Walkability is a measure of how easy, safe, enjoyable and interesting it is to travel on foot. Increasing a city's walkability score, whether measured objectively or simply thought about, is integral to sustainable urban design.
What is walkability?
The key elements of walkability are: engaging public places for people to gather; streets that accommodate pedestrians as much as they do vehicles; easy connections to reliable transit, and good quality greenways and bicycle paths; design standards which rightsize sidewalks and put building entrances close to the walking areas; mixed-use neighborhoods where people can work, live and study in close proximity; and, enough people willing to walk so that the streets feel vibrant and alive. It's easy to see that walkability has a lot in common with other sustainability strategies.
Each year our Transportation and Mobility Division conducts a community gathering of experts,business people, neighbors, and students. The theme for 2015 is StreetSmarts and is dedicated to creating safe, livable, connected, sustainable streets for people of all ages and abilities.
How do cities become walkable?
In a city like Fort Lauderdale, ways to increase walkability could include connecting major gathering places or centers of commerce with footpaths, incorporating places to rest and to cool off along the way, ensuring walking paths connect to bike sharing, cycling paths and mass transit, narrowing lanes to calm traffic so that people feel and actually are safer, installing pedestrian friendly signals, and constructing sidewalks of appropriate scale and materials.
Because there are so many factors that contribute to walkability, achieving it requires public-private partnerships, community engagement, and all aspects of government. Businesses and school must want to be in the area, people must want to be out and about, and government must direct urban design initiatives, transportation projects, public works improvements, and even public art and landscaping towards that end. For a number of years, Fort Lauderdale has been doing just this.
Yet becoming a walkable city is not just a matter of changing policy or crafting new plans. It is a long-term and slow process. Our history as a city center puts us off to a good start, but in order to progress we must come at walkability simultaneously from several different directions: identifying areas that have high demand for walkability due to commerce or points of interest; looking for areas with critical need for economic and safety reasons; targeting areas integral to multi-modal connections; and, looking for quick wins (those areas that are relatively easy to upgrade).
How does improving walkability support sustainability goals?
Simply put, walking is the lowest carbon-emitting method of travel. Because nothing manufactured is required for walking (excepting perhaps shoes depending upon your perspective), one can literally walk with the comfort of knowing that no energy, water, fuel or other resources are being expended, but walking has other benefits as well.
- Walking is inexpensive. It's a great equalizer.
- People are more social when they are out and about, and that builds community, a central aspect of our city's vision.
- Walking is great cardio-vascular exercise and more walkable cities can be places of increased public health.
- When more of us are out walking, our streets are safer, and this encourages even more interaction.
- Ease of walking increases convenience and lowers stress, it gives people more time in their day, and it makes people happier.
For the environment:
- Over eighty percent of carbon emissions are from burning fossil fuels. Walking is a zero-emissions activity.
- Walkable communities tend to incorporate sustainable materials naturally, to plant more trees, and to use fewer resources in maintaining street, sidewalks and other infrastructure.
- Walking isn't scary to wildlife. The territory of birds and small mammals and reptiles is not disrupted.
To support the economy:
- When people walk they notice locally based businesses and tend to support them. They gather more often, creating opportunities for local businesses.
- Walkable cities attract tourism-- one of our key industries.
- There is a direct relationship between walkability and property values.
Is Fort Lauderdale walkable?
There are two sides to the answer. On the one hand we are very walkable compared to many Florida cities. We have housing, offices, shopping, entertainment, cultural centers, parks and natural areas all within compact geographic area. We have transit that is getting more connected every day. Many of our streets are pleasant, shady and interesting places to be. On the other hand, South Florida in general is one of the most dangerous places in the country for pedestrians, and we must do better in that respect.
How are we improving our walkability scores?
As stated above, we're coming at it from all angles. We can't just throw down more sidewalks and crossings.
Transportation planners are implementing our Complete Streets policy which calls for equal focus on pedestrians. They are also working on increasing available transit and bike infrastructure, which both contribute to walkability. Our Sustainable Development Department is focused on increasing density and mixed-use and also creating connections between gathering spaces. They work with Transportation on standards for street, lane, and sidewalk measurement and placement. Public Works gets involved to make it real, to ensure that walkways are safe and accessible and in good repair, and within that department, our Sustainability Division takes care of ensure that our walkways are clean and green.
In addition to these longer term efforts, we are using a number of smaller scale projects to increase walkability:
- Painted Intersections and designed pedestrian paths to create interesting public spaces that naturally slow vehicle traffic
- Increasing pedestrian presence at key intersection,through a combination of high- and low-tech including, in-ground flashing beacons, painted crosswalks, increased signage, and available hand-held signal flags.
- Encouraging walking with periodic special events such as Open Streets