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Walk Appeal

Do we want a meal that’s merely edible? Coffee that’s merely drinkable? Then why would we want a place that’s merely #walkable? Just like we love food and drink that’s delicious, people strongly prefer a place with strong #WalkAppeal.

Can you walk to buy fresh vegetables? How many minutes of walking takes you to your morning coffee? Are the streets along the way shaded in summer? Or can you walk to these places at all?

People walk slower if the #urbanism is interesting, and faster if it is boring or scary. Walking at window-shopping speed is the best sign of an interesting place. SimpleIndicatorComplexCondition

Find street performers and you’re likely in a place with high #WalkAppeal surrounded by good #urbanism. Has anyone ever in the past century seen a mime in a Walmart parking lot? A street artist in a subdivision? A musician in an office park? SimpleIndicatorComplexCondition

For most of the decades since 1945 #sprawl was easy to spot because it was the places with no sidewalks. Now, billions are spent on sidewalks that will never be used. The key to walking isn’t just the sidewalk, but what surrounds it both on the street side and the building side.

Those who live in the city don’t have the need for speed because they’re already there. Why should the suburbs get to impose their need for speed on the city? Especially since it makes the city a less #sustainable place and kills Walk Appeal? Make a living where you’re living!

Sidewalk cafes are so important to #WalkAppeal on a #MainStreet that cities should give a tax break to every business with a sidewalk cafe. Properly priced, it would be one of the best investments a city could make, and on several counts.

Boredom or pedestrians - take your pick. You can't have both on a street. Pedestrians don't like to be bored, and will stay home if your street isn't interesting. #WalkAppeal thrives on interesting streets.

Build #WalkAppeal in a neighborhood and greater prosperity is likely to follow because many good things happen in places people love to walk. Places with inherently low Walk Appeal like many production-builder subdivisions tend to have low upsides.

Walkable neighborhood businesses cannot thrive in places with low #WalkAppeal, condemning those places to #BigBoxStores, which are usually discarded by retailers once they're fully depreciated, leaving decrepit wastelands behind. Look around; every city has them.

Liner buildings have several strong benefits: They screen ugly things like parking lots, they have the best storefront-to-square footage ratio in retail and therefore build #WalkAppeal, they create space more inexpensively than any other means and can be portable like food carts.

Walk Appeal is the heartbeat that impels people to walk through a #LivingCity, and is the factor most responsible for the economic health, environmental health, and public health of the place. #SignsOfLife

Street trees are a #WalkAppeal superfood, seriously boosting its performance in a #LivingCity in a moderate to warm climate by cooling and shading the walk. #SignsOfLife Sidewalk cafes are another #WalkAppeal superfood, enticing us to get out and walk in a #LivingCity. #SignsOfLife

In a sea of parking, people wait for minutes for a parking space to open up when there are empty spaces a short distance away not because they’re lazy, but because the walking experience is so wretched.

No place with only a single mode of transportation is #sustainable unless that mode is walking. And high #WalkAppeal is necessary to support this condition.

Auto domination and #WalkAppeal are inversely proportional. Want more of one? Decrease the other. Most of the lives lost and bodies maimed have city streets, not country roads, as the setting. In any case, #StreetViolence and #AutoDomination go hand in hand. In places where everyone walks, nobody ever dies in a crash. It’s just “oh, excuse me!”

Food, drinks, and news usually come from vending machines in #sprawl. You can get the exact same things in good urbanism, but in a far more enticing & neighborly setting. One kills #WalkAppeal; the other enhances it.

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Walk Appeal Principles

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Frontage Engagement

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Look closely at front porches and see how many have signs of life. There are two reasons people don’t sit on porches: they’re too close to the sidewalk to be so low, or too low to be so close. Unsittable porches are just expensive decoration.

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Tactical Beginnings

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Block Scale

How long does it take you to walk around a block at an easy pace in a recovering neighborhood? If it's five minutes or less, look for a place to live. If it's four minutes or less, open your shop there. If it's three minutes or less, quick... open a sidewalk cafe! The time it takes to walk around a block is a simple indicator of a complex condition: smaller block sizes are harbingers of strong future Walk Appeal for one simple reason: the more often you reach another intersection, the more frequently you have a choice of which way to go, which makes your walk far more interesting than having to walk a long distance for a choice.
The key point here is that identifying strong Walk Appeal is great, but

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Indianapolis, but not the 500. Coulda been a great street, but chose to be a fast street. Every community has this choice.

Danger

No matter how beautiful the path where people walk, no matter how complete and cooling the canopy of street trees, and no matter how handsome the street furnishing and civic art, perceived danger trumps them all. Automobile traffic speed is the universal danger. In the seven Walk Appeal conditions just below, an increase of just 20% in vehicular speed drops the Walk Appeal of the thoroughfare to the next lower condition. A Great Street should have traffic at no more than 15 miles per hour, where the risk of serious injury or death from being hit by a car is close to zero. But if traffic speed increases just 20% to 18 miles per hour, the Walk Appeal of a Great Street drops to that of a W-5 Main Street. Following this all the way to the bottom, a thoroughfare indistinguishable from a Great Street in any physical characteristic that allowed vehicular speeds of 45 miles per hour or more would have the worst Walk Appeal rating of W-0, which is Unwalkable. No matter the beauty, people don't want to be right beside sudden death.
There's one important caveat: the speed that matters is in the travel lane closest to the walking path. A Parisian boulevard moved cars at lethal speeds in the middle travel lanes the last time I was there in 2016, but cars on the slip roads at the edge with parking on both sides moved not much faster than walking speed, so sidewalk cafes flourished with high-speed traffic only four lanes and one median away.
Substantial physical barriers between automobile travel lanes and sidewalks create comfort commensurate with the mass of the barrier. Mature street trees are great at this, but there's a catch: transportation engineers consider trees to be "fixed hazardous objects," so they do everything they can to ensure that any street tree planted will not grow large enough to imperil the driver. No matter the impact on anyone else. We experienced this firsthand in the Flamingo Park Neighborhood's struggle against the Florida DOT. The DOT conceded to a median, but allowed only one street tree per median right in the middle of the block and mandated highly-packed soil around the tree so it would never grow much thicker than your thumb. For this and many other auto-domination decisions in the Alton Road rebuild, carnage has ensued.
Fortunately, street trees are not the only effective barriers. On-street parking is now a highly unpopular option in places that have moved beyond auto domination, but in the great majority of the US which still suffers from auto domination, on-street parking is far better than surface parking lots for several reasons. Protected bike lanes are another effective barrier if they're truly protected by something that would deflect a car away from the cyclists.
Vehicle size has always been an issue, because there's no appeal to walking alongside a truck route. But heavy trucks are a small percentage of total motor vehicles on the road, so it's fairly easy to restrict them to certain routes, keeping them off Main Streets and residential streets. Recently, however, pickup trucks and SUVs have become larger than Sherman Tanks. And to compound the size problem, most new trucks and SUVs have a new front end design that's close to vertical. For decades, most vehicles had a wedge-shaped front end for aerodynamics and the accompanying fuel economy. If those vehicles hit a person, they would usually bounce up and over, therefore having a chance of surviving. But occasionally a deer would come through the windshield, injuring those inside. This new design changes the trajectory, mowing down any creature hit and crushing it under the wheels. If these vehicles drive in the country and the creatures hit are mostly deer and mountain lions, that's one thing. But if driven in the city, the victims are much more likely to be children and old folks whose heads aren't even visible above the hoods of the vehicles, hence the terms "killer grilles" and "kidmowers." Places with a preponderence of supersized vertical-front vehicles degrade Walk Appeal as much or more than speed, in large part because they can go everywhere, not limited to truck routes. Or should they be?
The last danger issue is crime. Places known to be crime-ridden reduce Walk Appeal to nearly zero for anyone except its residents, who are only marginally more likely to venture out on foot or pedal. Several of the tools for building Securable Places will help, but none of this is an ironclad solution to lawless places. For now, those walking should choose different routes.

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Walk Appeal Conditions

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W-6 Great Street

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W-5 Main Street

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W-4 Neighborhood Street

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W-3 Sub-Urban Street

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W-2 Subdivision Street

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W-1 Parking Lot

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The most poisonous condition to a #MainStreet is a parking lot just behind the sidewalk. People hate walking there, and businesses all along the street suffer from this blockage to free flow of people walking. It’s #WalkAppeal poison.

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W-0 Unwalkable

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Walk Appeal Tools

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Sidewalk Cafes

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People sitting outdoors are a great sign of good #urbanism on many counts including: 1. Of all things in town, we find people most interesting. 2. They attract more people so the place thrives. 3. People sit where it feels like an outdoor room. This is another simple indicator of a complex condition: if you find people sitting in a place, that place is probably doing several good things for them that they might not even be able to explain.

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Gifts to the Street

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Liner Buildings

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On-Street Parking

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Open Streets

Countless auto-dominated streets around the world have become Open Streets since the pandemic began. Some have reverted to auto-domination, but many hold firm & people are learning the value of streets filled with people on foot and pedal over streets filled with cars.
Open Streets don't even need to be open all the time. This is Royal Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Both Royal and Bourbon, just one street over, are closed to cars so they can be open to people on foot and pedal for substantial parts of the day. Other streets open for months on end as a pilot project until the city and its leaders decide whether to leave it open in perpetuity or return it to auto domination. It's important for the pilot project to be able to open with uncertainty, otherwise the answer is almost always "no."

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View Changes

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Street Enclosure

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Window of View

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Shelter

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Goal in the Middle Distance

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Turning the Corner

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Sidewalk Width

The ideal width of a sidewalk depends on its context, but if sidewalks aren't at least five feet wide, your town isn't serious about walkability, much less Walk Appeal. Two people can't walk comfortably side-by-side on a four-foot sidewalk, and two people passing each other have to turn sideways to pass without bumping each other. A five foot sidewalk is the minimum serious sidewalk, and six feet is better. In the post-Pandemic era (has that begun yet?) an eight-foot sidewalk is better still as people can maintain social distancing. In mixed-use areas, a ten foot sidewalk allows people to shop at modest retail displays, while fourteen feet is the minimum width on which to set up a sidewalk cafe, which can extend to twenty feet or more.

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