Walking represents the foundation of our transportation networks. Yet, it’s often not designed around. Why is that and what does it look like from the walked perspective? Let’s explore …
Walking represents the foundation of our transportation networks. Yet, it’s often not designed around. Why is that and what does it look like from the walked perspective? Let’s explore from the sidewalk viewshed.
This is part one of a series exploring the under-representation and under-resourcing of the ability to conveniently walk around. For the sake of this discussion and with universal design in mind, wheeling oneself or another around is included as walking.
Driving and riding public transit are experiences that begin and end with a walk. Automobile traffic is often gifted new lanes to facilitate flow, while the act of crossing that flowing traffic’s street becomes less comfortable for pedestrians. Parking gets plenty of attention, yet the walk to and from our cars gets second billing.
These are common stories. As with many everyday things, our own designs have created preferences and privileges for different segments of the population.
The storied phrase “if you build it, they will come” is true with transportation. If we made places easier to walk around, people would do more walking, yet we rarely plan for that. Take the theoretically aforementioned new highway lane. Often created as a public good to alleviate congestion, new lanes have been shown to increase traffic over time. The phenomenon is called “induced demand.”
As extra lanes become available, the existing traffic has more room. Congestion is alleviated in the short term. As time goes on, trips that previously routed around congested areas start using the newly expanded roadway. Traffic increases until a new point of congestion is reached. If you build roads, people will drive on them.
Let’s consider parking. Often advocated for as a public good that accommodates visitors and local residents, dedicated parking similarly serves itself. But at what cost? Garages are often placed in downtowns where people want to go. These neighborhoods are valuable for their mix of uses. Does a single-use structure that people can’t live, work, or play in deserve special investment?
Presumably, people drive to and park at a place because there’s something there worth engaging with. To engage with something of interest, someone driving will inherently need to arrive, park and walk to that point of interest. If we create interesting places, people will live in and visit them, garage or not.
It doesn’t become easier to walk around as an increased flow of traffic is encouraged through your town. It similarly doesn’t become easier to walk around when parking garages are added. However, if we invested in being better able to comfortably walk, the story is different.
Drivers may consider stopping instead of passing through if they see how walkable a lively downtown is. Likewise, parkers may park farther away from their location if they see how walkable that location’s neighborhood is. By broadening the conversation and re-balancing the transportation equation, a lot more than the status quo can be designed for.
We can wrap numbers around this. Imagine two projects your community could pursue. One proposes a $4.5 million parking garage for cars to sit in (2021 Downtown Honesdale Revitalization Plan). The other proposes a $9 million trail connecting two whole towns that people could better walk, bike and boat between (2020 Wayne County Trails Feasibility Study).
The first project is on a faster track, even though only 44 percent of around 300 survey respondents felt “that more municipal parking... should be encouraged.” The other project is on a slower track, even though over 90 percent of around 1,700 survey respondents felt that “a multi-use trail would be a great addition.”
This parking project is real and is actively promoted by community leaders. It would serve automobiles, might cost half as much as a proposed 10-mile trail and is being pursued all at once. This trail project is also real and is highly supported by the community at large. It would serve people’s quality of life and is being pursued in very small project pieces. We don’t get to comparatively vote on projects like these, but we should at least be talking about how they compare.
Signs of preferential treatment are all around you. What do you see when you walk around?
Do you live in a community where half the resources needed to create something amazing are being pursued for something less foundationally vital to a living place populated by living people? If so, you probably live in a community that could value walking more. Understanding that is the first step in making our transportation network more equitable and usable.
Derek Frey Williams, Citizen Planner and Walkability Advocate, Canaltown. Visit interweb portals @canaltown552.com for more local landscape stories.