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.
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.
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