What makes communities great places to walk?
The walking experience
Walking is fun, enjoyable, stimulating. Walking routes are pleasant and inviting, e.g., with paving stones, attractive light standards, street trees and plants. Streets are lively. There is public art and performance, street vendors, farmer’s markets, public spaces like plazas and parks, on-street seating for restaurants, and streets closed to regular vehicle traffic. Streets are lined with active uses rather than parking lots, vacant lots, or blank walls. Adjacent buildings have a human-scale presence at street level. Streets are clean.
Walking routes are separated from vehicle traffic, vehicle speeds are controlled and enforced, street design promotes safe vehicle speeds and practices, lighting is good, and there are “eyes on the street” (adjacent homes and businesses with a view of the street). Ice and snow are cleared. Police patrol on foot.
Walking routes and connections are designed for all users, including those with mobility challenges. Sidewalks and adjacent uses (stores, services) are accessible for strollers, wheelchairs. Crossings are timed appropriately and may include bump outs and centre islands that reduce exposure to traffic.
A complete network of sidewalks and trails enables walkers to get where they are going on foot. Walkways are uncluttered and wide enough to accommodate foot traffic, wheelchairs, strollers. Foot bridges and street crossings are provided. Wayfinding signs provide directions to popular destinations and the time required to travel by foot.
Communities are developed – and redeveloped – so that desirable destinations are within walking distance. Housing is provided in existing built-up areas and new higher density areas are created. Developments provide for a mix of different uses – residences, shops, services. Prime destinations like schools, libraries, recreation centres, galleries, and parks are located and designed with walking in mind. Transit stops are accessible on foot.
Walkers have shade, shelter, places to sit. The urban environment is designed to reduce wind and summer heat (urban heat island). Public washrooms are provided.
Municipalities and community organizations (merchants, citizens, public health) work together to celebrate walking and create a “culture of walking”. Special events are held, including, buskers festivals, Open Streets, etc.
Walking works in small towns and suburbs
We can also make small towns and suburbs walk friendly. Walkability principles are applicable to rural communities and small towns, notwithstanding challenges such as rural car culture and limited municipal expertise and capacity. Adopt a practical approach, e.g., a campaign to get residents and visitors to “Park the Car and Get Moving.” In centres like Haliburton, Ontario that tend to be flooded with tourist traffic on summer weekends, this approach has the added benefit of reducing congestion. And people shop more when they travel by foot. Much has been written about how to make the suburbs more walk friendly, including main street makeovers, widened sidewalks, added trees and other greenery, bump-outs and centre refuge islands in crosswalks, timed signals, and pedestrian under/overpasses. Aging suburban malls are being redeveloped as community hubs that integrate residential, services, and retail in a pedestrian centered environment.
Architect Ellen Dunham-Jones says retrofitting suburbia is the next 50 years’ big sustainable design project.
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