Walkability is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking. Walkability has many health, environmental, and economic benefits. Factors influencing walkability include the presence or absence and quality of footpaths, sidewalks or other pedestrian rights-of-way, traffic and road conditions, land use patterns, building accessibility, and safety, among others. Walkability is an important concept in sustainable urban design.
One proposed definition for walkability is: "The extent to which the built environment is friendly to the presence of people living, shopping, visiting, enjoying or spending time in an area". Factors affecting walkability include, but are not limited to: street connectivity; land use mix; residential density (residential units per area of residential use); the presence of trees and vegetation; frequency and variety of buildings, entrances and other sensations along street frontages, "transparency" which includes amount of glass in windows and doors, as well as orientation and proximity of homes and buildings to watch over the street; plenty of places to go to near the majority of homes; placemaking, street designs that work for people, not just cars and retail floor area ratio. Major infrastructural factors include access to mass transit, presence and quality of footpaths, buffers to moving traffic (planter strips, on-street parking or bike lanes) and pedestrian crossings, aesthetics, nearby local destinations, air quality, shade or sun in appropriate seasons, street furniture, traffic volume and speed. and wind conditions.
One of the best ways to quickly determine the walkability of a block, corridor or neighborhood is to count the number of people walking, lingering and engaging in optional activities within a space. While this process is a vast improvement upon pedestrian level of service (LOS) indicators recommended within the Highway Capacity Manual, it may not translate well to non-Western locations where the idea of "optional" activities may be different. in any case, the diversity of people, and especially the presence of children, seniors and people with disabilities, denotes the quality, completeness and health of a walkable space.
Walkability indices have been found to correlate with both Body Mass Index (BMI) and physical activity of local populations. Due to discrepancies between residents' health in inner city neighborhoods and suburban neighborhoods with similar walkability measures, it has been suggested that further research is needed to find additional built environment factors to be included in walkability indices.
Increased walkability has proven to have many other individual and community health benefits, such as opportunities for increased social interaction, an increase in the average number of friends and associates where people live, reduced crime (with more people walking and watching over neighborhoods, open space and main streets), increased sense of pride, and increased volunteerism. One of most important benefits of walkability is the decrease of the automobile footprint in the community. Carbon emissions can be reduced if more people choose to walk rather than drive.
Walkability has also been found to have many economic benefits, including accessibility, cost savings both to individuals and to the public, increased efficiency of land use, increased livability, economic benefits from improved public health, and economic development, among others. The benefits of walkability are best guaranteed if the entire system of public corridors is walkable - not limited to certain specialized routes. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research released a report that new developments should be designed to encourage walking, on the grounds that walking contributes to a reduction of cancer.
Many communities have embraced pedestrian mobility as an alternative to older building practices that favor automobiles. Reasons for this shift include a belief that dependency on automobiles is ecologically unsustainable; automobile-oriented environments engender dangerous conditions to both motorists and pedestrians, and are generally bereft of aesthetics. Auto-focused designs also diminish walking and needed "eyes on the street" provided by the steady presence of people in an area. Reduced walking also reduces social interaction, mixing of populations and pride in streets and other civic space.
There are several ways to make a community more walkable. Sidewalks should be implemented where there are "sidewalk gaps", with priority to areas where walking should be encouraged, such as around schools or transit stations. In Atlanta, safe routes to transit is a growing campaign to provide safer access to transit stops for pedestrians. When implementing new sidewalks, there are several aspects to consider. For example, the width of the sidewalk is important for walkability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that sidewalks be at least five feet in width.
Obstructions like sign posts and utility poles can decrease the walkable width of the sidewalk, so alternative locations for these obstructions, especially sign posts, should be used. Quality maintenance and proper lighting of sidewalks should be sustained to reduce obstructions, improve safety, and overall encourage walking. Another way to make sidewalks safer is to implement buffers, which are areas of grass between the street and the sidewalk. An additional benefit of buffers is that the vegetation absorbs the carbon dioxide from automobile emissions and assists with water drainage.
Making crosswalks safer is also key to walkability. Curb extensions decrease the radii of the corners of the curb at intersections. Curb extensions calm traffic and decrease the distance pedestrians have to cross. On streets with parking, curb extensions allow pedestrians to see oncoming traffic better where they otherwise would be forced to walk into the street to see past parked cars. Striped crosswalks, or zebra crossings, also provide safer crossings because they provide better visibility for both drivers and pedestrians.
A further justification for walkability as a consideration in urban design and planning, is founded upon evolutionary and philosophical grounds, contending that gait has been vital to the cerebral development in humans. After millennia of human development firmly based upon gait, the twentieth century automotive and automated metropolis has separated walking from thinking, and in this sense it has become an agent of regression rather than human progress. Walkability, therefore, is offered as a critical component in contemporary urban design considerations, with implications far beyond the scope of current concerns.
In recent years, the demand for housing in a walkable urban context has increased. The term "Missing Middle Housing" as coined by Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design, Inc., refers to multi-unit housing types (such as duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts, and mansion apartments not bigger than a large house), which are integrated throughout most walkable Pre-1940s neighborhoods, but became much less common after World War II, hence the term "missing." These housing types are often integrated into blocks with primarily single-family homes, to provide diverse housing choices and generate enough density to support transit and locally-serving commercial amenities.
Strategies to a Walkable Community
First, conduct a neighborhood walkability assessment to determine accessibility to walking. Second, promote the pedestrian scale to ensure the existing and future buildings are to scale with the rest of the environment. Third, sidewalks should be included in all areas available to walking. The final strategy is to develop multi-use trails that will link residential areas to public places.
One way of assessing and measuring walkability is to undertake a walking audit. An established and widely used walking audit tool is PERS (Pedestrian Environment Review System) which has been used extensively in the UK. A number of commercial walkability scores also exist:
- Walk Score is a walkability index based on the distance to amenities such as grocery stores, schools, parks, libraries, restaurants, and coffee shops. Walk Score's algorithm awards maximum points to amenities within 5 minutes' walk (.25 mi), and a decay function assigns points for amenities up to 30 minutes away. Scores are normalized from 0 to 100.
- Walkability is a customizable set of three walk rating indexes with an algorithm that considers factors including street type, intersection complexity, point-of-interest accessibility, population density, freeways and bodies of water. Add-on scores include other factors like crime, weather, or public transit, among others.
- Walkonomics is a web app that combines open data and crowdsourcing to rate and review the walkability of each street. As of 2011, Walkonomics claimed to have ratings for every street in England (over 600,000 streets) and New York City.
- RateMyStreet is a website that uses crowdsourcing, Google Maps and a five star rating system to allow users to rate the walkability of their local streets. Users can rate a street using eight different categories: Crossing the street, pavement/sidewalk width, trip hazards, wayfinding, safety from crime, road safety, cleanliness/attractiveness, and disabled peoples' access.
- Walkability App developed by Clean Air Asia allows users to rate the walkability of a street qualitatively through 9 parameters. The individual scores are converted to a total out of 100. The average of all the street scores in a city becomes the city score. The parameters assessed include modal conflict, disability infrastructure, perception of safety, availability of crossing points, and motorist behavior, among others.
A newly developing concept is the transit time map (sometimes called a transit shed map, not to be confused with the railroad structure), which are types of isochrone maps. These are maps (often online and interactive) that display the areas of a metropolis which can be reached from a given starting point, in a given amount of travel time (say, 30 minutes). Such maps are useful for evaluating how well-connected a given address is to other possible urban destinations, or conversely, how large a territory can quickly get to a given address (for example, a particular retail store location). The calculation of transit time maps is computationally intensive, and considerable work is being done on more efficient algorithms for quickly producing such maps. To be useful, the production of a transit time map must take into consideration detailed transit schedules, service frequency, time of day, and day of week.
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- levelofservice.com, Walkability tools research and walking level of service calculator.
- Walkshed.org, an online walkability mapping application using personal preferences.
- Pedestrian Environment Review System (PERS)
- RateMyStreet Walkability crowdsourcing project
- Get Your Walk Score - A Walkability Score For Any Address
- Walkonomics - How walkable is your street?
- making metro Atlanta walkable step by step