Part 2: Becoming a Walkable Community
Jean Crowther | May 04, 2016
Part 1 of this topic discussed the meaning of walkability and why it matters. However, even for communities where citizens and elected officials rally behind the value of walkability and are ready to make improvements, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is a quick and easy guide to the first steps a community should consider:
- Identify partners: Begin by bringing together the local partners who have a vested interest in creating a more walkable community, whether that is local government staff, an Eat Smart Move More chapter, an informal walking or running group, neighborhood associations, or senior citizens groups. This should also include potential partners in planning and funding, such as the regional Council of Governments, Metropolitan Planning Organization, SCDOT, and local foundations.
- Create a comprehensive pedestrian master plan: The plan should include an assessment of pedestrian needs, recommendations for new or improved pedestrian infrastructure, policies, and programs, and action steps for seeking funding and implementing recommended projects. Once complete, the Plan should be adopted by the local council and the community should identify a municipal department or local advocacy group that will spearhead moving it forward.
If a community already has a plan but is not sure how to prioritize its recommendations, or if a community does not have a plan, but does not quite have the capacity to develop one, here are some strategies for finding some catalyst projects that will build momentum for change:
- Calm the traffic: There are a number of low-cost, easy-to-implement strategies that can have a big impact on the safety and practicality of walking, without requiring large capital projects. Look for opportunities to calm traffic on streets that are already known as walking routes but are not ideal in terms of pedestrian safety and comfort. Traffic calming can be an effective tool for prioritizing pedestrians over cars on neighborhoods streets.
- Activate the street: Rather than calming the traffic on busier streets, consider ramping up the pedestrian amenities on lower-volume streets or streets already safe and comfortable for pedestrians. The focus is creating a space that is inviting, interesting, and fun for pedestrians whether through wayfinding signage, creating parklets, installing outdoor art, allowing outdoor café seating, or hosting temporary ‘open streets’ events to encourage play.
- Close the gaps: The best way to leverage existing investments is to close the gaps in the existing walking network. The most obvious approach is to identify blocks where sidewalk is missing and could connect two existing sections. But closing the gap can also include: improving the crossing at an difficult intersection between to sections of sidewalks; signing a route to show pedestrians the best way to connect from one trail to another; or identifying bridges (whether creek crossings, overpasses, underpasses, or another form) where no safe pedestrian access is provide and prioritizing improvements to that gap.
- Take the long view: Consider focusing on policy changes as a first step, knowing that it will take time to see its impact. Choosing to walk for transportation is inextricably linked to land use planning, which is governed by local policies. If residential areas are planned miles away from institutional and commercial destinations (such as schools, restaurants or grocery stores) or are developed without connections to the destinations that are nearby, citizens will never have a chance to choose walking. Local and County policies can directly impact this; and though it takes time, policy change can be one of the most efficient, and sustainable approaches to transforming a community.