Posted on June 25, 2015

What is Walkability and How Can Urban Planning Encourage It?

Walking has many health, environmental and economic benefits. It also increases and encourages social interaction and fosters civic pride in space. As a result, many home-buyers seek out walkable neighbourhoods. But what does walkability really mean? It’s more than just a short distance to amenities.

Safety: In order to choose walking over other forms of transportation, pedestrians need to feel safe. Street lights add to visibility. Homes and buildings along the street also provide a sense of security. Barriers like planters, street parking or bike lanes separating the sidewalk from the street reduce the risk from passing cars.

Building Accessibility: Buildings with entrances off the sidewalk, as opposed to a parking lot or garage, encourage foot travel. Entryways should be wide enough to accommodate strollers and wheelchairs comfortably.

Comfort: Sidewalk seating improves comfort for pedestrians. A bench allows people to take a break, and tables and chair encourage people to spend some leisure time. Counting the people using sidewalk seating is a great way to determine the walkability of a neighbourhood. A mix of shaded and sunny areas also increases comfort for pedestrians.

Building Types: The most walkable neighbourhoods contain housing and commercial space. Mixed-use areas mean people who live or work in the area don’t have to travel far to run basic errands – and so walking becomes the most economical form of transportation.

Pedestrian Right-of-Way: Pedestrians don’t want to spend unnecessary time waiting at crosswalks. Those traveling on foot need to be factored into intersection design. Signage needs to be in place to make it clear when pedestrians have the right-of-way.

Street Connectivity: Connectivity between streets and sidewalks and a well-developed sidewalk infrastructure encourages people to spend more time on foot. Walking paths should be right by the street and buildings, not off on their own like a hiking trail. A walkable neighbourhood is one where foot travel is both a practical and recreational form of activity.