News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 21, 2012

YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Walkable communities have numerous advantages

Jane Santucci
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — The community I live in is more walkable thanks to a trail extension by Dobbs Park in Terre Haute. While I will be connected to more neighborhoods, I am still not easily connected to stores and work. Walmart and other commercial retailers are roughly a mile from where I live, but walking or riding my bike there is not a safe option. Indiana 46 does have a wide-enough shoulder, but it is not designed for walkers, runners or even bicyclists, therefore I am forced to drive.

I am not advocating for more sidewalks; I am advocating for people to be considered when roads are built, paved and re-designed. Oftentimes when we think about walkability the conversation gets limited to sidewalks and recreation. But what really needs to be discussed is the design of streets, the way traffic operates and the way buildings and parking lots are created. The entire built environment impacts whether the people in a community can use walking, biking and other forms of active transportation.

A walkable community is one in which someone who doesn’t have access to a motor vehicle or chooses not to use one can still travel to their daily activities in a safe and comfortable way using an active form of transportation. If you walk by your neighbor’s house, you are going to have more opportunity to engage in the environment around you at a slower pace than you would being isolated in your car with the windows rolled up.

“You might be forced to acknowledge things about your environment that you don’t have to in a car. There may be some unpleasant things; you may see litter on the street. You may notice something that needs to be addressed and if you are always driving by it 30 to 40 miles per hour, you may not catch that detail,” said local landscape architect Bill Kincius.

We don’t have the money…

Oftentimes when we talk about making our streets pedestrian-friendly, cost is the greatest factor. Kelly Morphy, the director for Community Outreach for the Walkable and Liveable Communities Institute, says building a complete street (including pedestrians into the equation) is more cost effective than building a conventional street. The construction costs usually only vary by five percent.

“There is a significant return on investment. For every one point (on a 100 point scale) in a neighborhood’s walk score there is an increase in property value between $800 to $3,000. Bringing walkability to a town can increase property values and can increase tax base,” Morphy said.

Kincius says proper signage can also make guests/tourists feel more welcome in our community.

“They may want to explore but they can’t figure out how to get there. I think travelers really appreciate proper signage. You are not only putting emphasis on them as a pedestrian, but you are putting emphasis on them as a visitor. You’re not just paving a road and saying ‘good luck, have at it,’ you’re putting up signage to say ‘we know you’re here, we appreciate it, we want you to feel welcome.’ Here is where this and that is. It is kind of like being a good host. From a business standpoint, that is why walkability really matters,” Kincius said.

Striping the streets

Sometimes changes can come by simply changing the way a street is painted or striped. Overly wide streets tend to increase vehicle speeds. The faster cars are going, the less safe a street is for a pedestrian or a bicyclist. In some cities, a walkable area may not have sidewalks because the speeds are so low that residents don’t need sidewalks to move safely down the streets.

“One thing we recommend is to take a look at how much width is actually needed for vehicles and re-stripe the street to calm the traffic so that the streets are more supportive, more comfortable for those using other modes of transportation,” Morphy said.

Narrower streets also tend to make the streets safer for people in cars. Many traffic lanes are 14 feet wide, but may only need to be 10 to 11 depending on truck traffic frequency.

“We can re-stripe the streets to narrow the vehicle lanes, then re-allocate the space that is left over to create a buffer between cars that are moving and the people not in the cars,” Morphy said.

It is a simple concept, but the bottom line is this: If you build and maintain streets only for cars, you will get more cars. If you build and maintain streets for pedestrians and those using other modes of transportation, then you get people outside walking and exercising.

To learn more about walkable communities, Dan Burden, the executive director and co-founder for the Walkable and Liveable Communities Institute, will be the keynote speaker at the Our Green Valley Conference on Nov. 9 on the campus of Indiana State University. For more information visit ourgreenvalley.org.

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries board of directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.