You Have Feet. Walkable Neighborhoods Encourage You to Use Them.

In our previous post about the Lincoln Park Pedestrian Plan, we talk about the goal of making it a “walkable” neighborhood.  And you might be asking (with good reason) what does “walkable” or “walkability,” mean, anyway?

Walkability is basically “planner-ese” for how easy and safe it is for a pedestrian to move through an area.  And now you might ask, so what?

Walkability = A Whole Range of Benefits

When a street is welcoming to walkers, a whole range of benefits to society appear. Be they health, environment, or social—getting people out of their cars and onto their feet does our community good. When everyday travel can be done on foot, people exercise without ever technically “working out.” With fewer cars on the road emitting toxic fumes, the whole community breathes cleaner air. And with more people out in the community chatting with each other, community bonds are strengthened.

Why Don’t More People Walk, Then?

Walking is, well, not always the easiest option in Duluth. Aside from the fact that the city is located on a giant hillside (some avenues gain as much as 700 ft of elevation), there are other problems. In some places the sidewalk network is obstructed by overgrown vegetation or missing sections. In other places there are roads that pedestrians frequently need to cross but lack crosswalks, signals, or signage at the intersections. Our freezing-cold winters and piles of snow don’t make it any easier, either.

The benefits are clear though, and well designed streets to can go a long way toward the city comfortable and safe for people on foot.


Personal safety and security is perhaps the greatest concern for most people as they consider walking over driving. Most people won’t walk in settings in which they feel a threat, real or perceived, to their personal well-being.

Heavy, speeding traffic and big, wide roads can create an environment that is downright hostile to pedestrians. That is why it is so important to have a pedestrian infrastructure such as a complete, well maintained sidewalk network and crosswalks.

Walkability Audit

An important tool that planners use to understand—and improve—the walkability of a neighborhood is called a walkability audit. This is an actual, physical walk through the neighborhood along a predetermined route. The planners carefully observe the street and evaluate what they see according to a set of criteria (Sidewalks? Crosswalks? Obstructions? Safety hazards?). Once these observations are noted, they are discussed and eventually serve as the basis for recommendations for how to improve walkability of the study area.

These recommendations will ultimately be included in the final pedestrian plan, which, like others, will be used by local government and community groups for how public improvements and private developments should be planned for from this point forward.

 Stay Tuned

We’ll be conducting a walkability audit for the Lincoln Park Pedestrian Plan later this week. The hope is that if we can determine and encourage the best route up and down the hill, many more kids will be able to walk and bike to school and other popular destinations.

Check back soon to see the group’s findings.

 photo credit: Ian Britton

First Steps toward a Walkable Lincoln Park

It takes more thought than you might expect to move people safely from the top of the hill to the bottom and back again.

Lincoln Park Pedestrian Study

This summer the MIC and area non-profits have partnered to do a pedestrian study of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood of Duluth. The study will look at the way that people who walk and bike (especially school-aged children) move up and down the hill, with the aim of finding and encouraging the best possible route between the site of the New Lincoln Park Middle School and the Duluth Heritage Sports Center and the proposed Cross City trail.

It’s a short study, slated to be completed in just six weeks.

A diverse group of community groups, led by MIC Senior Planner James Gittemeier (pictured) and assembled by Cliff Knettel, Executive Director of NHS Duluth, all share the view that a well designed pedestrian plan benefits the entire neighborhood.

Other study participants include the Engineering department for the City of Duluth, Fit City Duluth, Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Duluth (LISC), and neighborhood volunteers.

Walking, not just Talking

Looking at maps and discussing best routes is one thing, but getting out there on the ground is another.  Study committee members will perform a walkability audit of the paths most likely to be used by students.

Findings of the audit, along with its recommendations, will serve as the basis for the Lincoln Park Middle School Safe Routes to School grant application for the 2012 round of applications. Safe Routes to School is a federally funded program that promotes children walking and bicycling to school by funding targeted improvements to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in school areas. Duluth has received a number of these grants in the past.

Stay tuned for more information as this study moves forward.