improving walkability

The following are notes from the plenary presentations and breakout workshops I attended during the second day of the Walk21 conference in Toronto, Oct 3 2007.

Discussed are ways for making cities more walkable.

Previously posted notes related to this conference can be found under the catagory notes from walk21.


Todd Litman, Transport Economist; Director, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
/* excellent speaker!! */

Numerous benefits of walkable streets, including community cohesion, and money stays in the neighbourhood. Also, health and less need for parking.

Planners and public officials are burdened with creating ‘paradise’ – the idea that is it a distant place that you go to – you need lots of highways to get there and parking when you get there, which is a contradiction of paradise.

Growth is bringing bigger development, but is it getting better, is the community getting better for it?

The goal should be mobility – movement accessibility – being able to get services, goods and activities.

The number of cars (or is it car trips?) has leveled off after years of steady, dramatic increase. It appears that the novelty of auto use has worn off. The past was about quantity, the future is about quality of transportation. The past is not the future.

Wheeled luggage is the greatest transportation breakthrough. It allows older people or people with mobility challenges to travel more freely without requiring assistance. This is a good example of how modest incremental improvement makes a big difference.

Currently, there is a lot of talk about cars from a pollution and energy source perspective, but if we all drove electric cars, we would not solve our transportation problems.

Sustainable planning is to planning is like preventative medicine is to medicine.

How can we squeeze more happiness out of each unit of consumption? Our culture treats everything as a marketable commodity – health, safety, security – but not everything is a commodity. Increased happiness is not necessarily created with increased material wealth. In fact, the research shows that, after a certain point where survival is no longer a question, the opposite can be true.

“Reductionist planning” results in one solution that creates more problems. Focusing on one problem only, at the expense of all others, risks simply shifting the problem or making things worse in a different way.

“Comprehensive planning” results in win-win solutions. Look for the ideas that solve multiple problems. Look for the problems that might be created incidentally and mitigate or prevent those within the solution.

Traffic deaths go down in smart-growth communities – they are safer.

/* note to self: find out more about “economics of congestion values”

“Promoting walkability is no more anti-car than a healthy diet is anti-food.”

/* note to self: check out the Victoria Transport Institute’s website –


Catherine O’Brien – The School of Education, Health and Wellness, Cape Breton University
Sustainable Happiness

Research had focused on the negative – mental illness – but they are now looking at the positive – happiness.

• Happiness is an indicator of health and longevity.
• People who are happy seek out and act on health information.
• It is now known that happiness can be taught.
• Happy people tend to be less materialistic and environmentally conscious.

Relationships are critical to happiness. It involves a feeling of engagement.

/* jargon alert: “subjective well-being” = happiness */

StatsCan found that cyclists and walkers are more likely to enjoy their commute.

Advertisers have picked up on happiness research. They are using it to market their products. They suggest that buying a certain car will make the customer happy.

“Sustainable happiness is the pursuit of happiness that does not exploit the happiness of other people.

We need “positive transportation.”

In response to a question from the audience (I didn’t note what it was, now I’ve forgotten) Todd Litman replied, “The challenge is to create affordable housing that is not simply discounted because it is so undesirable.”



Ole Thorson, Spain
Urban Walking Routes in Barcelona

Standards for supporting walkability:
1. Recommended 3m sidewalk width without obstacles, minimum 2m
2. Pedestrian crossings as straight and direct as possible
3. Visibility between pedestrians and vehicles
4. Way-finding

Robert Stopnicki, City of Toronto
If You Let Them, They Will Walk: The Story of the Rolling Stones Concert in Toronto, 2003

The manager who was responsible for coordinating spectator transportation for the Rolling Stones concert in Toronto talked about what he learned during the planning and from the event.

• People prefer to walk an unencumbered, conflict-free route
• It needs to be obvious where to go
• People would rather walk a long way to a vehicles and leave quickly than sit in a vehicle waiting to get out.

For the concert, all surrounding roads were closed to traffic except transit.

Decision-making was decentralized. Task groups were able to respond to issues without working through a remote chain of command.

The spectator’s perception of the success of logistics of large events is measured by their egress, not access.

Large groups are willing to walk significant distances if routes are clear and direct.

Agile communications help to deal with problems.

Stefan van der Spek, Delft University, Netherlands
Spatial Metro: Strategies to Improve City Centres for Pedestrians

Spatial metro is a strategy to improve city centres for pedestrians.

• routing
• intersections
• signage

1. activities
2. physical condition
3. guidance
4. use

1. pavement
2. landscaping
3. façade rhythm

/* note to self: check out the website for Spatial Metro.
Also, Technical University of Delft’s website on Spatial Metro and a powerpoint presentation on a Spatial Metro project

Thematic route maps (eg. A folded map for locating businesses) might not be effective because they don’t serve mixed needs and cross purposes. For example, someone might be going shopping but would also be interested in cultural points.

Even if there’s only one small thing wrong, people won’t use the route. It might not be a conscious decision, but people will choose to not use the route.

Information must be available at the point of arrival. It should include information about the city, transportation, activities and way-finding. It should use a system of information points and routing orientation. They should be placed at the beginning, along the way, and at the main destination. Maps should be dedicated to each location – facing the direction that the viewer is standing when viewing the map.

A pedestrian map could indicate the entrances to buildings to help the pedestrian orient themselves or plan their route. A participant noted that the entrance could/should indicate whether the entrance is accessible to someone using a mobility aid.

/* note to self: check out – Technical Universtity of Delft’s website on Urbanism



Bruce Appleyard, USA
Shared Streets and Spaces: 25 Years of Livable Streets

His father wrote a classic public realm planning book titled Livable Streets. He continues the legacy by promoting his father’s ideas.

• Clear and distinct gateways celebrate entering a neighbourhood.
• Remove curbs
• Provide parking, but minimal parking
• Ensure clear sightlines
• Create outdoor ‘living rooms’
• Passing bays to allow for cars to pass one another on narrow residential streets
• Have no more than 100 vehicles per hour during peak play period.

Daniel Sauter, Zurich Switzerland
Livable Streets and Social Inclusion: A Tale of Three City Neighbourhoods

“Encounter zones” or “wonerfs” are streets with 20km/h maximum speed and priority for pedestrians and children’s play.

!! Research shows that, on interaction between neighbours, the influence of street structure is more important than social structure of the neighbourhood.

Details are important.

Creating pedestrian zones has no detrimental effect on property values. But mix of housing types is needed to ensure no negative impact.

What would happen if we allocated resources and money based on time spent? That is, in relation to how much time we actually spent driving?

/* note to self: look up the Manual for Streets – book of standards for the UK.
Also, the UK Department for Transport page for “sustainable travel” and UK Department for Transport’s advice to local authorities for encouraging walking

A participant asked whether parked cars might have as detrimental an effect on the level of inclusion and number of contacts on a street as passing cars. Sauter agreed that there may be, but when I asked him about it later, he said that no research has been done yet to determine if this is true.

/* for tips on creating school walking routes, check out – the National Center for Bicycling and Walking’s website and Creating Walkable Communities: A Guide for Local Governments

As streets became wider, they became less safe. Drivers are more careful in streets with diverse uses.

The incidence of fatality goes up 8 times from an increase in vehicle speed from 20m/h or 30m/h on a street.

Leave a Reply

If you want to use XHTML tags, these ones are allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>