Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What makes a community walkable?

We have a 12 step checklist for defining, achieving, or strengthening a walkable community. Walkable Communities have (in no particular order):

  1. Intact town centers. This center includes a quiet, pleasant main street with a hearty, healthy set of stores. These stores are open for business a minimum of 8 hours a day. The stores include things like hairdressers, hardware, druggist, small grocery/deli, good restaurants, clothing, variety store, ice cream shop, stores that attract children, many youth and senior services, places to conduct civic and personal business, library, all within a 1/4 mile walk (5 minutes) of the absolute center. If this is a county seat, the county buildings are downtown. If this is an incorporated town the town hall is in the town center. The library is open for business at least 10 hours a day 6-7 days a week. A post office is located downtown.

  2. Residential densities, mixed income, mixed use. Near the town center, and in a large town at appropriate transit locations, there will be true neighborhoods. Higher densities are near the town center and in appropriate concentrations further out. Housing includes mixed income and mixed use. A truly walkable community does not force people to drive to where they work. Aspen, for example, is a great place to shop and play...but fails to provide housing for anyone who works there.

    Granny flats, design studios, and other affordable housing are part of the mix in even the wealthiest neighborhoods.

  3. Public space. There are many places for people to assemble, play, and associate with others within their neighborhood. The best neighborhoods have welcoming public space within 1/8th mile (700 feet) of all homes. These spaces are easily accessed by all people.

  4. Universal design. The community has a healthy respect for people of all abilities, and has appropriate ramps, medians, refuges, crossings of driveways, sidewalks on all streets where needed, benches, shade, and other basic amenities to make walking feasible and enjoyable for everyone.

  5. Key streets are speed controlled. Traffic moves on main streets and in neighborhoods at safe, pleasant, courteous speeds. Most streets are designed to keep speeds low. Many of these streets are tree lined, have on-street parking, and use other affordable methods to keep traffic speeds under control. There is an absence of one-way couplets designed to flush the downtown of its traffic in a rush or flight to the suburbs. In most parts of the nation the streets are also green, or have other pleasant landscaping schemes in dry climates.

  6. Streets & trails are well linked. The town has a good block form, often in a grid or other highly connected pattern. Although hilly terrain calls for slightly different patterns, the linkages are still frequent. Some of the newer neighborhoods that were built to cul-de-sac or other fractured patterns are now being repaired for walking by putting in trail connectors in many places. These links are well designed so that there are many eyes on these places. Code for new streets no longer permits long streets that are disconnected.

  7. Design is properly scaled to 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2 mile radius segments. From most homes it is possible to get to most services in 1/4 mile (actual walked distance). Neighborhood elementary schools are within a 1/4 mile walking radius of most homes, while high schools are accessible to most children (1 mile radius). Most important features (parks) are within 1/8 mile, and a good, well designed place to wait for a high frequency (10-20 minutes) bus is within 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Note that most of these details can be seen on a detailed local map.

  8. The town is designed for people. Look for clues that decisions are being made for people first, cars second. Does the town have a lot of open parking lots downtown? Are many streets plagued with multiple commercial driveways, limited on-street parking, fast turning radii on corners? Towns designed for people have many investments being made in plazas, parks, and walkways. Investments in intersections on the far reaches of town are rare. Towns designed for people are tearing down old, non-historic dwellings and shopping plazas and converting them to compact, mixed use, mixed income properties. Ask to review the past year of building permits by category. Much is told about what percentage of construction that is infill and independent small builder stock versus big builder single price-range housing or retail stock.

  9. The town is thinking small. The most walkable towns are boldly stepping forward requiring maximum parking allowed, versus minimum required.  Groceries, and other important stores, are not permitted to build above a reasonable square footage, must place the foot print of the structure to the street, etc. Palo Alto, for instance, caps their groceries at 20,000 square feet. This assures that groceries, drug stores, and other important items are competitive at a size that is neighborhood friendly. Neighborhood schools are community centers. Older buildings are rebuilt in place, or converted to modern needs. Most parking is on-street.

  10. In walkable communities there are many people walking. This sounds like a silly statement at first...but think again. Often there are places that look walkable, but no one walks. Why?  There is always a reason. Is it crime? Is there is no place to walk to, even though the streets and walkways are pleasant? Are the downtown stores not open convenient hours? You should be able to see a great diversity of those walking and bicycling. Some will be very young, some very old. People with disabilities will be common. Another clue, where people walk in great abundance virtually all motorists are courteous to pedestrians...hard to believe, but true!

  11. The town and the neighborhoods have a vision. Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas are just three examples where neighborhood master plans have been developed. Honolulu sets aside about $1M of funds per year to be spent by each neighborhood. Visionary master plans provide direction, build ownership of citizens, engage diverse people, and create opportunities for implementation.  A well thought out master plan gets past sticky issues, and deals with the most basic, fundamental, necessary decisions and commitments. There are budgets set aside for neighborhoods, for sidewalks, trails, links, and parks. The community no longer talks about where they will get the money, but how they will change their priorities.

  12. Decision-makers are visionary, communicative, and forward-thinking. The town has a strong majority of leaders who "get it."  Leaders know that they are not there to do all the work...but to listen and respond to the most engaged, involved, and broad minded citizens. They are rarely swayed by the anti-group, they seek the opinions and involvement of big brush citizens and retailers. They are purposefully changing and building policies, practices, codes, and decisions to make their towns pleasant places for people...reinvesting in the town center, disinvesting in sprawl.  These people know the difference between a green field, brown field, and gray field. They know what Active Living by Design is all about. The regional government understands and supports the building of a town center, and is not attempting to take funds from the people at the center to induce or support sprawl. Often there is a charismatic leader on the town board, chamber of commerce, or planning board, along with an architectural review team, a historic preservation effort, and overall good public process. Check out the website of the town...if they focus on their golf courses, tax breaks, great medical services, scenic majestic mountains, or proximity to the sea but fail to emphasize their neighborhood schools, world class library, lively downtown, or citizen participation...they are lost, bewitched, and bewildered in their own lust for Walt Disney's Pleasure Island.

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Q: What are some examples of existing Walkable Communities?

The following is a partial (and evolving) list of North American walkable communities:

Walkable Communities by Region:

Canada & Northeastern States:
Canada - Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax
New Hampshire - Keene, Littleton, Portsmouth, Meredith and Exeter
Maine - Portland, Kennebunkport
Vermont - Burlington, Brattleboro, Montpelier
Massachusetts - Boston, Cambridge, Salem
New York - New York City, Albany, Saratoga Springs, East Aurora, Huntington, Ithaca, Hamburg, Port Jefferson
New Jersey - Princeton
Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, State College
Maryland - Annapolis, Kentlands, Bethesda
Virginia - Alexandria, Charlottesville
Washington, DC

Southern States:
North Carolina - Asheville, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Hendersonville
South Carolina - Charleston
Georgia - Savannah
Florida - St Augustine, Winter Park, South Beach, West Palm Beach, South Beach, South Miami, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Naples, Celebration, Seaside, Pensacola, Key West
Tennessee - Franklin
Alabama - Fairhope
Louisiana - New Orleans

Midwestern States:
Ohio - Westerville
Michigan - Brighton, Holland, Milford, Birmingham, Traverse City, Kalamazoo, East Lansing, Mackinac Island, Marquette Illinois - Chicago, Naperville
Minnesota - Minneapolis, St Paul
Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Madison, Cedarburg

Southwestern States:
Texas - Austin, San Antonio
New Mexico - Santa Fe
Arizona - Flagstaff

Rocky Mountain States:
Colorado - Golden, Ft. Collins, Crested Butte, Boulder
Wyoming - Jackson
Montana - Missoula, Big Fork, Livingston, Bozeman

West Coast States:
Washington - Seattle, Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Olympia, Bellingham, Gig Harbor, Bainbridge Island, Port Townsend, Everett, University Place, Langley, Issaquah, Ellensburg
Oregon - Portland, Ashland, Corvallis, Eugene
California - San Diego, Coronado, La Jolla, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Brea, Whittier, Claremont, Valencia, Carpenteria, Santa Barbara, Arcata, Chico, Mountain View, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, San Luis Obispo, Los Gatos, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, Davis, Sonoma, Cotati, Petaluma, Healdsburg
Hawaii - Honolulu
Alaska - Juneau

Finally, asked to name the two towns in America most deserving of praise for Herculean tasks they are now performing to overcome the ills of sprawl…Sacramento, California and Charlotte, North Carolina deserve special recognition and observation.

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Q: What is a walking audit?

A walking audit is a review of walking conditions along specified streets conducted with a diverse group of community members, which can include: city planners, city council members, city chamber of commerce members, local residents, emergency responders, police, developers, business owners, and other interested parties.  Audits can last from one hour to an entire day and can involve walking, biking, and bus travel.  Key areas of interest and concern are visited and analyzed by Dan and the rest of the group. Dan often documents conditions with photographs and video tape to review with the group during a presentation following the walking audit. The group is encouraged to look at conditions (both good and bad) in a new way and to turn these findings into solutions.

Areas are analyzed for both their positive and negative conditions. Recommendations are made on:

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Q: What happens on a walking audit?

Lots of things! This PDF illustrates the different elements that make up a Walking Audit.

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