She praised new national standards around street design to
make them “multi-modal, complete streets.”
“Changes in technical design can make streets safer for
pedestrians and bicyclists with shorter blocks, slower speeds
and calmer traffic,” she said. “It also includes making driving lanes narrower, reducing them from 12 to 10 feet
in some cases.”
Unfortunately, Parolek said, many communities fail to make
their walking areas interesting.
“That’s a critical point that’s too-often missed,” she said.
“For this to work, you need to make people want to get
out on foot so it becomes a habit. The journey has to be
engaging, so some communities are using parking spaces
for ‘parklets’ with flowers and trees, as well as changing their
zoning rules to allow sidewalk cafes and things like that.”
In addition, she said cities need to be thoughtful about what
kinds of retail they allow on the ground floors of buildings
in order to “activate” streets.
“Too often, when architects are designing multi-story housing, they don’t understand retail and don’t design store fronts
that are attractive,” she said. “So retail doesn’t succeed, store
fronts stay empty then people don’t want to walk there.
Planners need to think about multi-story buildings from
the ‘knees down’ so people will want to walk by them.”
Parolek, who also dislikes housing where garages face the
street, acknowledged that not every part of a city or town
can be made walkable.
“You have to make tradeoffs and look at options,” she said.
“You’re probably not going to put your resources to make
areas around factories walkable. The same is true with shopping centers. But you probably would spend your dollars
in a place where there are those all-important destinations.
You have to look at all things in context, so communities
need to have challenging conversations.”
Christopher Coes is director of Smart Growth America’s
LOCUS program, a network of real estate developers and
investors who advocate for sustainable, walkable development. He said nearly all communities were laid out with
classic grids and sidewalks prior to World War II.
You need to make people
want to get out on foot.
Sycamore Street shops and restaurants in downtown Decatur
Courtesy of the city of Decatur, GA
Courtesy of The Office of TourismOhio