Posts about walkability

Pedestrians take the Fun Path

October 22nd, 2009

This video is incredible and does much to demonstrate the importance of an enjoyable path for pedestrians. Perhaps more abstract is the “fun” experienced by pedestrians on sidewalks full of people with opportunities for window shopping, but the theory is basically the same.

(Thanks to Jan at The Happy Homemaker for sending this my way)

An Actual Hazard

October 14th, 2009

Public Outrage vs. Actual Hazard

Cool graphic.  Take note of “Pedestrian Accidents.”

Read Jeff Speck’s OKC Walkability Report

June 29th, 2009

If you haven’t already, check out Jeff Speck’s recommendations for downtown Oklahoma City. This report will be at the center of much discussion over the next few years and I think it is important for everyone interested in downtown to become familiar with the concepts – whether you agree with his recommendations or not. I have uploaded it so that you can view it online (just click below) without having to download it, or if you prefer to download it, that option is available as well.

Click here to download the report in .pdf

Streetcars drive development.

June 23rd, 2009

More downtown housing creates more pedestrians, more demand for retail, and an altogether more vibrant downtown.  So what creates more housing?…a modern streetcar system for one.  In my opinion, this is the appropriate strategy for laying out the route of the (hopefully MAPS 3) downtown trolley system.  Existing proposals that attempt to be all things to all people – connecting every node of downtown with every surrounding center of employment – fail to consider the development generating power of streetcars.

From Speck’s Oklahoma City Walkability Analysis:

Oklahoma City is in the process of considering a downtown streetcar system, which is another way of describing a trolley on rails.  Many cities have built these systems, and some have been very successful while others have never caught on.  The key to creating a successful trolley system is to understand that these systems are principally useful not as a means of mobility but as a tool for increasing the value of real estate.  The story of Portland’s trolley in the Pearl District is the story of millions in public investment leading to billions in private investment, because the rail line was planned in conjunction with thousands of units of new housing, which was made desirable by its presence on a rail line.  The lesson learned there and elsewhere is that the path of a new streetcar must be carefully coordinated with planned housing if the transit investment is to pay off.

To add to what Speck said, consider this.  How great can the benefit of streetcars be in places that are already fully-developed for people traveling by car alone?  Now think of how many empty storefronts, underutilized buildings, and bare lots exists, in and around downtown, that might benefit more from the addition of streetcars.  Streetcars are not just for connecting active places, they are for creating active places.  Before the MAPS 3 streetcars system is implemented we need a plan that understands transit’s ability to catalyze new development and create density.

OKC Walkability Topic of Fast Company Article

March 25th, 2009

Looks like people are paying attention to Oklahoma City’s efforts to improve walkability…

From Alissa Walker’s Blog at Fast Company:

“New Yorkers today are upset over mass transit fares being hiked from $2 to $2.50, and nationwide, many light-rail and other mass-transit projects await stimulus funding. The best way to blow off some of that steam? Take a walk!

A city’s walkability is not only good for fostering healthy development in urban areas, but it can also affect its economic competitiveness, says design consultant Jeff Speck. Since walkability is one of the most important aspects that 20- and 30-year-olds look at when moving to a city, he says cities must make improvements to their walkability or they will be losing out on attracting tomorrow’s work force.

Take Oklahoma City, a city that has been declared not OK when it comes to pounding the pavement, says Speck, former director of design for the NEA. Oklahoma City scored dead last in walkability according to a study by Prevention magazine last year (Cambridge, Massachusetts, came out #1). So this year, the city decided to get serious about their bipedal citizens: They hired Speck to tell them how to make their streets more pedestrian-friendly in a city that was built–overbuilt, really–for cars.

In Oklahoma City, Speck looked at traffic patterns and saw a “shocking disconnect” between the size of the streets and how fast cars were moving. The streets had density and traffic volume comparable to a city the size of Chicago or Manhattan. He also was quick to point out the health benefits to a walkable city: cleaner air, lower health-care costs. “To be walkable, a street needs to be safe, comfortable, and interesting,” Speck told the city. “You guys lose it at safe.” Ouch!

For those who can’t hire Speck to walk your streets and suggest improvements, a few Web resources are at hand, er, foot. WalkScore can rate your neighborhood for its walkability and tell you what’s nearby so you don’t have to climb in the car. And America Walks is an advocacy group that fights for infrastructural improvements that benefit walkers and bikers. Now get going. ”

So maybe they aren’t paying positive attention, but at least we have now acknowledged the problem and we are headed in the right direction?  At least I think that is the direction we are headed…

Time Lapse of Pedestrian Movement

March 9th, 2009

Today I have been doing some research on different techniques used to record pedestrian movement in the city.  Often the use of time lapse video is employed and this is a nice example taken on one of Toronto’s “scrambler intersections”, which allow for diagonal crossings.

And by the way, Matthew Blackett at spacingtoronto who helped produce the video points out:

It should be noted that there was a looming rain storm when we shot this, thus the human traffic is a little light.

A little light, heh?  Maybe they should abandon all of this sidewalk nonsense and invest in a network of weather-proof pedestrian tunnels.  Toronto obviously could learn a thing or two about good urbanism from Oklahoma City…jk

Analyzing Pedestrian Movement in the Public Realm

February 24th, 2009

Pedestrian path movement can be analyzed using video reworked with computer animation software.

More often than not, cars follow the paths prescribed by traffic engineers but pedestrians are a different story.  Many pedestrians venture outside the lines, whether to save time, energy, or take a route for which a path is not provided.  In some cases, these improvised pedestrian routes can be identified by the dirt path that develops through repeated use – this usually a clear sign that there is a problem with the form and paths provided.  But in most cases, we fail to sufficiently understand pedestrian behavior and design in ways that exhibit this lack of understanding.

That said, there are a number of ways in which this gap in the analysis can be filled.  I previously mentioned the possibilities of new gps-enabled handheld phones, which would be suitable for a downtown scale route and origin-destination analysis.  Also, Jan Gehl has a done a lot of work studying pedestrian behavior and developed a process that utilizes teams manually recording a number of important behavior factors.  And here (above image) is one method of tracking pedestrian movement – from – that uses video reworked with computer animation software.

It is hard to study pedestrian behavior in cities without an ample supply of pedestrians.  But it is a historic lack of understanding and adequate attention that has created this dilemma.  The more attention we give to an analysis of pedestrians and the way they interact with the city, the more appropriate our design solutions will be, resulting in an increase in pedestrian users over time.

Right now there is very little (i.e. zero) analysis of this type taking place in Oklahoma City.  This is unfortunate but expected from a city that long ago decided to focus only on mobility as it relates to automobiles.  Hopefully, public works will begin to treat pedestrian issues like they matter, developing a process for analyzing circulation at least within active areas where pedestrian-friendliness is a stated priority (e.g. Downtown and Bricktown).  It might even be interesting to do “traffic counts” in the Underground to see how many pedestrians we are keeping off the streets.

But until that happens we can do some rudimentary analysis by identifying where pedestrian circulation problems are shown to exists – dirt paths.  So does anyone know of any dirt paths in Downtown or Bricktown?  I can think of a few, but am hoping you all can chime in with some examples I don’t know.

ULI Competition 2009: We’re in the top 4!

February 20th, 2009

Got some great news yesterday and wanted to share it with you.  We are one of four finalist teams that have made it through to round two of the 2009 ULI Hines Urban Design competition. Which means we will travel to Denver in April to compete for a shot at the $50,000 first prize.  Really excited and look forward to working some more on this project. Also, now that the results of round one have been announced, I can share with you everything we worked on.  And I am sure to say we, as it was definitely a team effort.


Sarah Snider, Master of City Planning / MIT
Eric Komppa, MBA / University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jesse Hunting, Master of City Planning / MIT
Duncan McIlvaine, M.Arch / MIT
Blair Humphreys, Master of City Planning / MIT


This is our complete design board.  The board measures 51″ x 22″ – or six 17″ x 11″ sheets.  In addition to this we were required to turn in two separate 17″ x 11″ sheets, one with financials and one “day in the life of” sheet conveying life in the year 2050 (click here to see it).  I have chopped up the board pictured above into separate images to fit on your screen below.  The proposal is for an approx. 80 acre site surrounding Denver’s Alameda light rail station.  The northern portion of the site is currently a fairly typical big box retail layout, while the southern portion has a range of tenants connected to the Denver Design District. The primary challenge was to redesign the site to take advantage of the light rail station without displacing any of the existing tenants.  The boards are meant to be self-explanatory (i.e. we weren’t present when the judges viewed them), so I haven’t provided any commentary but if you have questions, just let me know.  Thanks!

note: this post is image heavy so it may load a bit slow.

Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square

February 18th, 2009



Pioneer Courthouse Square is rated as one of the top public spaces in the country by both the Project for Public Spaces and the American Planning Association.


The Square is located just northeast of the heart of downtown Portland, in close proximity to much of Portland’s downtown retail.


The beautiful courthouse is just over 50,000 square feet in size. It was first completed circa 1875, and is listed as a National Register of Historic Places Landmark Structure. Its stately presence frames in the square, while in return, the open space contributes to the courthouse’s visual prominence.


A visitor’s information center is built right into the side of the square and surrounded by a large water feature.


Providing not only a great destination, but also the perfect place to stroll while passing through

Whether you are catching a concert, eating lunch, or just people watching; the space’s flexible design provides plenty of seating.

The layout provides an excellent space for community festivals, performances, and movie nights!

The Square is considered the nerve center of downtown Portland—with some 26,000 residents, workers, and tourists interacting with it daily. And holds as many as 191 events in a single year!

MAX Light Rail

Pioneer Courthouse Square’s success was in many ways buoyed by a partnership with the local transit authority. Planned concurrently with the MAX light rail system, the Square functions as a vibrant transit hub.


The Square sits on a site that was once occupied by the “glorious Portland Hotel”, but that building was torn-down in 1951 to make way for a new surface parking lot. Pioneer Courthouse Square was officially opened on April 6, 1984 after years of planning and fundraising – including the sale of thousands of personalized bricks with which the Square was ultimately constructed.



What do you think? Would people in Oklahoma City use a public space like Pioneer Courthouse Square? Do you think we already have a downtown public space of this caliber? If we did try to build such a space, where should it go? What should it be near? Could it be built alongside the transit being considered for Maps3?

Enrique Peñalosa on Good Cities

February 6th, 2009

I just attended a lecture series featuring Enrique Peñalosa, a former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.  He is considered a visionary for his work in Bogotá that included major enhancements to quality of life through investments in bike/pedestrian infrastructure, construction of a groundbreaking bus rapid transit system (BRT) and introduction of unique community events like Ciclovia.

It was an enthusiastic presentation and I was fairly intrigued by a number of his ideas.  Certainly there are contextual differences between Colombia and the United States that make some of what he has accomplished difficult to apply here, but a number of his principles seem universal and I think they are worth sharing.  These notes are not all exact quotes, but are a mix of quotes and paraphrasing.

What is a Good City?

Quoted Jan Gehl, “A Good City is one where people want to be out of their houses!”

A Good City:

  • is not malls, but public space and parks.
  • has places for people to walk and to be with other people.
  • gives people needed spaces to play
  • does not make some people feel inferior

A Good City looks out for the most vulnerable citizens: elderly, children, disabled.  He recommended that public officials should be required to navigate the city one day a year in a wheel chair.

A child on a bicycle can go safely anywhere in the Good City!

Cars = Monsters? No, but…

While cars are great thing and provide a great service, the poor design of our cities has turned them into monsters.  If you say to a child, “Watch out, a car is coming.” They will likely jump out of fright.  And for good reason: over 200,000 children are killed each year by automobiles. The answer is not more separated infrastructure for cars, but integrated infrastructure that values all persons equally independent of their mode of travel.

How to Measure of a Proposed Intervention: Does IT make the city more pleasant to walk in?

Comparison of space usage by cars, buses, and bikes.  Münster, Germany was one city mentioned by the Mayor that provides excellent bike infrastructure.

On Public Spaces: sidewalks, parks, bike lanes, etc

Sidewalks are not relatives of streets – they are not paths simply for moving.  Sidewalks are more closely related to parks and plazas.  They are places to play and congregate.

The allocation of space between streets and sidewalk for any given area should be based on maximizing happiness.

When shopping malls replace public space it is the result of a sick city with poorly performing public spaces.  People are not stupid, they go to the shopping malls because it offers a pedestrian environment they can’t find anywhere else.

Human like hard surfaces.  We have to understand that there are places for parks and places for plazas.  Ultimately cities are a human habitat and sometimes hard surfaces are appropriate.

Synthetic soccer fields are better at reducing crime in poor neighborhoods than extra police stations.  If you don’t provide space for teens to play, then they will find other things to do with their time.

With limited resources, there are always questions as to what comes first.  For instance, when we have to decide between paving a street or installing a skate park, we will choose to build the skate park.  Cars will be okay on the mud roads, but the skate park enhances the quality of life to a greater degree per dollar spent.

Adding nice bike lanes not only makes biking easier, but changes the social status of bicyclist by sending a signal to everyone that they are important.

Parking is not a constitutional right!

Twenty percent of Bogotá car-owners ride public transportation to work.

Transport and Bus Rapid Transit

You CANNOT design transport without first knowing the type of city you want!  Transport is a political decision: How much space do we want to give to cars and how much to people?  Engineers will tell you how many cars can travel on a given road, but you have to decide as a community how many cars you want to have.  If they made more space for cars in New York City or London, there would be more cars.  So ultimately it boils down to politics and the will of the community.

To have a good BRT system you should plan on spending between $8 – 16 million per mile.

Built Form

Suburbs provide something urban areas need: good schools, open space, etc.

The best density that is most often seen throughout the world is buildings between four and six stories tall.

Coming Up Next Week

Okay, I know the notes are a little disorganized, but I thought they were worth posting.  I will have the next section on Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal up by Monday.  We will take a look at the current and historical context of the site and surrounding areas.  We are going to work through this “re-visioning” process one step at a time. It may go a bit slow at first, but I think it will provide a better solution in the end.