COVID-19 has heightened not only the obvious physical benefits of walking but more than ever the mental health benefits to relieve the stress of isolation. Communities across the country and the world, have set aside car-free streets or zones to accommodate a growing need to walk, cycle, and expand open space. This is a recent example in downtown Washington, DC.
While this is a positive trend and hopeful will continue, this has raised a neglected problem -road design focused on moving cars at the highest speed or efficiency at the expense of safety for walkers, cyclists, the other road users.
While vehicle deaths have trended down in recent years, pedestrian deaths increased significantly. See the graphic below from Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design 2019:
“In the past decade, the number of people struck and killed while walking increased by 35 percent. Though fatalities decreased ever so slightly in 2017, the last two years on record (2016 and 2017) were the most deadly years for people killed by drivers while walking since 1990.”
Greater emphasis on safety is needed now and in the future.
The following articles highlight responses and the need to re-think how we plan and use roads to accommodate all users. As seen around the world, walking, and cycling are viable transportation options. Car free zones are planned, seen in the photos below in Milan ( top – before and after), Paris and Barcelona.
America Walks Blog, Jeff Speck, AICP, CNU-A, LEED-AP, Honorary ASLA., April 2020
This first piece is by a leading walking advocate, about his evolutionary journey from simply good planning and design to a leading advocate and pratctioner, ingraining walking in all aspects of community design.
“In my experience, pedestrian advocates tend to focus mostly on safety: let’s make walking less dangerous for those who must do it. But to get more people doing it, the walk has to be truly better than driving. It must be useful, achieved through better mixed-use zoning, more rational transit networks, and often the subsidizing of downtown housing. It must be comfortable, with public spaces shaped into a series of outdoor living rooms with short building setbacks and ample tree cover. And it must be interesting, with a variety of friendly-faced buildings lining the sidewalk and with any parking lots or blank walls hidden.”
Curbed, Partick Sisson, June 2019
Welll before COVID-19, there was an economic and social equity incentive for walkable communities. This crisis has only enhanced this need.
“What if I told you there was a way to develop U.S. cities that was better for social equity, created more jobs and economic activity, resulted in better transit access, and improved the environment, all while guaranteeing better economic returns for developers and investors?
According to “Foot Traffic Ahead,” a new report that provides an in-depth look at the impact of walkable urbanism on U.S. real estate, that method exists.”
Strong Towns, December 2018, Rachel Quednau
Specific examples and data driven analysis are provided in this commentary by Strong Towns ( 501(c)3 non-profit organization) , an international movement, started in 2008, dedicated to making communities across the United States and Canada financially strong and resilient.
“…..walkability is something that people have time and again demanded, and that demand is simply not being met. What is the true value of walkable neighborhoods? Why do we need them and why has demand for them increased? “
There is motivation now for cities and communities to continue the monemtuem for car free or pedestrian zones beyond the immediate need for isolation relief. It is another opportunity during this health crisis, to remake our places to a human scale and reduce dependency on cars (and subsequent improvement of air quality ). There is the additional benefit of reinvestment in our places for sustainable economies to address inequalities.
I have hope this reinvestment starts again and continues, driven from the bottom up, as each community determines solutions for their needs.