Drivable Street Design. Credit: National Association of City Transportation
Walkable Street Design. Credit: National Association of City Transportation
Walkability is to urban planning what OBP (on-base percentage) is to baseball metrics: it's the entry point that revolutionizes how you view something you thought you knew. It's what hooks you.
Walkability is a great entry point to urban planning because it doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. It’s a measure of how walkable your community is—ie, of all conceivable local transit destinations, how many can be walked to and in what quantity? If you live in Manhattan, that’s everything and in high quantity. If you live on a ranch in an exurb a few hours outside of Houston, that’s nothing except (maybe) your mailbox.
There are several ways to quantify walkability, but WalkScore’s 0-100 rating system is the most well-known and easiest to use for analysis and comparison. The reason there are several metrics for walkability is that it’s a composite of several other urban measurements—including density, zoning, land use, street design, public transit, among others. Once you become invested in your community’s walkability, you find yourself caring about all sorts of esoteric planning decisions.
But why should we care about walkability in the first place? Sure, it’s convenient to leave that 3,000lb machine in your garage to grab the occasional sandwich, but that’s hardly a reason to really care. Here's what makes people care: walkable neighborhoods have decreased incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, increased life expectancy, less crime, and higher levels of civic engagement, measured in everything from number of social engagements and connections to the number of arts organizations in a particular community. It’s a miracle drug that cures any ailment a community might have.
Then there’s the economic impact. Using WalkScore’s 0-100 score, an increase in walkability score results in an increase of $500 - $3,000 in home values for each point. Walkable neighborhoods are small business incubators and have higher levels of economic well-being. Cities that scored highest in walkability are all major employment centers and economic growth drivers.
Our favorite local urban planning nerds over at the Jaxson have a new piece showing how this research applies in practice. In 1980, Jacksonville city planners converted Broad and Jefferson Streets into one-way thoroughfares to ease congestion for drivers. It worked, insofar as drive times for commuters passing through downtown dropped by a minute or two. It also led to a cascade of closures on the once vibrant strip. Today it’s a corridor surrounded by mostly empty lots, each a fallow monument to the peril of poor urban planning.
Can anyone guess where this is? Answers and project details next week.
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