The more interesting the streets, the more we will walk

This is a fact and one that the designers of urban spaces must consider if they really want to get us out of the car

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Walk Appeal promises to be a major new tool for understanding and building walkable places, and it explains several things that were heretofore either contradictory or mysterious. It begins with the assertion that the quarter-mile radius (or 5-minute walk,) which has been held up for a century as the distance Americans will walk before driving, is actually a myth.

The problem here lies with the fact that many American towns and cities, especially their shopping areas, have absolutely no walk appeal.

If anyone happens to be at Best Buy and needs to pick something up at Old Navy, there is no way most people are going walking from one store to another in most US towns and cities. Instead, they get in their car and drive as close as possible to the Old Navy front door. They'll even wait for a parking space to open up instead of driving to an open space just a few spaces away… not because they are lazy, but because it is such a terrible walking experience.

In most European cities and towns things are different though you still get people who are so – and in this case it – lazy that they will drive from one place to the next.

While this may not be the case in London itself, simply for the congestion charge and the fact that parking slots will cost you a fortune, I have observed this is my own areas quite often.

One incident was a mother who, living only a few houses away from the local elementary school, bundled their three kids (all going to the same school) into her SUV, strapping each of them in (with engine running), then drove to the school where she double parked, left the engine running and got the kids into school.

The woman then proceeded into the village for some errand – we are talking from house to high street less than a mile – and was observed driving up and down looking for a parking space.

As none could be found in the high street she went to the parking lot where she has to pay, which is about half a mile from the high street shops, walked from their to the stores and, after getting a few items, went back to the car and drove home.

The walk-ability and walk appeal of this area, however, as far as I am concerned, is a very high one and in that case it has laziness and this can be frequently found.

However, in general, because the villages, towns and cities of Europe have a great walk appeal people walk a lot more than they do anywhere in the USA. The London average of people walking in town is about two miles and I am sure I have walked a lot more around town if I don't use the bus. At times you are faster walking than using the bus.

American towns and cities need redesigning and it is not an impossibility to create a walk appeal.

However, much of American suburbia has been created with the car in mind and not the cyclist or the pedestrian and hence there is no walk appeal there and it is worse still for cyclists, as there are no provisions for them. Unlike in European cities, which have all, with the exception, I hasten to add, of London and other British towns and cities.

As far as walk appeal goes the majority of British towns and cities do fine. Just they lack provisions for cyclists such as those that are found all over the place in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.

It is from Europe (including Britain) that American planner and urban designers can and must learn if they want to make their towns and cities workable as far as walking (and cycling) goes.

The motorcar will soon not be as available as it once was and that is because gasoline and diesel will no longer be as affordable as their once were. Thus we must reconsider the way we travel and thus the planner need to re-engineer the American towns and cities and even some places in the UK need be redesigned.

It can be done and must be done and we also must make our towns and cities more livable again and vibrant places that also have all the aspects of self-reliance at the doorstep.

Walk your towns and cities and make them walkable...

© 2012