Ingredients for a Walkable Street

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

How does a community create “walkable” streets? Streets that feels safe for all – particularly seniors and children? Streets that are sociable due to large numbers of pedestrian users? Streets that are richly interesting? Streets that provide comfort? Streets that breed a strong sense of civic pride?

There are a number of essential ingredients that a community must use to
craft and sustain a walkable street.

Convivial Concentration of Pedestrians

. First and foremost, a walkable street must contain relatively large numbers of (preferably friendly)
pedestrians. This obvious ingredient would go without saying, except for the fact that there are many who believe that various physical street design features are sufficient to create walkability. Actually, even the best-designed
streets are not truly walkable if few walk them. On the other hand, even a poorly-designed street (in the physical sense) can be memorably walkable if it contains large numbers of pedestrians. Very little is more attractive and
enjoyable to most humans-an inherently sociable species-than a vibrant, festive place filled with happy, friendly people.

This partly explains the overwhelming popularity of street festivals and public markets that are well known in their ability to create and sustain such gatherings.

Residential Densities

. In order for a street to draw large numbers of pedestrians, large concentrations of people must either live within walking
distance of the street, or the street needs to be a connecting conduit between two (or more) highly attractive destinations-destinations that are no more than, say, 3 to 5 blocks from each other. For example, a major university campus
linked by a Main Street to a healthy downtown.

Human-Scaled Dimensions

. People tend to feel most comfortable and safe when they are in “human-scaled” spaces. That is, spaces that do not dwarf them,
make them feel insignificant, or over-exposed. Crucially, this means that horizontal and vertical dimensions of the surrounding physical elements of a street are relatively modest in size. In general, this means that streets are no more than two or three lanes wide. In the more urban areas of a town, buildings are pulled up to and abutting street-side sidewalks, and front porches are
within “conversational distance” of sidewalks. Surface parking lots are tucked behind buildings and walls. Street lights are no more than 20 to 30 feet tall (modest street light structures effectively establish a romantic ambience).
The urban fabric is un-interrupted by gap-tooth parking lots. Instead, a continuous street wall is maintained. Buildings tend to be no greater than five stories, such as is found in Paris. Note, however, that buildings along a walkable street should generally be at least two stories in height in order to more effectively create the pleasing sense of enclosure. And to increase opportunities along the street for vertical mixed use buildings in which a first floor is occupied by an office or store, and above stories are occupied by a
residence.

Human-scaled streets create the overwhelmingly pleasant feeling of being within an “outdoor room.” And, as a result, creating that all-important “sense of place.”

Active and Diverse Retail

. An essential ingredient for a street to be walkable in the more urban area of a town is for the street to be lined with a rich collection of healthy, diverse, local retail establishments. Such an assemblage of enterprises ensures people that strolling down such a street will nearly always reward one with a fascinating cornucopia of sights, smells, sounds and potentially satisfying purchases-no matter how often the street is walked.

Traffic-Calming

. For retail establishments and residences along a street to be healthy, and for pedestrians to feel comfortable, a walkable street nearly always must contain relatively low-speed motor vehicle travel. The most important way to provide such modest, comfortable speeds is to provide ample on-street parking, which not only slows cars but creates an extremely healthy,
safe buffer between the pedestrian and moving motor vehicles. To calm motor vehicle speeds, it is also important that the street be no more than two or three lanes (ideally two travel lanes with “turn pockets”). Travel lanes should
be no more than 10 or 11 feet wide. A prominent canopy of street trees and buildings pulled up to the sidewalk also create a moderating influence on motor vehicle speeds. A common mistake is to assume that the ideal form of traffic
calming or creation of a walkable street is to create a “pedestrian mall,” a pedestrian-only street where motor vehicles are prohibited. However, such malls have nearly always failed in America. The lack of sufficient, nearby residential
densities and the cultural dis-inclination to walk or bicycle means that the well-intentioned effort to establish such car-free areas typically (but not always) creates a “ghost-town” atmosphere in which there is so little pedestrian activity that the mall seems abandoned and vacant. Often, such malls end up being so little used that retail along the mall quickly dies from lack of
patrons, and many cities that established car-free areas have converted them back to once again allow car travel.

The key is not to ban car travel on a street intended to be walkable, but to design the street in such a way as to obligate motorists to drive slowly and attentively.

24-Hour Activity

. A walkable street must be alive day and night, instead of closing down at 5 pm. 24-hour streets tend to be not only more interesting and fun, but also much safer due to the benefits of “citizen surveillance” and “eyes on the street.” Again, 24-hour   activity is promoted by the development of relatively high residential densities within the walkable catchment area of the
street. Residences provide after-hours pedestrian activity as residents will walk to stores, services, culture, parks, and the homes of friends and family throughout the day and night. Studies by the nation’s leading investment indicator firms have shown over and over again that “24-hour” cities harbor the most healthy, profitable investment opportunities. Businesses and residences
tend to thrive in such cities, which are seen as hip, cutting edge, exciting (yet safe) places to be for what Richard Florida calls the “Creative Class.” Some cities find it useful to control and restrict the percentage of buildings along a street intended to be walkable by limiting the number of offices along the street, since offices tend to be closed (and therefore deadening) after 5
pm.

Narrow Lots

. An important way to create a lively, exciting and interesting street life is to establish relatively narrow property widths along
the sidewalk. Doing so increases the frequency of energy-producing doors, windows and other elements essential to an enjoyable pedestrian experience.

Weather Protection

. For comfort in hot climates or rainy climates, it is important on more urban sidewalks to provide awnings or colonnades on the front facades of buildings along the sidewalk. Another extremely important element is  a canopy of tall, formally-aligned, same-species street trees overhanging the street and sidewalk (and limbed up so as not to obscure the view of retail
building facades).

Wide Sidewalks

. It goes without saying that a walkable street should provide sufficiently wide sidewalks. In general, such sidewalks should range
from 8 to 20 feet in width, depending on the pedestrian volumes expected. Note that there is too much of a good thing when it comes to sidewalks. Overly wide sidewalks can be just as undesirable as sidewalks that are too narrow, because
wide sidewalks that carry only a handful of pedestrians creates the undesirable sense that the area is not very active or alive, whereas a narrower sidewalk with the same modest number of pedestrians can seem “bustling with life.”
Therefore, it is important that sidewalks use a width that corresponds to expected pedestrian use along the street-striking a balance between pedestriancomfort and the need to create a lively ambience even when there are not enormous numbers of pedestrians.

Unobtrusive Equipment

. Trash dumpsters near (or on) sidewalks tend to create an unsightly and often smelly character for the sidewalk. For these reasons, a walkable street keeps dumpsters remote from public, streetside sidewalks, or has dumpsters use compatible, attractive screening. Similarly, outdoor mechanical equipment (such as heating and air conditioning equipment)
can create an unattractive, noisy ambience for a public sidewalk. Walkable streets keep this equipment on building roofs or on the side or rear of buildings so that they are remote from public sidewalks.

A powerful mechanism for keeping unsightly, obtrusive equipment away from the public sidewalk is the alley behind buildings, where garbage and utilities can be inconspicuously placed. Walkable streets therefore tend to feature
alleys.

Active Building Fronts

. Increasingly, streets are neglected and degraded by buildings that turn their back to the street. On a walkable street, the
fronts of buildings face the streetside sidewalk. Having doors and ample windows facing the street creates visual interest for the pedestrian, and energizes the street by providing a view of the inside of the building and having pedestrians enter and exit the building onto the sidewalk. Doors facing the street substantially reduce pedestrian walking distances.

Likewise, walkable streets feature residences with front porches, where porch occupants can interact with those on the sidewalk, and where pedestrians can enjoy seeing a home that sends a walkable, friendly character to the public realm, even when the porch is unoccupied. To be an active, interesting street, buildings along a walkable street have very little in the way of blank walls
(which creates monotony and reduces security). Garages on walkable streets are recessed to avoid conveying the unpleasant message that a car, not people, lives here.

Modest Turn Radii and Crossing Distances

. An important way to create safety and human-scaled dimensions is to create a street which has modest turn
radii at street and driveway intersections. Small “corner curves” slow down the speed of turning motor vehicles, and can substantially reduce pedestrian crossing distances. In addition to the value of small turn radii, features such as landscape islands, “bulb-outs” and landscaped street medians can provide a street with attractive features and significant safety increases for the
pedestrian crossing a street. Not only does such street landscaping improve the visual appeal of a street, but they also tend to slow down motor vehicles and provide a refuge area for the crossing pedestrian.

Proximity

. For a street to be truly walkable, destinations from residences to places of work, school, parks, and shopping need to be in close
proximity (no more than approximately one-quarter mile from homes). Note that a useful way to reduce walking distances is, when possible and appropriate, to align sidewalks diagonally. Proximity strongly promotes walking trips, which
tends to increase pedestrian volumes on sidewalks, thereby creating a safer, friendlier, more enjoyable sidewalk ambience.

Walkable streets also tend to contain what Ray Oldenberg calls “Third Places.” Third places are typically corner pubs, groceries, post offices or other facilities where neighborhood residents frequently run into each other and interactively chat or wave hello. They build neighborhood bonds and friendships, and their ability to act as “social condensers” promotes sociability,
familiarity and trust.

Short Block Lengths

. Block lengths on a street must be short to create modest walking distances. Generally, a block should be no more than 500 feet in
length-preferably 200 to 300 feet in length. Short block lengths are an effective way to reduce motor vehicle speeds. It is no coincidence that the most walkable cities have the shortest block lengths.

Vista Termination

. A powerful means of creating a memorable, picturesque street is to locate important civic buildings such as churches, city halls and libraries at the termination of a street vista. Such termination emphasizes the importance and visibility of buildings that are located in such places, which is precisely what should be done with the most important civic buildings in a community. By doing so, civic pride is cultivated, and those within the community are sent a strong message about what the community believes are the
most significant institutions in the community. Vista termination also creates the impression that the walk does not seem onerously “endless,” as a goal is in sight in front of the pedestrian. As Andres Duany has said, nothing is more
satisfying than a prominent civic building grandly terminating a street vista.

Appropriate Businesses

. Walkable streets tend to heavily regulate or prohibit the establishment of car-oriented businesses. Such businesses-because
they depend on attracting large volumes of motor vehicles-are typically create visual blight, and excessively scaled for large vehicles instead of pedestrians (for example, by incorporating large parking lots between the street and
building, or having an enormous building footprint that is difficult to negotiate on foot). Often, such businesses deploy glaring, flashing lighting, and can be the source of substantial levels of noise pollution. Walkable streets therefore commonly prohibit “Big Box” retail, drive-through’s, auto sales and service, stand-alone parking lots, car washes, and gas stations. By discouraging
pedestrian activity, such businesses drain vitality from public sidewalks.

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Suggestions for Use of [Downtown] Space

by Dom Nozzi, AICP

Published in Boulder Daily Camera

March 9, 2011

The redesign of the Daily Camera building on 1048 Pearl Street provides a spectacular opportunity for Boulder. I have a few humble suggestions.

Most importantly, the redesigned building must fit in with the context of its neighbors on Pearl Street. That context is walkable, compact, traditional and human-scaled. Given this, the crucial task is almost a no-brainer: the front facade of the building fronting Pearl Street must abut the sidewalk, as its neighbors properly do. The suburbanizing surface parking lot that has separated the building from Pearl Street creates an anti-walkable, gap-toothed dead zone along a critical stretch of Pearl Street. The town center already suffers from the deadening, dispersing influence of off-street surface parking lots along Walnut Street just west of 13th Street. Now is the chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct this surface parking blunder in the walkable Boulder town center.

While removal of surface parking is essential, it is not even clear to me that “structured/stacked/garage” parking is a good idea, as a downtown needs “agglomeration economies” to be healthy. Even stacked parking acts as a powerful (and quite costly) dispersing agent that takes away extremely valuable floor area that the town center needs for vibrancy and economic health.

On the topic of vibrancy, a place intended to be walkable needs to “activate” the sidewalk 24/7 to the extent possible. That means the building should have, if possible, a strong residential, retail and cultural component.

Finally, I believe it is important that town center building design induce civic pride. That means that redesign should shy away from “modernist” architectural style, which tends to be disliked by most people (there is nothing more dated, or bizarre, than yesterday`s vision of tomorrow), and lean toward traditional, contextual, probably classical style, which tends to be more lovable.

More worthy of our affections, as my friend Jim Kunstler would say.

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Ranking the World’s Most Livable Cities

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

What makes a city livable? It’s a commonly debated question — and an important one for cities striving to improve their
quality of life. What makes a community pleasant? What leads its citizens to feel a sense of pride in where they live? There are an enormous number of potential criteria for assessing the livability of a city.

Mostly, my assessment criteria ask: Does the city establish and honor a high-quality, human-scaled public realm — the public
streets, sidewalks, and parks? Are the streets and the spaces between buildings within the human “habitat” modest enough to make humans — not cars — feel comfortable? Do the streets and buildings create an enjoyable, human-scaled  sense of enclosure, instead of leaving people feeling exposed and assaulted in an Anywhere USA parking lot moonscape?

Has public life blossomed? Is there a sense of place? Does a person often find oneself in an outdoor living room providing
ample opportunities for social interaction with neighbors and fellow citizens?

Has the community avoided the path so many contemporary American cities have taken, whereby the community turns its back
on, and neglects, the public realm — striving instead to single-mindedly make cars happy — and focusing its attention solely on improvements to the private realm (the insides of homes, offices, cars and stores)? A car-happy place, in
other words, where there is public squalor and private grandeur? Where “quality of life” can only be found inside a luxurious McMansion home or an expensive car?

Primarily, a livable city recognizes that the foundation for livability is to create a magnificent public realm that instills
civic pride. A place where residents are fiercely protective of the cherished features of their beloved community, and therefore always working to improve their streets, their sidewalks and parks — knowing that these are the
wellsprings of a high quality of life. Where the needs of people are the prime focus, instead of the downwardly spiraling path of providing for the “needs” of cars.

Here are the criteria I use when assessing the livability of a community.

1. A livable city has walkable, mixed use, higher-density, mixed-income neighborhoods where it is a pleasant, short walk to
a store, an office, a transit stop, a friends’ house, a school or a park.

2. A livable city has vibrant, exciting, sociable, charming, human-scaled pedestrian experiences.

3. A livable city has little or no wide, multi-lane, high-speed highway and road infrastructure within its central area.
And few, if any, one-way streets, strip commercial development or cul-de-sacs.

4. A livable city has modest, traffic-calmed, tree-lined streets with on-street parking. Few, if any, roads are larger than 3
lanes in size .

5. A livable city has high-quality public squares and public parks.

6. A livable city has quality, locally-owned cuisine — some of which feature outdoor cafes found on a vibrant
sidewalk.

7. A livable city has quality transit. The service is frequent and easy to use.

8. A livable city has a quality nightlife. The city does not close down at 5 pm.

9. A livable city has quality bicycle and pedestrian facilities and a large number of bicyclists and pedestrians. Life
without a car is perfectly possible and enjoyable.

10. A livable city has little in the way of surface parking — particularly FREE off-street parking.

11. A livable city has a compact downtown full of higher-density housing and diverse retail.

12. A livable city has quality culture (entertainment, speeches, arts, etc.) and a quality
university.

13. A livable city has a high degree of civic pride, and a tradition of working to protect their unique, treasured
features.

14. A livable city has magnificent historic, traditional, classical architecture that induces civic pride.

15. A livable city has little in the way of excruciating, infuriating noise pollution (screaming emergency sirens, leaf
blowers, vacuum trucks, helicopters, etc., are under control).

Given these criteria, here is a list (in no particular order) of the best cities I have visited in the
world:

Rome

Copenhagen

Sienna Italy

San Francisco

Boulder CO

Portland OR

New York City

Lucca Italy

Venice Italy

Paris

Burlington VT

Madison WI

Vancouver BC

Nantucket & Martha’s
Vineyard

Key West

St Augustine FL

Charleston SC

Savannah GA

Missoula and Bozeman MT

Annapolis and
Georgetown

Portland ME

Malmo Sweden

Athens GA

Victoria BC

Boston

Asheville NC

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Top Ten Urban Design Books

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

In no particular order, here are the ten best, most influential urban design books that I have ever read. Each of these books changed the course of my life and how I view city planning and the world at large. I would strongly recommend that each of these ten books be required reading for every local government elected official, planner and engineer in your community.

The High Cost of Free Parking.

By Donald Shoup (2005). My book, “Road to Ruin,” claims the key to quality communities is driven by how we build our roads. But in this groundbreaking work, the best planning book I’ve ever read in my 20 years as a city planner, Shoup persuasively shows that the excessive parking required throughout the nation is the primary factor for how our communities form, and plays a powerful role in how we travel. The parking we require new development to provide is scientifically unsound, economically irrational, counter to our community objectives, and thereby catastrophic for our cities and our quality of life. Shoup makes the overwhelming, disturbing case that how we manage our parking is the lynchpin to the future of our cities. Shoup’s book is exceptionally readable, witty and insightful. The book is thin with regard to urban design concepts, but as Shoup effectively points out, without the proper management of parking, quality urban design is not possible.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

By Jane Jacobs (1961). This book is universally and appropriately considered a classic in urban design, and is a pioneer in accurately describing what is necessary for a healthy city. Many of the timeless concepts used in urban design first gained prominence as a result of this book. It motivated (and continues to motivate) a great many professionals to become urbanists. As the author says, “Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life must grow.”

Cities and Automobile Dependence.

By Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman (1989). The revolutionary, breakthrough book that changed my life as a planner. In its day, it turned conventional wisdom on its head with regard to traffic congestion, road widening and parking. Their international survey of cities shows that gas consumption and air pollution go DOWN as a result of congestion. That free-flowing traffic, big roads and excessive amounts of parking INCREASE gas consumption and air pollution (and also destroy community quality of life). This work also clearly shows the fundamental role that transportation plays in how a city forms. “The land use and urban form of cities are…fundamentally shaped by priorities in transportation…the essential character of a city’s land use comes down to how it manages its transport…higher average traffic speed appears to spread the city, creating lower density land use, a greater need for cars, longer travel distances and reduced use of other less polluting or pollution-free modes. The benefits gained in terms of less polluting traffic streams appear to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of extra travel and the resulting bulk of emissions.”

Home From Nowhere.

By James Howard Kunstler (1996). The author combines an impressive understanding of quality urban design with hilarious, vitriolic, provocative observations about architecture in America. I have never laughed so hard in any book I have read. Or learned so much about the awful nature of buildings in the United States. Kunstler has made the point that, “what’s bad about sprawl is not its uniformity, but that it is so uniformly bad.”

Cities in Full.

By Steve Belmont (2002). The best case I’ve ever read about the merits of high residential densities in cities, and why such densities are essential for city health. A stupendous discussion about what ingredients are necessary for the wellbeing of a city. And why it is so important for a downtown to be the centralized community focus for jobs, housing and retail (instead of a polycentric city form). Excellent discussion about why the monocentric city is best for commuting.

The Great Good Place.

By Ray Oldenburg (1991). Oldenburg discusses the crucial importance of “The Third Place,” the place we would traditionally go to after the work day for socializing with friends and regularly finding a sense of community, the place where “everyone knows your name.” They are distinctive, informal gathering places, they make the citizen feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, they make life more colorful, and they enrich public life and democracy. Their disappearance in our culture is unhealthy for our cities because, as Oldenburg points out, they are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction.

Suburban Nation.

By Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (2000). A superb summary of the downfall of the American neighborhood and how it can be restored. “In [the traditional New England town], one can live above the store, next to the store, five minutes from the store or nowhere near the store, and it is easy to imagine the different age groups and personalities that would prefer each alternative. In this way and others, the traditional neighborhood provides for an array of lifestyles. In conventional suburbia, there is only one available lifestyle: to own a car and to need it for everything.”

Cultural Materialism.

By Marvin Harris (1979). This book is about anthropology, not urban design, but it transformed how I think about human behavior, and therefore plays an essential role in my understanding why humans behave the way they do. For us to be effective in our urban design, it is necessary to know that humans behave largely due to the material conditions they face in their everyday world, and how very little behavior is due to the exhortation of ideas, or educating citizens about how to properly behave.

Trees in Urban Design.

By Henry Arnold (1985). This should be a regularly consulted reference book on the shelves of all urban designers. An enormous wealth of information from an arborist who learned a great many things, in a long career, about the proper placement of trees to achieve better urbanism. How proper tree placement and selection can play a powerful role in creating a better city ambience. His prescriptions, while highly accurate and vitally important for a quality city, quite often run counter to what is frequently sought after by contemporary utility companies and other municipal engineers, which helps explain why most of our cities tend to be quite awful when it comes to their trees.

Stuck in Traffic.

By Anthony Downs (1992). Another landmark book that changed how I think about transportation and city planning. In this highly readable book—required reading, by the way, for elected officials—Downs popularizes the concept of induced travel—what he calls The Triple Convergence. Why it is impossible for us to build our way out of congestion. He writes in an extremely understandable way about topics that are complex, yet crucially important—given the hundreds of billions of public dollars we spend to try to ease congestion.

Once you have read the above, there are ten additional, magnificent books worth your time.

The Car and the City. By Alan Durning (1996).

Urban Sprawl and Public Health. By Howard Frumkin, Lawrence Frank, Richard Jackson (2004).

Getting There. By Stephen B.Goddard (1994).

Crabgrass Frontier. By Kenneth Jackson (1985).

How Cities Work. By Alex Marshall (2001).

The Wealth of Cities. By John Norquist (1998).

Visions for a New American Dream. By Anton C. Nelessen (1994).

Changing Places. By Richard Moe, Wilkie Carter Wilkie (1997).

A Better Place to Live. By Philip Langdon (1994).

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Recipe for Creating a Bicycle-Friendly City

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

What are the ingredients for creating a bicycle-friendly community? A community that feels safe, convenient and pleasant for all ages and abilities to ride a bicycle. It is important to understand, to begin with, that there are no easy, painless, overnight solutions. Over the past several decades, we have unconsciously done everything we could possibly do to make bicycling an exceptionally dangerous, unacceptable way to travel. It will therefore take quite a while for our cities and towns to see bicyclists crowding our streets. And change will need to be incremental and from a great many sources. There are no silver bullets.

Here are my top 5 recommendations for how to make a more bicycle-friendly community.

1. Parking Cash-Out. Local employers (particularly local government agencies and large private employers) must establish a parking cash-out program. By ending this enormous subsidy for driving a car to work, cash-out is the most effective tool we know of to recruit new bicyclists. An increased number of bicycle commuters dramatically increases bicyclist safety and comfort while riding, and promotes political action to improve bicycling conditions.

2. Centralization and Residential Density. Important facilities and events, such as the county farmers market, the conference center, the major movie theatre complex, the major fitness center, the main post office, major government facilities, and annual festivals must only be allowed in the central area of the city (subsidiary or duplicate facilities and events can be allowed in the periphery). Those facilities and events that are currently located in peripheral locations must be incrementally moved to central locations. Locating these facilities and events at peripheral locations substantially reduces their accessibility by a large percentage of commuter bicyclists. Such an effort is not only crucial to bicycling, but is also essential in creating a sense of community. Similarly, a city must establish higher density residential development within the central areas of the city. Doing so dramatically increases bicycling because such housing increases the convenience, safety and practicality of bicycling. Destinations such as school, retail, recreation, government facilities, jobs and culture become more proximate (more w/in bicycling range).

3. Traffic Calming and Road Diets. High-speed, inattentive car travel is one of the most significant reasons bicyclists feel unsafe and uncomfortable while bicycling — and why so many are discouraged from bicycling at all. Each time a street is traffic-calmed, or has travel lanes removed (road dieting), bicycling is dramatically improved and there is a significant increase in bicycling. A large percentage of streets carry car traffic that features uncomfortably and unsafely high speeds, and a number of streets can greatly benefit from travel lane removal (for example, 5- or 4-lanes to 3). Many of these diet opportunities provide a way to install an in-street bicycle lane on streets that do not have space today, and in-street bicycle lanes are, by far, preferable to off-street paths for commuter bicycle travel. Because 4-, 5-, and 6-lane streets are a primary cause of high speed car traffic and inattentive, reckless driving, it is important for a community to avoid building them, and to “diet” those that are already at that size. High-speed, inattentive driving significantly discourages bicycling in most every community.

4. Off-Street Path System. The off-street bicycle/pedestrian path system in nearly every community is either non-existent, or contains a number of path opportunities that have languished, unbuilt, for decades. The gaps in this “greenway” system must be eliminated. While completing the system will not result in a significant increase in bicycle commuting, it would dramatically increase recreational bicycling. A completed greenway system also plays the crucial role of recruiting novice bicyclists and non-bicyclists into becoming regular, confident bicyclists, because off-street paths provide a “training ground” that allows large numbers of untrained bicyclists to learn the skills and joys of bicycling in a safe, non-threatening, sociable environment.

5. In-Street Bicycle Lanes. Despite what is often believed, in-street bicycle lanes are much more desirable to a commuter bicyclist than are off-street paths or sidewalks. Paths can only feasibly link a tiny number of destinations that a bicyclist seeks to travel to, and even for the small number of destinations that can be reached by a path, using the street is nearly always faster and more direct than using an off-street path. And just like motorists, a primary desire by bicyclists is to find the fastest route to a destination when commuting. In addition, contrary to popular belief, studies have shown for several decades that in urbanized areas where there are numerous crossing driveways and streets, in-street bicycle lanes are significantly safer than sidewalks. Because paths usually create the same safety hazards as sidewalks (by having numerous driveway and street intersections), they are generally discouraged as a design treatment within urbanized areas. Given all of this, a bicycle-friendly city must ensure that as many major streets as possible contain in-street bicycle lanes. It is important to keep in mind that one size does not fit all. In general, in-street bicycle lanes are NOT appropriate on low-speed downtown streets or neighborhood streets. Their application tends to be most appropriate on higher-speed suburban arterial streets.

References for #5 above:

Florida Dept of Transportation (1998). Florida Bicycle Facilities Planning and Design Manual. Tallahassee FL.

Florida Dept of Transportation (2002). Plans Preparation Manual. Tallahassee FL.

Wachtel, A. and Lewiston, D. (1994). Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections. ITE Journal. September.

Forester, J. (1984). Effective Cycling. MIT Press.

Forester, J. (1983). Bicycle Transportation. MIT Press.

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Walkable Streets: Why Do We Need a Quality Pedestrian Environment?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

There is much well-deserved talk in recent years of the pressing importance of creating “Complete Streets” in communities. That is, streets designed not just for cars, but also for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users, and the handicapped.

But if we were to select one form of travel to efficiently and effectively improve community quality of life, public health, civic pride, conviviality, happiness, safety and independence for seniors, young children and the handicapped, our local economy, as well as achieving a lower tax burden, that form of travel—that lynchpin—would be walking. Indeed, the pedestrian is the design imperative – particularly in town centers, but also in all other parts of a community.

A quality transit system is nearly impossible without a high-quality walking environment. Lovable building architecture
unavoidably slips away when a community is not walkable. Walkability inevitably delivers human-scaled design, which
town designers have long recommended as a recipe for place-making. For convenient, sustainable town design. It is no coincidence that nearly all of the greatest cities in the world boast a high quality pedestrian environment. One could go as far as
to say that the walkability of such cities is the fundamental reason why these cities are superb, and loved the world over.

It is no coincidence that studies have recently found that those societies which walk regularly are those societies whose citizens are the most long-lived on earth. It is no coincidence that the most walkable communities were those which best weathered the
recent housing and economic downturns. If you seek to make your city great, the first place to start is by making your city exceptionally walkable. Walkability creates communities we are compelled to cherish, celebrate and protect.

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Measuring Walkable Urbanity

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

What are the benefits of Walkable Urbanity?

A community fortunate enough to contain walkable urbanity is a community to cherish, celebrate and protect. A walkable place is lively, physically and financially healthy, fashionable, affordable, sustainable, sociable and safe. It is, in other words, a crystal clear sign of a high quality of life. Almost by definition, an attractive community is walkable and an unpleasant community is unwalkable.

Walkability exists when there is convenient access. The home is so close to a park, a grocery store, a movie theatre, places of work, nightlife and civic institutions that it is an easy, short walk to nearly all of life’s daily destinations. Car ownership must be optional if a walkable lifestyle is to exist.

Ironically, in the 20th Century, travel by car was seen as the most convenient form of travel. Increasingly, however, we are coming full circle and realizing that past civilizations were right. That easy, quick access by foot, not car, is the key to convenience. And, importantly, living a rich, joyful life.

A walkable lifestyle is the most sustainable, low-impact, convivial way of living. Achieving and sustaining a walkable community is the most effective way to promote a high quality of life. More walking — not just for recreation, but also for trips to work, to school, to shops — is an ideal way to:

1. Improve one’s health, by warding off obesity and a host of chronic illnesses.

2. Increase affordability, by substantially reducing travel costs.

3. Get to know your neighbors, because the serendipitous experience of bumping into those who live on your street frequently occurs when one walks, but nearly vanishes when one drives a car. Healthy neighborliness is a necessary ingredient if a sense of community is to be achieved.

4. Promote travel independence and travel choice, because children, a large number of seniors, the disabled, and many low-income people are unable to use a car and are unable to travel on their own when a car is mandatory. Indeed, approximately one-third of all Americans are unable to drive a car.

5. Reduce air & noise pollution, as motor vehicles are a prime source of nearly all forms of noxious discharges to our skies. Indirectly, the compactness required for walkability reduces energy consumption per capita, which effectively reduces regional air pollution. The largest source of noise in most cities comes from car travel

6. Promote a human-scaled neighborhood, because the existence of pedestrians leverages provision of modest sizes, speeds and dimensions. Very little is more effective in creating a quality of life.

7. Reduce stormwater & “heat island” problems, because a reduction in use of motorized vehicles results in a reduction in petroleum products being released to surface- and groundwaters, and a reduction in the amount of impervious surface that must be provided. “Heat island” problems decline because of the reduction in needed impervious surfaces

8. Reduce injuries and deaths, because motorized vehicle travel results in tens of thousands of injuries and deaths each year.

9. Increase the feasibility for smaller, locally-owned businesses, as larger pedestrian volumes are a necessary ingredient for the establishment and survival of smaller, neighborhood-based shops and services.

10. Increase citizen surveillance, as larger numbers of pedestrians on sidewalks increases the “eyes-on-the-street” phenomenon (also known as “citizen surveillance”), which increases public safety.

A walkable urbanism featuring convenient access is a powerful way for a community to attract and retain Richard Florida’s “Creative Class”, the young, smart citizens that communities depend on for a health economy and healthy overall community. “Brain Drain” is most likely to occur in placeless cities which lack the character, vibrancy, “hip-ness” and attractiveness provided inherently by a walkable community.

Ironically, despite all of the talk of the need for “sustainability,” improving the local economy, and improving neighborhood quality in America today, walkability is rapidly vanishing as a lifestyle choice throughout the nation.

Measuring Walkable Urbanity

Ann Breen and Dick Rigby (InTown Living, 2004) provide what I believe are clear, accurate criteria that describe the essential elements of walkable urbanity. They list five characteristics, which they point out should be present, to some extent, in all places that wish to be considered “urban.” Besides the obvious “walkability” criterion, they list

* Density

* Diversity

* Hipness

* Public Transit

I would add “Human Scale” to the list, although this can be considered to be implicit within the “Walkability” criterion. Properly modest building heights (no more than 5 stories, ideally), modest lot sizes, modest lot widths and building setbacks from streets and intersections, as well as modest dimensions for street widths, block lengths and intersection turning radii, are indispensable elements of urbanity (streets should also be connected, instead of cul-de-sac’d, to reduce walking distances).

A crucial scaling mechanism for creating a human scale pertains to off-street parking. If such parking is in front and pushes the front of the building far back from the street or intersection, all semblance of human scale is lost.

Human scale sends the powerful message that a neighborhood or street is designed to welcome pedestrians rather than cars. The ambiance is one of safety, peacefulness, dignity and neighborliness. Walking is welcomed, and the character created promises that the stroll will be delightfully interesting, thereby ensuring frequent walks.

BIPSM

While walkability “guru” Dan Burden lists his own criteria for walkable places on his web site, I really like this from him in April 2006: “…a powerful new way to measure the walkability and livability of a community…”Bump Into’s Per Square Minute.” (BIPSM)

BIPSM measures how many friends or acquaintances one bumps into per minute of walking on a sidewalk. A superb measure of the level of conviviality and sense of community.

A Comparison of Walkability

The National Resources Defense Council (Environmental Characteristics of Smart Growth Neighborhoods: An Exploratory Case Study) compares two neighborhoods in Sacramento, California with dramatically different densities, to show how density plays a profound role in creating walkability.

Metro Square

(20 dwelling units/acre) North Natomas

(6 dwelling units/acre)

Distance to:

Convenience Store 815 feet 15,388 feet

Supermarket 1,941 feet 14,458 feet

School 1,962 feet 17,181 feet

Bus Stop 666 feet 11,055 feet

Parks 347 feet 702 feet

Jobs in One Mile 29,266 0

How Many Businesses Are Within Walking Distance of Your Home?

A powerful way to assess the walkability of your home location or a location you are considering moving to is to determine the number of businesses within a one-mile walk of your home. A quick and easy way comes from Alan Durning (an author who wrote the superb book, The Car & the City). With this tool, you can, within seconds, find out how many businesses you can walk to from your home.

The method:

To get a count of businesses within a mile of your home (your “walkshed”), go to the Qwest online phone directory: http://www.dexonline.com/#, select the business listings, type “all” in the category field, click “near a street address,” type in your address, and choose “1 mile.” The Qwest site will rapidly list how many businesses there are within a one-mile walk of your front door, as well as their name and address.

My house has 148 businesses within a one-mile walking distance. Not bad, but homes within a big city downtown are usually within a mile of several THOUSANDS of businesses. But still, the number near my home is a lot better than the suburban home I grew up in when I was a boy. That home has a score of 0.

Durning goes on to point out that more than one quarter of car trips in the United States are shorter than one mile. That is a LOT of trips that could have been walked. (In my opinion, most of these short trips are by car rather than by foot because for at least 98 percent of all car trips that Americans take, there is a free parking space at the destination, which BEGS us to arrive by car.)

Durning also indicates that “realtors provide detailed information to prospective home buyers on schools and resale values. They could as easily report the Walkshed Index–high scores translate into thousands of dollars of potential savings in fuel and car payments.”

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design