris recently went car-free for an entire day, “Une Journée Sans Voiture” - A Day Without Car, shutting down traffic to 30% of the city’s roads on September 27, 2015. On that day, all of the Paris’ most popular tourist spots including the Champs-Elysées and Eiffel Tower were fully dedicated to pedestrian traffic. According to Airparif, which measures city pollution levels, some parts of Paris registered 40% less nitrogen dioxide in the air on Sept. 27. On the bustling Avenue des Champs-Élysées, pictured above on car-free day, nitrogen dioxide levels were 30% lower than on other Sundays. And Bruitparif, which measures urban noise, recorded half as much volume in the city center as normal. The ban comes ahead of the city's hosting of the United Nations Climate Conference, which takes place in Paris from November 30th, 2015. With ambitious visions of an electric-bike-share program and far less air pollution, the city plans to invest $122.8 million US in bike infrastructure and double the number of bike lanes by 2020. While Paris appears to be the first major European capital to ban old cars within its city limits, it’s not the first to discuss or implement anti-car measures to reduce air pollution. London mayor Boris Johnson and the Transport for London planning group have discussed excluding diesels and cars older than the 2005 model year from the city as early as 2020 or charging their owners to drive into certain parts of the city. And in 2008, a number of German cities banned the heaviest-polluting vehicles from entering its city centers. The proposals come as European Union countries face stringent EU regulations aimed at reducing NO2 levels, regulations that carry penalties of multi-million-Euro fines.
Los Angeles, California
Believe it or not, Los Angeles, known famously for its bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic, could be an up-and-coming city for pedestrian-oriented development, according to a new report ranking walkable urban areas in the U.S. The report was done by LOCUS, a coalition of developers and investors, in partnership with Smart Growth America, and researchers at George Washington University. They surveyed walkability in the 30 top metropolitan areas in the country. Car-friendly L.A., it turns out, ranked 18th on measures of walkable urbanism. According to the researchers, in the early 20th century, L.A. boasted the longest rail system in the world. It was dismantled in the highway heyday of the '60s, but plans are again in place to revive it, with Los Angeles currently investing more into rail transit than any other metro in the country. It's also adding bike lanes and converting one-way "mini-freeways" in downtown into two-way streets with parking on curbs, seating areas and bike lanes, slowing traffic. The study notes that LA’s blossoming suburban downtowns, including Long Beach, Pasadena and Santa Monica, are also developing pedestrian-friendly initiatives, making new rail investment a viable long-term plan. Pictured above: Pedestrians pass oversize murals on the Glendale Boulevard viaduct near downtown Los Angeles.
We know that walking is an effective way to combat obesity, and that walkable cities are good for you. With the right mix of policies and city design which encourages citizens to forgo heavy reliance on the automatable in favour of healthier alternatives such as walking and biking, it’s clear that walkable cities can be encouraged and built up in many more places.
cover photo © pixabay