Advocates for improved walkability in urban and suburban neighborhoods have a variety of tools at their disposal. The truth is, even if your neighborhood doesn’t have the best Walk Score (per Walkscore.com or any other entity evaluating the walkability of neighborhoods), it is possible to up your score. To help you do just that, we’ve put together this comprehensive toolkit for walkability advocates. The power to bring about positive change is in your hands with this collection of valuable, informative resources and tools.
What You’ll Find in This Guide:
- Why Improve Walkability?
- The Benefits of Walkability
- Cities That Have Improved (or Are Working to Improve) Walkability Deliberately
- How to Improve Walkability in Your City, Town, or Neighborhood
- Additional Resources, Books, Videos, and Organizations Focused on Walkability
Why Improve Walkability?
A recent University of Melbourne study evaluated more than 1,400 participants building homes in housing developments by surveying them prior to their move and approximately 12 months after they relocated to their new homes (and new neighborhoods) to determine the impact of walkability on residents’ physical activity levels.
According to a summary of the study’s findings published by ScienceDaily, “The study found that for every local shop, residents’ physical activity increased an extra 5-6 minutes of walking per week. For every recreational facility available such as a park or beach, residents’ physical activity increased by an extra 21 minutes per week.”
Walkability means easy access to grocery shopping, retail shops, restaurants, theaters, and other recreational activities and facilities – all by foot. But beyond convenience, walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods contribute to an active, healthy lifestyle, and for residents who take advantage of their walkable environments, a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
For the neighborhoods that make efforts to improve walkability, there are ample benefits, too: Walkable neighborhoods appeal to residents who enjoy active lifestyles, resulting in an economic boom as those residents take advantage of all that their neighborhood has to offer. Likewise, walkable communities mean less traffic on the streets and highways, lowering emissions and improving air quality. All of this contributes to the appeal of a community, attracting residents that will, in turn, help to boost the local economy. It’s a positive feedback loop with benefits for all.
The Benefits of Walkability
The following resources provide information and insights on the benefits of walkability, providing compelling evidence that making an effort to make your city, town, or neighborhood more walkable is a worthy cause.
The University of Melbourne study mentioned above spanned a full 10 years and found numerous benefits for residents of areas with good walkability. The study “found that the overall health of residents of new housing developments in Western Australia improved when their daily walking increased as a result of more access to parks, public transport, shops and services.”
Experts have been touting the benefits of walkable communities for more than a decade. The news that walkable neighborhoods have both health benefits for residents and economic benefits for business owners and the communities they live and work in isn’t new – but it is becoming more widely recognized and acted upon. Even as far back as 2003, as this resource points out, home values tend to be higher in walkable neighborhoods.
Walkability is a great investment for communities. This resource points to a 1998 study by ERE Yarmouth and Real Estate Research Corporation which found that real estate values over the next 25 years would rise fastest in “smart communities” – or communities that are modeled after the most successful cities, with a mix of residential and commercial districts and a “pedestrian-friendly configuration.”
In addition to the physical and economic benefits of walkable communities, walkability also offers environmental benefits. This report from the University of Delaware explains, “Environmentally, increasing walkability can also have positive impacts on the community. Walking or biking can decrease car travel and thereby decrease harmful auto emissions.”
Cars and trucks are the largest contributor to emissions that contribute to global warming. Improving walkability in your community will reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, improving air quality by reducing air-polluting emissions. Additionally, this article notes that walkable communities tend to be safer – because the less time you spend in a vehicle, the lower your risk.
The key to getting community leaders to advocate for walkability is to educate them on the economic benefits of walkable communities. According to this article, “A 1998 statewide survey of local government elected officials and top staff in California conducted by the LGC revealed that an economic benefit was a clear motivator for these leaders to advocate for pedestrian-oriented design and infrastructure.”
There are ample studies proving the benefits of walkable communities for residents, local governments, and local economies. This resource cites several recent studies that show a clear link between walkable neighborhoods and crime, health, and even creativity and democracy. “If walkability has long been an ‘ideal,’ a recent slew of studies provide increasingly compelling evidence of the positive effects of walkable neighborhoods on everything from housing values to crime and health, to creativity and more democratic cities.”
For example, one study finds that WalkUPs, or “walkable urban places,” account for “just 1 percent of the available acreage, but account for as much as 50 percent of the office, hotel, apartment, and retail square footage” in the top 30 metros.
Cities That Have Improved (or Are Working to Improve) Walkability Deliberately
Several cities have made intentional efforts to improve walkability and reap the benefits for their local business owners, residents, and the overall health and well-being of their homes. Here’s a look at a few of the cities and towns that have intentionally improved walkability. While by no means an exhaustive list of the many cities that are working towards improving walkability, these examples represent some of the efforts being undertaken by cities across the U.S. to improve walkability for its neighborhoods and residents.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Policy in Charlotte, NC has been more targeted to improving walkability in the city since the 1990s, with the “Charlotte WALKS” initiative focusing on issues surrounding walkability concerns in the area. “For the past two decades, this has been a major policy focus of the City, and we’ve seen some big improvements. The intent of the ‘Charlotte WALKS’ initiative is to build on the city’s recent emphasis on walkability and create more places in Charlotte that offer an excellent pedestrian experience.” While Charlotte still has a long way to go, earning some (albeit somewhat misleading) unfortunate accolades as being a dangerous city for pedestrians in 2014, the city’s efforts are focused in the right direction.
The city of Edmonton, CA has a Walkability Strategy Project that was first initiated in 2008 when the Walkable Edmonton Committee hired a consulting team to help with the development of the city’s Walkability Strategy guide. “The Walkability Strategy is directed by the work of Transforming Edmonton and links to other strategic initiatives such as the Smart Choices Program.” Additionally, Edmonton’s City Council passed an Active Transportation Policy, C544, which is largely defined by “the Sidewalk Strategy, which deals with pedestrian infrastructure; the Walkability Strategy, which deals with improving many other aspects of walkability and the Bicycle Transportation Plan Update which deals with both the infrastructure and other supports to cycling. Together, these strategies will help Edmonton take big steps toward promoting active transportation in Edmonton.”
Twin Cities (Minneapolis – St. Paul), Minneapolis
Twin Cities benefits from a Transit for Liveable Communities program, which, in collaboration with the Bike Walk Twin Cities non-motorized transportation pilot program, has funded a number of pedestrian improvements in the area. In the Twin Cities region, walking increased 17 percent between 2007 and 2010, marking a clear need for improved walkability to cater to the increasing likelihood that residents in the metro prefer to – or are out of necessity – walking to more destinations. “Inspired by this ongoing need, TLC/BWTC is developing a new leadership training program for Twin Cities residents who want to improve walkability in their communities.” Four improvements have been funded and prioritized by the BWTC, including:
- Reducing the crossing distance through “bump outs” (or curb extensions) or adding median refuge islands.
- Road diets, which convert four-lane roads to three lanes or less in order to create space for medians.
- Better signals and signal timing, making it safer for pedestrians to cross busy roadways.
- Traffic calming, or specific design efforts aiming to force motorists to drive slower in certain areas.
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Fayetteville, NC has been making great strides in walkability over the past decade. Ten years ago city traffic engineer Rusty Thompson noticed a growing demand for sidewalks in the city and brought funding opportunities to his superiors. In the five years leading up to 2014, Fayetteville installed 13 miles of sidewalks. “These sidewalks also provide much appreciated connectivity to other projects that earned Fayetteville national and international recognition. Last May, the International Parking Institute recognized the city with the Award for Architectural Achievement, the Institute’s highest award of excellence, for the Franklin Street Parking Deck.”
Several projects have been underway during the past several years in Kirkland, WA, aiming to improve walkability and make the city more amenable for both walkers and bikers. A project on Park Lane, for instance, turned the road into a curbless, brick-lined surface to be shared by pedestrians and bicyclists. This resource takes a look at the guiding principles and design concepts behind the Park Lane project, which began in 2008. “The City in 2008 began work with property and business owners and members of the public to create a community vision and configuration of what pedestrian-friendly features and amenities should be integrated with future development along the corridor.”
How to Improve Walkability in Your City, Town, or Neighborhood
The following resources and information provide valuable knowledge and insights into strategies that have proven successful for walkability advocates aiming to make their neighborhoods, cities, and towns more pedestrian- and even bicyclist-friendly, leading to a more active lifestyle for residents, improving economic conditions, and simultaneously offering environmental benefits. Broken down by resources for engaged citizens, resources for business owners, and resources for city officials, anyone with an interest in improving walkability in their communities will find valuable tools and information that can be immediately put to use among the resources below.
Walkability Resources for Engaged Citizens
Educate yourself on the benefits of walkability and the various ways communities can improve walkability. Arming yourself with this knowledge is the first step in successful advocacy, allowing you to make informed pitches to community leaders with the power to make decisions and help you bring about positive change.
Initiate an intervention or join an effort that’s already underway. As this resource points out, “Anyone who feels strongly enough about the quality of walkability in their community can do something to improve it. Whether it means initiating an intervention or joining one already under way, the community as a whole will benefit from your involvement. Some changes can be achieved with very few people, while others may necessitate a broader team that includes local associations and government. Change is achievable and you may find that there are people who share your sense of concern and desire to improve the community.”
Assess your situation, group, or organization, and build a team of supporters. As Walksteps.org describes, a self-assessment is important prior to defining specific issues that you want to address. When you build a team of supporters, you have the opportunity to identify prospective partners who can assist your efforts in various ways.
Engage your transportation agency. All municipalities and communities are served by some form of a transportation agency, whether it’s a local transit authority or a state transportation agency. Find out which entity serves your community and make contact to discuss your vision for your community. This guide from the Project for Public Spaces, Inc. provides valuable tips for engaging your transportation agency.
Get involved. Everyday citizens really can make a difference and influence change in their communities. “Community involvement is the process to expand the awareness of, demand for, and participation in a positive cause. Tactics can range from talking to neighbors and engaging a congregation in healthy and spiritual walks to executing a complex policy campaign. Whether you are a parent hoping to improve accessibility or a director of a walking organization, the process of community involvement will help you win improvements for your community.” This resource provides a comprehensive guide to advocacy and detailed planning steps that can help you contribute to a more walkable community.
Walkability Resources for Business Owners
Select a location with good or promising walkability. Not only will this improve foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar location or your accessibility to the office if it’s within walking distance from your home, but this is a clear indicator to smart community leaders that walkability can prove beneficial economically.
Gather data on the benefits of communities with excellent walkability. Not only will this research aid you in making your place of business more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, but you can better prepare your pitch to community leaders and fellow business owners when you’re ready to start taking action. Don’t forget that walkability has economic value, too, which may be even more compelling evidence for city officials and fellow business owners than the health benefits that appeal to citizens.
Contribute to your community’s culture of walking. Business owners tend to have influence in their local communities, and that means that you can play a key role in cultivating a culture of walking. Do this by hosting events and presenting or displaying information on the benefits of walking while encouraging your customers and fellow community members to make walking a part of their daily life. How about a special for on-foot customers? The possibilities are endless.
Recognize the benefits of mixed-use developments. “Municipalities now see redeveloped or new walkable districts as having the potential to enhance assessed value, create new and better jobs, maintain real estate value for existing property owners, use existing infrastructure, and impose lesser burdens on public school systems.” This article outlines the planning, entitlement, design, financing, and management considerations of mixed-use development as a response to the increased demand for greater walkability.
Walkability Resources for City Officials
Install “No Turn on Red” signs. Surprisingly, a lack of “No Turn on Red” signs in typically pedestrian-friendly areas has at times led to tragedy when vehicles speed around a corner, too quickly to notice a crossing pedestrian at the last minute. “Studies show that most accidents occur at intersections, and most accidents at intersections occur with vehicles turning corners at speed. Corners at intersections should be the focus of attention for cities thinking about improving their sidewalks. Of course, bumpouts are the real solution. But that’s expensive, and a ‘no turn on red’ sign does the job at a tiny fraction of the cost.” This resource also outlines several additional steps and actions that can be implemented relatively easily that contribute to improved walkability.
Support local public transit. It sounds counterintuitive to encourage and support public transit services when walkability is what you’re aiming to improve, but walkability and public transit actually go hand-in-hand. As this article states, “While walkability benefits from good transit, good transit relies absolutely on walkability.” Nine additional steps to improving walkability are outlined in this helpful article.
Slow traffic and reduce traffic volumes. “Traffic speeds and volumes are probably the most common deterrent to walking because no one wants to walk down a street that is solely designed for the automobile.” These efforts are more involved and require planning and commitment from several entities, including cooperation between city leaders and transportation authorities, but this resource provides information on a variety of options for improving walkability.
Identify the most easily addressed barriers to walkability. Communities can make great strides by implementing simple changes that address immediate obstacles to achieving walkability. “According to a TCRP/NCHRP report, two of the main barriers to walkability are the lack of contiguous pedestrian facilities and a concern for personal safety. By identifying and focusing on areas where vehicle traffic severs otherwise walkable routes, cities can reconnect existing corridors and improve walkability without making major adjustments to street design.”
Establish an Executive Directive. “Mayoral directives can kick-start the creation of pedestrian action plans, pedestrian-oriented street design guidelines, and multiagency collaborations to meet safety goals set by mayors. They are often faster and easier to institute than a city council ordinance, but can provide the impetus for city council-crafted bills to institutionalize a mayor’s pro-walking efforts.”
Additional Resources, Books, Videos, and Organizations Focused on Walkability
The following organizations, videos, books, and other resources provide additional insights and information on creating more livable, walkable communities, no matter whether you reside in a quaint neighborhood with a few hundred residents or the bustling hub of a major metropolitan area. Walkability is achievable in cities and communities of all sizes; these resources will help you on your walkability advocacy journey.
“Feet First inspires, connects and informs wide-ranging discussions with government agencies, developers and community groups to promote walkable communities. We regularly meet with community members to discuss options for improving walking conditions in their neighborhoods. We serve as a partner in important research projects related to planning, public health and policy.”
“The WALC Institute helps to create healthy, connected communities that support active living and that advance opportunities for all people through walkable and bikeable streets, livable cities and better built environments.”
Learn about what makes a community more walkable and how community leaders take action and create change.
“Available to any elementary and middle school in grades K-8 nationally, Fire Up Your Feet offers free resources, an online activity tracker, a school fundraising organizer and more, all aimed at increasing physical activity before, during and after school for students, parents, school staff and teachers.” Check out the Walkability Checklist from this resource to gauge the current walkability of your community and identify areas for improvement.
A book by Julie Campoli, Made for Walking addresses the increasing interest of Americans in an urban lifestyle, addressing concerns for making transportation accessible, environmentally friendly, and amenable to all lifestyle choices through shifting land use and shaping future development.
“Charles Montgomery’s Happy City is revolutionizing the way we think about urban life.
“After decades of unchecked sprawl, more people than ever are moving back to the city. Dense urban living has been prescribed as a panacea for the environmental and resource crises of our time. But is it better or worse for our happiness? Are subways, sidewalks, and condo towers an improvement on the car dependence of the suburbs?
“The award-winning journalist Charles Montgomery finds answers to such questions at the intersection between urban design and the emerging science of happiness, during an exhilarating journey through some of the world’s most dynamic cities.”
Monitor your community’s walk score at WalkScore.com and see how you measure up to other cities and communities across the U.S.
Access case studies and tutorials, step-by-step guides, and gain actionable insights on how to improve walkability in your community.
The Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (TrADE) is a useful resource for evaluating community data, such as bicycle infrastructure, federally funded projects by congressional district, county health data, and more.
“Every Body Walk! is an award-winning campaign aimed at getting Americans up and moving. Through the help of our partners, we are working to spread the message that walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week really can improve your overall health and prevent disease. We provide news and resources on walking, health information, a personal pledge form to start walking, as well as a place to share stories about individual experiences with walking.”
This resource provides information on creating sustainable communities, including tips for improving walkability which contributes overall to positive environmental change and sustainability, as well.
Whether you live in an urban development or a quaint neighborhood in the suburbs, walkability is achievable in your community. And the good news is that anyone can bring about positive change, no matter if you’re a city official, a local business owner, or an everyday citizen.