Creating ‘Walk Appeal’ Needs to be Priority

Creating ‘Walk Appeal’ Needs to be Priority

Elissa Kyle is Vision Long Island’s Placemaking Director.

Since World War II, we have been building our roads to move cars as quickly as possible first, with all other users and uses of roads a distant second. As a result, many or our roads promote speeding and marginalize those on foot or on a bicycle leading to very dangerous conditions.

Many of these roads pass right through our downtown areas and past parks, schools and other community uses. Last year, at our Complete Streets Summit, we focused on five roads that saw a high number of fatalities in areas where people should feel safe walking or biking. This year we are widening our scope to look at roads across the island that are not as safe as they should be given where they are located and what is adjacent to them.

Crash data shows that there are over 30 sections of roads that pass through our existing downtowns, near train stations, or through commercial districts in communities trying to revitalize, that have seen concentrations of motor vehicle crashes with both people on foot and on bicycles. These are areas where people should be walking and bicycling and roads should be safe for them to do so.

Since 2010 Vision Long Island and other local communities and advocates have been working to promote the concept of Complete Streets across Long Island and New York State. Thirteen municipalities have adopted Complete Streets policies that require them to consider all users of a roadway when they are rebuilding it, whether they are in a car, a bus, on foot or on a bicycle. This has led to more sidewalks, more cross walks and even some bike lanes being built in certain locations. However it’s time we raise the bar on the quality of our streets and roads. In places where we want to encourage people to walk, bike or take transit, it’s not enough to just provide adequate accommodations, we need to provide an inviting environment that people enjoy being in.

“Walk Appeal” is a concept coined several years ago that seeks to measure how enjoyable an environment is to walk in, in order to create more places where people would choose to walk rather than drive. While many may say that Long Islanders love their cars and don’t like to walk anywhere, it’s not because there is something in our genes or culture, it’s because we don’t have many places where anybody would like to walk.

Some aspects of a place’s walk appeal may be difficult to quantify, such as lovable things along the way, a sense of security, or the magic of a place. Others are more tangible such as street enclosure, changes in view and terminated vistas, or the transparency of facades facing the sidewalk. These qualities that can be measured and planned for make a space comfortable, interesting, and enjoyable for those walking.

There are many tangible as well as intangible benefits to creating spacing with a high level of walk appeal. Businesses in local downtowns can attract more patrons without having to provide additional parking, property values increase and transit systems can become more viable. In addition there are improvements to people’s physical and mental health as well as an increased sense of community in a place. All of these can lead to both a higher standard of living as well as a better quality of life.

In places where walking should be not only feasible but encouraged, we need to think about our streets and our public rights-of-way not just as thoroughfares to get you from place to place, but places in themselves. If we want to reap the economic, social, health, and environmental benefits of walkable places, they cannot be merely walk-able, but must have walk appeal.