Would you rather hike to the grocery store than battle traffic in your car? Maybe you like to power walk on your lunch hour or take the bus downtown and then hoof it to your final destination.
If so, here’s some news that should put a bounce in your step: Cities nationwide are designing downtowns and suburbs with walkers in mind.
“More city leaders are recognizing the importance of being able to accommodate more people in their cities by making sure walking is a viable option,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of Vision Zero Network, an organization seeking to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries by making streets safer for all modes of transportation.
So how do you know if a city is walkable? Below are 12 signs that a city takes its walkers seriously.
1. Committed city leaders.
Of the 50 most populous U.S. Cities, 23 have goals to increase walking and biking and decrease bicyclist and pedestrian injuries, according to a 2016 report by the Alliance for Biking & Walking. For example, Seattle’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan calls for more than 40 crossing improvements, 14 blocks of new sidewalk and the remarking of 500 crosswalks.
2. Functional design.
A city encourages walkers when it’s designed to “reward rather than punish” a person who shows up on foot, according to America Walks, an organization working to increase walking. Buildings are near the sidewalk so walkers don’t have to hike across a parking lot.
“Someone who walks past a store is more likely to walk in than someone who drives past,” said Kate Kraft, executive director of America Walks.
3. Pedestrian-friendly crosswalks.
Crossing stoplights allow walkers plenty of time to cross intersections whether they’re 25 years old or 85 years old.
“You don’t want a situation where people feel they need to run across the street to feel safe,” said Shahum.
High-visibility stripes with reflective paint make crosswalks more visible and “yield to pedestrian” signs dramatically improve drivers’ awareness of walkers, according to America Walks.
4. Multi-purpose streets.
Some cities put up seasonal “parklets” that convert parking spaces into a small public park, complete with a deck, benches and plants. Portland, OR, allows select parklets to become extended sidewalk cafes serving food and drink. Los Angeles has “active parklets” with outdoor gyms.
“When you rethink that street to give it multiple uses, it’s no longer there just to move cars. It becomes a marketplace, a social place,” Kraft said.
5. Ample public transit.
Cities with extensive public transportation such as subways, trains and buses scored high on America’s most walkable cities list by Walkscore, a real estate website. Walkscore’s top four: New York, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.
6. Bike lanes.
A “multi-modal” infrastructure that includes bike lanes, off-road paths and bike parking along with signage, road markings and intersection signals encourages more people to walk and bike regularly, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking.
7. Inviting sidewalks.
Street furniture like benches, trash cans and bike racks make sidewalks look like they’re made for people to enjoy themselves. Shade trees, drinking fountains and seating along the walkway make walking accessible for all ages and mobility levels. Wide, well-maintained sidewalks that allow three people to walk abreast and short blocks are ideal.
8. Enforcement initiatives.
Almost half of all injuries to people walking occur in crosswalks, according to Vision ZeroSF in San Francisco. That city’s “Don’t Block the Box” campaign cites drivers who nose into the crosswalk , forcing pedestrians to step into traffic. The San Francisco Police Department focuses on enforcing violations most frequently cited in collisions with pedestrians such as drivers running red lights and stop signs, not yielding to pedestrians and cell phone violations.
9. Narrower lanes and streets.
People tend to speed when road lanes are wider and slow down when lanes are narrower, said Shahum. Arlington County, VA, a suburb of Washington, D.C., put moderately traveled four-lane roads on “road diets,” reducing them to two lanes while creating more space for bike lanes and wider sidewalks.
10. Connected network of walk paths.
A complete network of connected facilities for walking includes sidewalks, multi-use pathways and even short links such as connectors between cul-de-sacs in residential neighborhoods. Birmingham, AL, has a connected trail system that leads to different historical sites.
“You want mixed-use destinations close enough together that people can actually walk to them,” said Kraft.
11. Way-finding signage.
Signs with miles or times along the way to popular destinations will make people more likely to walk there.
“It’s important to give people a sense of how far something is so they’re encouraged to walk to it, Kraft said.
12. An involved public.
You’ll find at least one walking advocacy group, a number of walking and running clubs and city leaders that make walking easy, safe and fun. For example, Mayor Andy Berke of Chattanooga, TN, invited citizens to walk downtown with him at lunch earlier this year as part of that city’s Get Fit Challenge.