May 25 2011

The Importance of Walking to Urban Design

As a general stereotype, Americans seem to have forgotten that there are other methods of transportation besides the automobile. Ever since President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, superhighways have dominated the transportation landscape. It makes sense that American commuters seem to know no other way of transport.

Urban planners are partly to blame. Through various urban design zoning and policy initiatives they have encouraged continued growth on the fringes of cities where highways are the only viable means of transportation. With gas prices soaring, however, it might be time to reevaluate our current growth plans. In an effort to provide alternative options for those who cannot or do not wish to spend hundreds of dollars a month just to fill up a gas tank, there should be other options of transport.

One of the solutions to this affordability problem is to promote a deceptively simple and practical transportation method that is possible primarily in urban designed areas: Walking. Very few cities, especially in the Midwestern U.S., are taking advantage of this simple form of transportation. In fact, only one city (Ann Arbor, Michigan) in the Midwest was ranked in a recent study by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center as one of the ‘Top 11 Most Pedestrian Friendly Cities.’

There are several advantages to encourage walking in a community. Some of them include:

  • Easy accessibility to a variety of services located within a compact area;
  • Less air pollution;
  • Less energy consumption;
  • Less government monies spent on subsidizing road maintenance;
  • Increased Safety. As discussed in Jane Jacob’s The Life and Death of Great American Cities, a crowded sidewalk that keeps the walker engaged is a safe one;
  • Increased property values;
  • Decreased need for parking;
  • Healthier communities.

The importance of pedestrian friendly communities cannot be stressed enough in urban design. The current strategy of American growth is just too unsustainable and fundamentally impractical. As more and more communities begin to realize this, they will see just how beneficial it is to have a pedestrian friendly community.

Want to see just how pedestrian friendly your community is? Find its score here.

Daniel Sheehan

Dan Sheehan studied City and Regional Planning with a concentration in Urban Design at the Ohio State University. Dan has lived in several cities throughout the Midwest and is dedicated to exploring urban and environmental design issues as they relate to Midwestern cities of the United States. His passion for urban design and urban planning began during his studies in Columbus at the Ohio State University, and continues to pursue those passions in the realm of urban planning. Dan blogged for The Grid until October 2011.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 at 11:09 am and is filed under Environmental Design, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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