New Yorkers today are upset over mass transit fares being hiked from $2 to $2.50, and nationwide, many light-rail and other mass-transit projects await stimulus funding. The best way to blow off some of that steam? Take a walk!
A city’s walkability is not only good for fostering healthy development in urban areas, but it can also affect its economic competitiveness, says design consultant Jeff Speck. Since walkability is one of the most important aspects that 20- and30-year-olds look at when moving to a city, he says cities must make improvements to their walkability or they will be losing out on attracting tomorrow’s work force.
Take Oklahoma City, a city that has been declared not OK when it comes to pounding the pavement, says Speck, former director of design for the NEA. Oklahoma City scored dead last in walkability according to a study by Prevention magazine last year (Cambridge, Massachusetts, came out #1). So this year, the city decided to get serious about their bipedal citizens: They hired Speck to tell them how to make their streets more pedestrian-friendly in a city that was built–overbuilt, really–for cars.
In Oklahoma City, Speck looked at traffic patterns and saw a “shocking disconnect” betweenthe size of the streets and how much traffic they were carrying. The streets were sized for 30,000 cars per day–comparable to a city the size of Chicago or Manhattan–but receive fewer than 10,000 cars per day. That equals streets which are too wide to attract pedestrians or to control speeding. He also was quick to point out the health benefits to a walkable city: cleaner air, lower health-care costs. “To be walkable, a street needs to be safe, comfortable, and interesting,” Speck told the city. “You guys lose it at safe.” Ouch!
For those who can’t hire Speck to walk your streets and suggest improvements, a few Web resources are at hand, er, foot. WalkScore can rate your neighborhood for its walkability and tell you what’s nearby so you don’t have to climb in the car. And America Walks is an advocacy group that fights for infrastructural improvements that benefit walkers and bikers. Now get going.
Related: Fast Cities 2008