Growing reams of research show that communities with conveniently walkable streets and less dependence on autos for all their transportation needs see a host of other benefits.
Environment. Air pollution is reduced. Sprawl eats up less of the surrounding countryside. Less pavement means more green space and better water quality.
Health. Walkable communities increase people’s exercise levels, thereby reducing obesity and health risks. Opportunities to bike offer the same benefits. Studies show that exercise and community interaction, both easily accomplished by taking a stroll, can significantly boost people’s mental health.
Economic Prosperity. Just as people are attracted to lively streets, so are new businesses. Local shopping streets generally have a much higher percentage of locally-owned merchants, which means that money spent in the community stays in the community.
Civic Engagement. Face-to-face contact on the street is, in the words of Jane Jacobs, “the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life grows.” No one gets to know their neighbors or hatches plans for a neighborhood improvement project simply by waving at folks from behind a windshield.
Community Spirit. The social life of a place flourishes when streets and sidewalks function as public spaces. As William H. Whyte said, “What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.”
Social Equity. Young people, old people, disabled people and poor people become distinctly second-class citizens in a community where cars are the only safe or convenient way to get around. Many of them live under a form of house arrest — unable to easily meet friends, go shopping, attend school, commute to work, or participate in the life of the community on their own.
Public Safety. Streets bustling with pedestrians day and night seldom become the scenes of crimes. Actually, speeding traffic threatens us more than muggers — especially endangering the safety of our kids, pets and older or disabled friends. Transforming streets into public spaces levels the playing field between motorists and pedestrians, helping keep everyone safer and saner.
Curbing Climate Change. Emissions of greenhouse gases decrease in communities where streets are redesigned to encourage people to drive less and take advantage of other forms of transportation. This is a major step in the fight against global climate disruption.
Reducing Congestion. No one likes traffic jams — drivers and bus passengers heading home to their families, neighboring residents getting an extra dose of exhaust and noise, public officials and transportation planners who hear constant complaints from the people they serve. Reducing traffic is a win-win-win for everyone.
Overall Quality of Life. “The importance of pedestrian public places cannot be measured, but most other important things in life cannot be measured either: Friendship, beauty, love and loyalty are examples. Parks and pedestrians places are essential to a city’s happiness,” notes Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who made the city a world leader in public transit, bicycle paths, greenways and public spaces.