Walk Appeal

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three women walking past a sidewalk cafe in Parma, Italy

   Walk Appeal promises to be a major new tool for understanding and building walkable places, and it explains several things that were heretofore either contradictory or mysterious. It begins with the assertion that the quarter-mile radius (or 5-minute walk,) which has been held up for a century as the distance Americans will walk before driving, is actually a myth.

   Both images below are at the same scale, and the yellow dashed line is a quarter-mile radius. On the left is a power center. As we all know, if you're at Best Buy and need to pick something up at Old Navy, there's no way you're walking from one store to another. Instead, you get in your car and drive as close as possible to the Old Navy front door. You'll even wait for a parking space to open up instead of driving to an open space just a few spaces away… not because you're lazy, but because it's such a terrible walking experience.

   The image on the right is Rome. The circles are centered on the Piazza del Popolo (North is to the left) and the Green radius goes through the Vittorio Emanuele on the right. People regularly walk that far and then keep on walking without ever thinking of driving.

satellite photo of American power center on left and Rome on right, showing quarter-mile radii and the distance that people will actually walk in each environment

W6 - Great Street - 2 Miles

streetscape in London with brick buildings trimmed in stone on either side of the street and a church with a weathered copper steeple at the end

   Like Rome, the world's great cities have streets that are so good that you'll happily walk for miles. For convenience, I've set a two-mile radius for the London Standard, which was so named because I presented it for the first time in London. But it could just as easily have been the Paris Standard, the Florence Standard, or… you get the idea. Europeans are reputed to walk much further than Americans, and for this reason: their streets have much better Walk Appeal. Put a Parisian accustomed to walking five miles or more per day on a suburban American cul-de-sac, and they wouldn't walk much, either!

W5 - Main Street - 3/4 Mile

Main Street office buildings at the Village of Providence, Huntsville, Alabama

   People will walk about 3/4 of a mile on a good American Main Street. Or to be more precise, this is Transect Zone T5. Good T5 streets pull buildings right up to the sidewalk, and most of the buildings are fairly narrow because real estate is usually expensive in T5. Narrow storefronts change the walkers' view frequently, which is more entertaining than long blank walls or long stretches of the same building. New Urbanists from Australia have for years been advocating for a "elongated pedestrian shed" along Main Streets or High Streets. Walk Appeal shows precisely why they'e been right all this time.

W4 - Neighborhood Street - 1/4 Mile

two women visiting, one on her porch and the other leaning against a frontage fence on a street at the Waters, Pike Road, Alabama

   A good street in a traditional neighborhood is where the 1/4-mile walking radius is actually accurate. The buildings aren't right up on the sidewalk like they are in T5, so it takes a few more seconds of walking for your view to change substantially. Fences, Hedges, and frontage walls all increase Walk Appeal in T4 because they're right beside the sidewalk, where the view changes fastest. They also make people feel more comfortable sitting on the porches, so they're more likely to get acquainted with people walking by, as we discussed here.

W3 - Sub-Urban Street - 1/10 Mile

Amityville Horror house in Amityville, New York after attic windows were changed from quarter-circles to standard rectangular windows

   Suburban streets (T3) allow houses to pull further away from the sidewalk, so your view changes slower. This is compounded by the fact that the lots are larger, so it takes longer to get from one house to the next. Hedges and especially fences are less frequent in T3 (I had to hunt awhile for this suburban image, with both fence and hedge,) and frontage walls are almost nonexistent. The walking distance, therefore, drops to 1/10 of a mile in T3. 

   Suburban streets have their proper place in traditional neighborhoods, but the problem is that we've been building entire subdivisions full of it, with little else. At an average walk of 1/10 mile, two blocks of T3 is more than enough to completely eat up a walk. So T3 is fine… in small doses, and near the edges of a neighborhood. But build too much, and people simply won't walk there.

W2 - Subdivision Street - 250 Feet

streetscape in Levittown, New York

   It's possible, as noted above, to build entire subdivisions to the T3 standard, but most of them aren't even that good. Instead, typical subdivisions have for decades sited houses even further from the street, with no fences or hedges at all. Some don't even have sidewalks, a problem compounded by the wider and therefore faster streets. In these places, people are doing well to walk just 250 feet. In other words, you're likely to walk only far enough to see four or five neighbors on either side of you. Everyone else in the place isn't really your neighbor because you don't even know them. Instead of calling them neighbors, we should instead say "they're my subdivision cohabitators."

W1 - Parking Lot - 100 Feet

W1 - Parking Lot - 100 Feet

power center parking lot in Huntsville, Alabama

   We saw earlier how people won't walk across a sea of parking to get to another store because the walking experience is simply too dreadful. This is exacerbated by the fact that a sea of parking is a heat island, capturing and storing the sun's heat in all that dark asphalt, raising the temperature of the air above it by dozens of degrees in summertime. A sea of parking is also a huge stormwater runoff problem, and is most often solved by building really ugly stormwater retention pits nearby. If you don't know what they are, a retention pit is a depression several feed deep in the ground, usually surrounded by an ugly chain-link fence, where all the styrofoam cups, packing peanuts, and plastic wrapping collects after a rain.

W0 - Unwalkable

University Drive streetscape in Huntsville, Alabama

   The worst sidewalk you could possibly choose to walk on is one with an arterial thoroughfare on one side and a parking lot on the other. I use a Walk Appeal distance of 25 feet, but in reality, you're unlikely to ever walk in a place like this unless your car breaks down. Not only does it terminally bore you and leave you constantly awash in a sea of car exhaust fumes and sweating uncontrollably from the heat in summer, but it also is an incredibly dangerous place to walk. So people don't.

people walking at nightfall across an intersection in Rome, Italy

   So those are the basic settings of Walk Appeal… but that's only the beginning. In the next few days, we'll look at some things we can measure that determine which Walk Appeal setting a particular streetscape achieves. We'll also talk about things that can't be measured… or at least that I haven't figured out how to measure yet. After that, we'll look at how Walk Appeal can actually predict the viability of walkable neighborhood businesses… and the amazing differences that a few Walk Appeal streetscape repairs can make in order to cast a broader net for walking customers. Walk Appeal just might end up being one of the best economic development tools for walkable places… keep reading and see what you think.

   ~Steve Mouzon

   Other Sprawl Recovery posts on the Original Green Blog:

   Sprawl Repair - A 12-Step Program

   Walk Appeal (this post)

      Walk Appeal Measurables

      Walk Appeal Immeasurables

      Walk Appeal Impact

   The Sky Method

   The Transect

      Fried-Egg Cities?

   I've also started a Walk Appeal BlogOff that lists everyone's posts on Walk Appeal.

   * Lloyd AlterKaid Benfield, and others have suggested dropping the Transect nomenclature I used originally because the millions of people who don't know the Transect won't know what we're talking about. I agree, and have modified this post accordingly, as you can see.


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Legacy Comments

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

This is the first of several posts that will explain an idea called Walk Appeal that I've been working on for several years, especially recently. I think it's going to end up being a great tool, and it explains all sorts of things, like why the Europeans walk so much more than most Americans. Please have a look, and let me know what you think!

Jul 25, 2012 7:30am

Kaid Benfield · Senior Counsel for Environmental Strategies at PlaceMakers

I like this a lot. For the audiences I deal with, I might take the Transect references out to make it more accessible, but I'll definitely be thinking how to use it. Nice work.

Jul 25, 2012 8:51am

Rachel Peterson · Professional Leadership Coach, Mentor and Consultant at Be Seen Leadership

Steve, this is VERY cool... what comes next?

Jul 25, 2012 8:52am

Kevin Klinkenberg · Executive Director at Savannah Development and Renewal Authority

Steve - this is a phenomenon I've also noticed in my time living here in Savannah. The 5 minute walk radius is meaningless in a place such as this, which has a series of connected neighborhoods that are beautiful and interesting to walk through. I routinely walk 20-30 minutes for daily activities w/o even thinking about the length of the walk, which is far different than my previous city where I wouldn't walk more than 10. There's a lot to why this is, which you'll no doubt write about next. Only critique - those transect and categorical differences you cite make sense for the majority of American cities that are divided up into distinct zones, but they don't have as much meaning for older cities that are more mixed-up, and for where the character changes block by block. That, incidentally, should be the goal. Thanks - KK.

Jul 25, 2012 9:20am

Steven Semes · Professor, School of Architecture at University of Notre Dame

Something you might want to add as a contributor to "Walk Appeal" is architecture. In T5, varied and interesting detail that rewards a close view is another reason people will walk past lots of buildings on their way to someplace eles. Similarly, if the houses in T3 are interesting enough, lots of people might walk farther than you indicated. (Granted, I'm strange, but I love to walk around my T3 neighborhood in South Bend because there are lots of nice houses of varying styles, sizes, ages, etc.) One of the failures of modernist urbanism (and, I would say a weakness in a lot of New Urbanism) is the absence of visual interest at the architectural scale, by which I mean the things that would attract the eye of a pedestrian as opposed to a motorist. Buildings need things at the scale of a person or smaller to invite and reward close inspection. I would say that similar considerations apply to bicycle riders, though the distances will be greater. Great work, Steve!

Jul 25, 2012 12:30pm

Eric Celeste · City Columnist / Editor of Learning Curve at D Magazine

A great post on the concept of "Walk Appeal." (H/T @WalkableDFW).

Jul 25, 2012 12:45pm

Laurence Qamar · Principal (school) at Laurence Qamar, Architecture & Town Planning

I recall Rick Chellman using a simple principle of walkability: people walk more in places that are safe, convenient, and interesting. You have replaced the term "interest" with "appeal". More compact, rich urban places are more interesting and appealing, and thus walkable and valuable. 
We could also call it the Worth Flying to Factor. Some of us will fly half way around the world to Rome or Paris or London or Istanbul on vacation just to walk and leave our cars at home. No one is flying to the Mall of America...at least I hope not.

Jul 25, 2012 1:00pm

Laurence Qamar · Principal (school) at Laurence Qamar, Architecture & Town Planning

Steve, Another important part of this is the 'border vacuum' phenomenon in which a seamless walkable neighborhood or district falls off into an abyss of a freeway, or parking lot, or other noxious suburban element.  
Also, what do you think of T1 as a walking environment? Untouched nature can often be a draw to walk for miles.

Jul 25, 2012 1:06pm

Hazel Borys · Managing Principal at PlaceMakers

Great piece, Steve! And the power comes when my T3 house is both 1/4 mile from great T4 and 3/4 mile from great T5. Better yet, make it 2 or 3 of each, and I'm really set -- which is why I love Winnipeg!

Jul 26, 2012 3:58pm

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

The next Walk Appeal post is now up. It talks about the measurable characteristics of Walk Appeal. Please have a look... what do you think?

Jul 27, 2012 2:22pm

Lisa Welch · Planner at City of Syracuse Office of Zoning Administration

Hi Steve, as I continue to explore and contemplate the notion of walkability, I find that the concepts of context, history, and sacred as well as repetition, theme, variability, color, material, detail, authenticity are very important fundamental building blocks, in addition to enclosure, interest, destinations, vistas, etc. Will you explore these concepts in your summaries? Thanks!

Jul 30, 2012 10:22am

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

I've just posted the third Walk Appeal post. This one addresses things that can't be measured (or at least I haven't figured out how to measure them) but that are nonetheless very important. Steven Semes, the Lovable Things Along the Way principle addresses architecture, as we discussed. http://www.originalgreen.org/.../walk-appeal...

Jul 30, 2012 1:57pm

Honeybee Meadow · Longwood Gardens

quite interesting! thanks for sharing & hoping to further comment after getting to read more... <3

Aug 2, 2012 11:36am


This is wonderful and explains so much. Like why I like New York better than Chicago. Walkability.

Aug 3, 2012 9:16pm

John Michlig

Tomorrow morning I will be "guest" at an intimate meeting consisting of Meijer's department store's lawyer and their local hired lobbyist as they explain to me (member of the local plan commission) why I should support their oceanic parking lot and 191,352 square foot big box proposal. I am targeted as the sole "no" vote that they have identified, I guess.
My city's plan commission is only an advisory body, and the common council will surely ignore a "no" vote (you dare not challenge anything that looks like "economic development"). 
"Walk appeal"? We're all about parking spaces out here, sadly.

Aug 6, 2012 12:35pm

Thomas Donaghey · Works at First Church and Parish Unitarian Universalist

A brief note from a first-time visitor: I'm not sure your parking-backed standard is really a worst-case scenario. At least in the photograph, which has a sidewalk that offers the walker continuous separation from both the fast roadway and the parking lot. The worst-case walking scenario, to my mind, puts pedestrians on the shoulder of a fast local road. If the fast local road happens to have a lot of loose gravel and other detritus on its shoulder, or arbitrarily narrow separation between road edge and active travel lanes, or frequent driveways allowing cars to enter and exit the parking lots at speeds high enough to seem dangerous to the drivers themselves, then pedestrians unlucky enough to be walking along the road can really fear for their lives.

Aug 7, 2012 12:43pm

Garlynn Woodsong · Partner at Woodsong Property Renovation Partners, LLC

I would say the T5 standard could be 1 mile, not just 3/4 mile. I used to walk a mile each direction down a T5 strip to get to the train station for my daily commute. No sweat, and I was definitely not alone in making that walk.
Question: Does the T6 standard vary from the London Standard? I would propose that T6 also should be at least a mile, if not the full 2 miles... even if most of London might actually be characterized as T5 due to lower densities than what we might consider to be T6...

Aug 9, 2012 7:09pm

Harry Symonds

Very interesting observations. I lived in Silicon Valley for years and rarely walked any of it. There is nothing appealing about "boxes of ticky-tacky", connected by large shopping malls. If you wanted to walk somewhere, you had to drive 20 miles to get there. The only neighborhoods worth walking were the older more affluent ones like Palo Alto near Stanford that had tree lined sidewalks and classic Craftsman style homes typically built in the late 40s.

Nov 28, 2012 11:10am

Nicolas Derome

Although I agree that different environments lead to different average walking distances, I don't think the differences are that big.
In my parents' suburban neighbourhood in the Toronto area, I don't think I've ever seen someone drive for a distance of less than 500 ft. My parents and their friends and neighbours would virtually always walk for distances under 1/4 mile, about the distance to a nice public garden by Lake Ontario, or a neighbourhood park. The neighbourhood pool was about 1/2 mile from my parents house, and they usually didn't drive to it, although I personally biked to it most of the time, since it was getting to be a bit boring to walk that distance, especially since I'd walked that same route over a thousand times to walk to school.
The neighbourhood dates to about 1960, is low density with large setbacks and often no sidewalks on side streets. However, the streets are often narrow, and drivers are friendly, so the side streets are safe. A lot of the original tract houses have also been torn down for custom homes, so the housing stock is not as repetitive, and the landscaping is more interesting than in your Levittown picture, so it's probably more like the T3 picture.
Another thing worth noting: people will walk further if they're not alone and the environment is just boring, and doesn't have dangerous roaring traffic or scorching parking lots. My parents and I would usually walk the dog to the dog park, about 1 mile away. They would also often walk together to the suburb's main street downtown, about 1.5 miles away, but I'm not sure if they've ever walked there alone.
Typical streets around my parents neighbourhood.
Minor collector street: http://goo.gl/maps/qHWYG.
Narrow residential street: http://goo.gl/maps/cmtTQ.
I would say that the longest distances the average person is still likely to walk are based on my experiences and people I know.
200ft for suburban arterial with parking lots.
300ft for power centres... this is still very little, only about halfway across the typical power centre parking lot in my area.
1/6 mile for suburban tract neighbourhood.
1/4 mile for T3.
1/3 mile for T4.
2/3 mile for main streets.
1 mile for really nice streets, although much more if they're a novelty (like if you're a tourist).
This would be the worst case scenario imo:
On a related note, it's surprising how many pedestrians there are along the parking lot lined arterials of much of Toronto, even if many of them are poor people or walking to the bus stop.
Also, the alternative to walking is different in a place like Rome. If people want to go a distance of say 2 miles, I suspect they still wouldn't drive, but rather they would take transit, or maybe bike.

Dec 12, 2012 10:37pm

Ted Morris Knowlton · Deputy Director at Wasatch Front Regional Council

it isn't clear. is there a formula? ... something that helps someone do a calculus and also argue for better design.

Dec 16, 2015 2:59pm

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Ted, I'm working on that. I have bits and pieces of the formula, but haven't put it all together yet. Hoping to have that before the book is published.

Mar 20, 2016 7:37am


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