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Walkability

 
Bethany Brown
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Who would i talk to about this but to you Permies? I live rurally and can’t live where i live without a car. That’s one problem. Second problem isn’t my problem, just a general issue for the community. My closest towns aren’t even walkable. One is about to build 800 apartments near the freeway ramp. It’s less than a mile from a shopping center, but that Mike isn’t safe to walk. The sidewalk goes foot so long in one side, then switches to the other side, with no marked crosswalk and where there’a a curve in the road that impacts visibility for drivers. From there, you’d have to walk on a narrow sidewalk next to a roundabout. Worst of all, the roundabout had to be built so large trucks could maneuver it, so they made the sidewalk “mountable”- it’s actually made to be both a sidewalk and a place for trucks to drive to make the wide turn. I’m feeling convicted to advocate for better pedestrian infrastructure, but in don’t even live in town. What do you all think i should do? Is this not my battle?
 
James Alun
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I'm considering the same thing back home. Although towns in the UK tend to be far more walkable than the US, the same car-centred thinking is pervasive.

Strong Towns, Not Just Bikes are a good place to start.

I think this can be part of building a better world in your back yard. This trick will be not getting angry at the bad guys. This is similar to the Wheaton Eco scale, we may be a little bit further up an active transport scale and so our perspective is different to people who aren't being deliberately 'bad'.
 
Anne Miller
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Are there no parks or schools where you could do your walking?

Most of the towns and cities I have been in these are the places where I see most folks walking.

When we had our homestead and I had a job in town, several of my coworkers would gather each morning before school or on Saturday to walk at the school track field.

Also, another great place to walk is at a shopping mall.  Actually, this was recommended to me by my doctor.

One of my favorite things to do is to walk.

Since we now live out in the boondocks I use my property for my walks.

Observation is the first principle of permaculture.

Use observation to find good places to walk.
 
James Alun
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A study on Motonomativity.
 
Anne Miller
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James, would you mind telling me a little more about that?
 
S Bengi
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Motonormativity: How social norms hide a major public health hazard.

(“People shouldn't drive in highly populated areas where other people have to breathe in the car fumes”)
or a parallel set of statements with key words changed to shift context
("People shouldn't smoke in highly populated areas where other people have to breathe in the cigarette fumes").

Such context changes could radically alter responses (75% agreed with "People shouldn't smoke... " but only 17% agreed with "People shouldn't drive... "). We discuss how these biases systematically distort medical and policy decisions and give recommendations for how public policy and health professionals might begin to recognise and address these unconscious biases in their work.



I agree as a society we don't buy/work/learn/produce things withing walking distance. In fact we might even work in another state, buy things produced in another country. And we can be dismissive and antagonistic to folks who "farm/homestead" or take up too much space by walking. I have heard people say, look at all this road space that is being taken up by the poor/stupid bicycle/pedestrian people, they are in my way.  Pedestrian and Cyclist are treated as 2nd class citizens, uhmm maybe that is how tractor-trailers view reglar cars on the road?
 
Anne Miller
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In all the cities that I have lived in it is not the city that puts in sidewalks.

It is the land developer who puts in the sidewalks as something appealing to get people to buy their homes.

My suggestion would be to contact the developer who is putting in the 800-unit apartments to see if there are plans for sidewalks.

classicconstruction said, "Many homeowners assume that because the sidewalk is public property, it is a public responsibility (aka, the government's problem). However, the truth is that many cities and municipalities hold the homeowner directly adjacent to the sidewalk responsible for its repairs.

 
S Bengi
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My metro-area has 250,000 students attending college, so lots of local events, stores/venues/etc. Which pretty much leads to it being a very walkable city, they are now starting the work of making it a bike friendly city.

The city does not take ownership of the sidewalk. I have to shovel the snow off the sidewalk in front of my property, and if I don't then I might get a fine. Worse if someone slips and fall because I didn't shovel the snow I can be sued.
 
Anne Miller
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As S Bengi suggested colleges are a great places to walk.

And some cities have made walking or jogging trails in some of the city parks.

Another great place to walk (or hike) are state parks or national parks.

 
Jeremy VanGelder
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Anne, when people talk about walkability they are often talking about safe pedestrian routes for people who walk as a primary means of transportation. You and I can drive to a park or the mountains to take a walk for the sake of exercise. But some people cannot. If gas prices jump again in the future, you and I may not be able to afford to drive either. So walkability is about making it safe and sane for other people to get where they need to go.
 
Anne Miller
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I feel I have given her some safe alternatives that would be in the closest towns that she talked about.

Bethany said, "just a general issue for the community. My closest towns aren’t even walkable.

 
Jane Mulberry
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Bethany, I think here in the UK, the council or municipality office that approved an arrangement like your describe at that roundabout would be wide open to being sued when a pedestrian was hit. Of course, you want to be proactive and make sure no pedestrians get hit. As a first step, it could help to find out who in the planning department approved this, which should be a matter of public record, and write them a formal letter stating the risk. They may respond by banning pedestrians, that's the problem. :(
Though I see others have posted that in the US the sidewalk is the homeowners responsibility, so the owner od the development may be the ones to approach, also.
 
James Alun
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Anne Miller wrote:James, would you mind telling me a little more about that?



Motonomativity? It's the mindset that cars are an absolute fixed point in the universe and our society.

It's much like the fear that the world will be destroyed by climate change. It won't. Climate change may destroy our way of life and maybe even humanity itself but the world will remain.


Our towns, cities and lives don't have to be engineered to fit the needs of cars. We chose this route.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n94-_yE4IeU" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Automobile Indoctrination

I'm certainly not an expert on this and would strongly recommend watching the channels I mentioned.
 
John C Daley
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Bethany, have you written to anybody, put it to them the issue needs to be improved?
 
Vanessa Smoak
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Anne Miller wrote:I feel I have given her some safe alternatives that would be in the closest towns that she talked about.



You did indeed. But a walkable town does not force you to drive somewhere to walk.
 
Jay Angler
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The car companies along with the oil companies actively worked to convince people in the US that the best community was full of roads because that made them more money. Undoing the damage to the walkability of cities, towns and suburban areas this approach took is going to be monumental and will involve all levels of government because zoning, tax subsidies, and attitudes will all have to shift to make this happen. This video interjects commentary within an old "infomercial" :


The area where I live has been working for some time on both walking and cycling infrastructure, but there are still many areas needing improvement. Here in new subdivisions, the city planners mandate what sort of sidewalks, or lack thereof, must be built. Normally, they're built on the part of the property which is owned by the municipality, but the homeowner is responsible for keeping snow and ice cleared, and the grass on the verge cut, but not responsible for repairing the actual sidewalk if it fails in some way.

When my children were in Elementary School about 20 years ago, we had a program called the "Walk to School" program. The school principal insisted it would never work in our semi-rural area, and it certainly took about 5 years to make a difference, but it got many people's attitudes to shift into an "active" mobility mode. I volunteered with the program and pushed for it to expand to cycling as well as walking due to the distances involved. When my eldest started at that school, there were rarely more than 3 bikes in the lock-up. By the time he was in Grade 5, there were days when the lock-up was jammed. So if I needed to change a town or area of a city, I'd start with the Elementary Schools. I'd try to make it fun and exciting and call it goofy names like we did - one was the "Walking School Bus"  - where one or two adults would gather up a street's worth of children and walk the group to school.  We got the children to pressure the adults into helping them participate.

Things may not change quickly, but I've seen attitudes and infrastructure change in my area in the last 25 years. Just like with a food forest, sometimes you've just got to start with one small tree!
 
James Alun
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Jay said what I was trying (and failing) to say, we even posted links to the same video.

Another factor that compounds the motonormativity is zoning laws.

In the UK you may well find a corner shop, a pub or a chippie (fast food shop) in the middle of a suburb (usually older suburbs). These increase the walkability of an area, "I'll just pop to the shop for milk and bread" rather than getting in the car to go to the supermarket.

Unfortunately, some places don't allow these sort of businesses. So in order to live, people have to get in their car and go to a shopping district, increasing car dependence.

However, zoning laws are not 'bad'.

In Bethany's case, the zoning law could state something like "For all developments housing more than 10 people, provision must be ensured for primary age schooling, connections to public transit and grocery shops, within 1000m of the development, to be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and mobility scooter users."

I'm not a lawyer, so that will be a terribly written law that will have loopholes and cause compliance difficulties.

The point is that zoning laws are good, when they are good laws, when they're bad...



Oh yes and making your town walkable reduces your city taxes as well.


 
Anne Miller
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James Alun wrote:In Bethany's case, the zoning law could state something like "For all developments housing more than 10 people, provision must be ensured for primary age schooling, connections to public transit and grocery shops, within 1000m of the development, to be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and mobility scooter users."



Just some of my thoughts:

Hospitals are also good places to find paths for walking.

A simple solution would be for Bethany's town to make pedestrian lanes similar to what some cities have done for bike lanes.

A pedestrian lane is a designated space on the roadway for the exclusive use of pedestrians. The lane may be on one or both sides of the roadway and can fill gaps

Something similar to these:


source


source


source


source


If I wanted to make a change to the community I would raise support for what I wanted to change.

I would talk to my friends, the parents of my children's friends, people at my church, or anyone who would listen to me.

Then I would get a group of these people together to attend a City Council meeting and/or the County Commissioners Court, etc.
 
Jay Angler
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Anne Miller wrote:

source

The zone labelled "Planter/Amenity" in this picture which Anne Miller found and posted, in my town, several of those have been turned into "Rain Gardens" to help manage storm run-off, by slowing it down, filtering and seeping it,  while still providing tree-space. Now if we could just convince them to plant edible trees/shrubs!

Part of making Communities walkable, is not just having "safe" foot paths, but actually  haveing foot-paths that are pretty, protected from wind and traffic fumes, and where traffic won't splash puddles up and soak you! If designed with hardy local flora, they can do a lot of "looking after themselves". These are the things to research before trying to get support, because if you can identify how it can be designed to fill multiple niches - like storm water management - as well as walkability, it may help get people's attention. Storms have been getting bigger and wetter in North America, and many areas have been experiencing serious heat waves.  Foot paths with "cul-de-sacs" with a tree and a bench can give natural cooling spots which could become critical if a bad heat wave and brown-outs coincide.
 
James Alun
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Jay Angler wrote:
Part of making Communities walkable, is not just having "safe" foot paths, but actually having foot-paths that are pretty, protected from wind and traffic fumes, and where traffic won't splash puddles up and soak you!



Actual safety vs perceived safety is a big part of this. All the steelwork on say the Manhatten bridge (see below) means that it is very safe, but when a trains roars past, it doesn't feel safe and perceived safety is what encourages people to use infrastructure.

Also, the path needs to go somewhere. If I can't do the whole trip, going from home to the bank, to the library, to the shops and back home again, just by walking, then I might as well get in the car anyway. Retroactively adding sidewalks and cycle lanes is nice but until is becomes a standard part of the process, it's a novelty to be enjoyed not a tool to be used.

The fact that this article exists is a pretty damning indictment on society.
Top 10 Tips for Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge
bridge.jpg
[Thumbnail for bridge.jpg]
 
Bethany Brown
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You’ve all given me much to think on. I’m not sure I’m in a position right now to have much impact, especially since I don’t live in town, and since I moved to the area right before Covid shutdowns, I don’t really know anyone who does, I just shop there. I do shop at a little market and sometimes chat with the owner, who is on the city council. Maybe somehow I can segue this topic into the conversation. I’m also in the local Facebook groups, those are usually unhappy to receive suggestions from “newcomers” though.
 
James Alun
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Bethany Brown wrote:I’m not sure I’m in a position right now to have much impact



This probably a great time to employ the permie principle of observation. You could go along to zoning/planning meetings and find out more about the process.

It would also be good to watch those and other youtube channels. One of the problems we've seen in the UK is that councils are 'trying' to build infrastructure for active travel but as it's an afterthought in the process pushed by people who have only just heard about active travel, the results have been ... mediocre.
 
Anne Miller
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James Alun wrote:

Bethany Brown wrote:I’m not sure I’m in a position right now to have much impact



This probably a great time to employ the permie principle of observation. You could go along to zoning/planning meetings and find out more about the process..



I like this advice!

Use observation!  I had not thought about "zoning/planning meetings".

I would also suggest using observation by going to the City Council Meeting and the Commission's Court Meeting.

Just sit quietly and observe.

You might even make some new friends with others that are there to observe and learn.
 
Jay Angler
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James Alun wrote: It would also be good to watch those and other youtube channels. One of the problems we've seen in the UK is that councils are 'trying' to build infrastructure for active travel but as it's an afterthought in the process pushed by people who have only just heard about active travel, the results have been ... mediocre.

This is good advice also!

James' link above called, "Suburbia is subsidized" was very interesting. It mentions briefly, two new developments in two different cities which were designed to be walkable and which are self-supporting tax wise. I don't have time to look into those two examples in detail, but that would be an excellent exercise. Particularly if there is more info hidden on the web analyzing what the inhabitants like or what they'd change.

Sometimes it can be very small things that make a big difference. My nearby city has installed park benches in a number of locations. However they're all, "one here, one there" except for one spot where there are two benches at right angles to each other. On these benches, people can make eye-contact - they are better able to hold a conversation with someone they might not know well enough to want to sit right beside. So this is a very small thing, which could help rebuild community. Walkability is not *just* having paths to walk on - it's also about having enough other people out there walking that people don't feel alone and isolated.

One thing they've done well is to make sure that walkways go where people want to go. "Active Transportation" is not "going for a hike" - it's getting to the grocery store with your bundle buggy, or getting to a doctor's appointment, and definitely it's getting to work, then to the post office, then to the grocery store and then home, all while feeling as if walking is a pleasant part of the experience, rather than a hardship.
 
Mk Neal
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Anne Miller wrote:In all the cities that I have lived in it is not the city that puts in sidewalks.

It is the land developer who puts in the sidewalks as something appealing to get people to buy their homes.

My suggestion would be to contact the developer who is putting in the 800-unit apartments to see if there are plans for sidewalks.



This is the root of the problem in many areas, but I would locate the solution as change at the local/state government.  E.g. walking infrastructure should not be at the whim of the developer. Most jurisdictions require developers provide car access and parking, pedestrian access should also be required for any planned development. And the city/county should be building “complete streets,” for its people, not just public driveways.

Where I used to live in Maryland, we had a similar problem to what OP describes. A patchwork of sidewalks here and there leading up to a massive parking lot that pedestrians had to walk through to get to the metro station. One contributing factor was an old law that prohibited government from building sidewalks along “state highways.” However, over the course of the 20th cen, development along these former rural highways made them into main streets of towns. So we had towns where public sidewalks were prohibited! Really stupid.  This was changed at some point after we had moved away.
 
Mercy Pergande
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How would you personally use a more walkable town? I think that is the best place to start on any project, particularly one as enormous as decentralizing cars, which is woven so tightly into the fabric of our society and infrastructure. It will be slow and incremental, but the best place to spend your energy is the place you're most enthusiastic and motivated.

The "walking school bus" concept is amazing, and I think an ideal instigator for long term mind-set change around walking vs driving. However, if you don't have children, you may not wish to be the random adult joining in the morning parade . So finding a way that you would like add a pedestrian leg to your errands in town, then looking at how to make that feasible and more pleasant might be a good place to target first.

For example: there is a shopping plaza that you visit regularly, and another business within walking distance that you would like to park and visit on foot, but the cross walks are not marked or the sidewalks are incomplete. You can then approach city hall with a very specific and targeted issue in mind, which allows you to get feedback on their culture and the challenges to this improvement as well as any action steps you may be able to take.  OR if you're the organizing type, create a meet-up group that does a weekly errand walk together for camaraderie, visibility, and as a talking point in the community.

Strong Towns ,as mentioned, is a good resource for this topic.

This is a tough one though. I live in likely the most walkable town in the US - a person can meet all their basic needs from birth to death within walking distance here, but I have a hard time imagining this lifestyle being replicated elsewhere. The mindset and infrastructure shifts would have to be so vast, and even on forums like this one, where the ideas of sustainability are so important, the emphasis is on rural larger acreage spaces. Ultra urban permies are scarce on the ground and the acreage homestead is the dream, from what I see. But I think it is important to realize that a balance between dense "urban" villages and wide open spaces is crucial. I just don't know if we have the will as a culture to retrain ourselves for that kind of lifestyle.

Historically, dense villages were the norm, for security and for shared resources (water sources, thermal mass of dwellings, ovens etc) and convenience. People typically lived very densely and went "out" to where things were grown and animals were housed and raised. These communities were built and operated on human (or animal powered) scale and I think should be more the model for sustainable projects rather than scattered homesteads. Can that happen? Maybe, and I hope so, but that is a really a monumental shift.

So I would say, yes, it's worth it for you to engage because I think a mindset shift will have to be on an individual level, but try not to be discouraged by the glacial speed on any change.

 
Kena Landry
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Street features that visually narrow the streets often help slow down traffic. Our borough started adding curb extensions that narrow down the street when there is a crossing, and make it very visible when a pedestrian intends to cross.

Another approach they took is to crowd-source the analysis of problem spots: all citizens were invited to point on a map the places they felt were dangerous, and it quickly became apparent where efforts needed to be put.

But all that requires community desire to make a place safer for pedestrians and political support.

And it can be a platform for anyone on the political spectrum: I often say 'you don't have to be a tree-hugging leftie to hope that your kids will not get killed on their way to school.' (A school crossing guard died on our street twelve years ago. Her last words were "are the kids ok?". It took her death to lead to change.)
 
James Alun
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Kena Landry wrote:Street features that visually narrow the streets often help slow down traffic.



Careful, you're getting dangerously close to advocating revolutionary things like continuous sidewalks!


Kena Landry wrote:
A school crossing guard died on our street twelve years ago. Her last words were "are the kids ok?". It took her death to lead to change.



Unfortunately, sometimes, yes it does require that sort of extreme event to provoke change. Stop De Kindermoord was the Dutch campaign in the 70's that led to the cycling culture in the Netherlands. Stop De Kindermoord (my dutch isn't good enough to read that).
 
Anita Martin
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Location: Southern Germany
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Bethany, I totally understand your reluctance to get involved as a relative "newcomer". And if you are a bit of an introvert like me, it can be even harder.
But I have seen examples where it took the courage and momentum of such an "outsider" to trigger a change.

Good examples have been mentioned. E.g. schools: Here in Germany all elementary school kids have to pass a "bike rider's licence" which is quite an event with Police officials and getting a certificate and all and the kids are really proud once they get it so that they can officially go to school by bike. That is in 3rd grade.
Before that, most kids either walk or go on scooters which are very popular for younger children (only those kids living in parts that are located farther away from school are elictible for busses).
Parent taxis are a problem in our community as well but the new parents are instructed to let the kids walk (helps them get independent and unwind before school) and they are usually frowned upon.

I cannot recommend the mentioned channels enough (Not just bikes and Strongtowns). There are also impressive photos on the Internet of Dutch towns in the 1970s (car-centric) versus today. Change might be hard, but is not impossible! On the US-to-Dutch scale we Germans are relatively close to the Netherlands (which is gold-standard) but there is much to be done still.

I am very happy that I live in a small town that is totally walkable (for almost 20 years I did not own a car) and that the citizens have a say in the planning of crossings, street signs etc.
Right now there is a petition for a referendum to redesign and modernize the traffic infrastructure to guarantee safety for all participants, from pedestrians to car drivers, and it is on its way to become a real referendum, as far as I am informed. It takes active promoters, social media and press coverage and so on but it is such a crucial topic that I want to be on board.
 
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