How to judge a neighborhood’s walkability

I love to walk, in fact, I haven’t owned a car since 2017 and haven’t missed it one bit.  When I am walking to the grocery store, or the mall, or the beach, I feel so much more connected to the people and places around me than I ever did when huddled inside the protective glass-and-metal envelope of my vehicle.  Also, walking is great exercise!

Those are just two of the reasons I always take walkability into consideration when I am thinking about a new place to live.  So, how can you judge a neighborhood’s walkability for yourself?

Julie’s grocery cart

1)  Unless you live in a place with practically no pedestrian or vehicle traffic, experts including the American Planning Association generally agree that sidewalks increase safety for pedestrians.  Look for sidewalks that are continuous, without cracks and at least 5 feet wide.  It’s also safer if there is a buffer between the sidewalk and the street.  Curb cuts are another important feature to look for, and not just for people with mobility problems.  I use a wheeled cart to walk to the grocery store and go out of my way to take the route that includes curb cuts!

2)  Crosswalks are a key item to be aware of.  Are roads too wide to cross safely?  Do traffic signals allow enough time for pedestrians to cross?  At crossings without traffic lights, look for highly visible crosswalks like this one that alert drivers to watch for pedestrians.

Photo by Poh Wei Chuen on Unsplash

3)  Check to see if the services you use the most are within a 20-minute walk or mass transit ride from your residence (check out the website of Portland’s Gerding Edlund development firm for more on “20-minute living”)

4) Speaking of mass transit, is there any, and are the services adequate?  Cost and frequency of service are factors to consider. Bus stops should have benches to sit on while you wait, and be protected from the sun and rain.  And make sure transit goes where you want to go.  Not long ago in my home town, one of the most popular malls declared it wanted to “increase safety” at the mall by moving the bus stop 350 feet away from the building.  Many saw this as a not-too-subtle way to discourage mass transit riders from coming to the mall.  Advocates for people with disabilities and seniors protested but the stops were eventually moved far away from the entrances. 

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

5) Lastly, observe the behavior of drivers in the area. Do they drive too fast? Do they stop behind the restraining lines for pedestrians in crosswalks?  Do they respect traffic signals?  Driver behavior is an important factor in pedestrian safety.

You can do a complete walkability audit of your neighborhood using this downloadable guide from AARP.  And to hear us talk about walkability and a Spanish town that banned cars, check out Episode 3 of the Seniortopia Show.

I’m sure I missed some walkability items in this short review.  What are the things that make a neighborhood walkable for you?  Tell us in the comments! 

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