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Neighborhood Walking Guide

  My neighborhood looks barren, there are no trees and buildings are too far from the street.

People want to walk in a neighborhood that is aesthetically pleasing: trees, flowers, and bushes are prevalent; buildings are located close to the street; and garages or parking lots are hidden out of view and away from where people are walking. If a neighborhood has no or very little vegetation; buildings are located far from the street; and large driveways, garages, and parking lots are prevalent, the neighborhood will look barren and inhospitable and people will not want to walk. If your neighborhood looks barren, click on any of the below links to get more information on ways to make your neighborhood look more pleasant and entice more people to get out and walk.

Provide more landscaping

Build homes and buildings that make the neighborhood look better

Streetscape improvements - ways to make walking more pleasant along the street


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Provide more landscaping
It's not very pleasant to walk in a neighborhood if it is barren - if there's no shade, there's no birds or squirrels, there's no leaves rustling in the sunlight, and there's no cover from the heat of the sun. A tree-lined street may be just what your neighborhood needs. Additionally, flower beds and the planting of bushes can make a neighborhood greener and a more pleasant place to walk.
    The careful use of landscaping (flowers, shrubs, and trees) in a planting strip between the sidewalk and the street can provide separation between motorists and pedestrians, reduce the visual width of the roadway (which can help to reduce vehicle speeds), and provide a more pleasant street and pedestrian environment for all. If no planting strip exists or is not wide enough to support trees or other types of vegetation, then planting trees and plants on the other side of the sidewalk can also help make the walking environment more pleasant.

    Benefits of trees planted along a street or in a neighborhood
    • Aesthetically, trees planted along a street unify a neighborhood streetscape and provide visual interest to pedestrians and motorists.
    • Properly placed screens of trees and shrubs decrease traffic noise along busy streets and highways.
    • Tree shade reduces air conditioning costs in residential and commercial buildings and cool streets and sidewalks for pedestrians, lowering temperatures in the shade about 10 degrees.
    • Properly placed and cared for trees and shrubs significantly increase residential and commercial property values.
    • Trees provide habitat for a large variety of animals.
    • Trees store carbon, produce oxygen, and clean the atmosphere.
    • Trees connect us with nature and reinforce spiritual and cultural values.
    • Trees reduce water pollution in streams, rivers, darns, and estuaries.
    • Trees reduce soil erosion.
    • Trees help recharge ground water and sustain stream flow.

    For more details on the benefits of trees,visit the National Arbor Day Foundation's web site on the benefits of trees.

    How to get these trees planted in your neighborhood
    To get trees planted in your neighborhood, contact your city or town to see what programs there are for tree planting. In most cases, the municipality has jurisdiction over the planting strip between the street and the sidewalk. Sometimes, the adjacent property owners are required to maintain the landscape strip. If wide enough (at least 5 feet, but preferably a minimum of 6 feet in width), this is an ideal place for the planting of street trees. The planting of street trees on the lawn side of the sidewalk is usually the responsibility of the homeowners or a homeowners association. If this is the case, meet with your neighbors and/or your homeowners association to get a continuous series of trees planted along your street. Contact your city or town, most likely your parks department, to see if the have a program and/or funds for planting trees along the street or sidewalk. Funding may also be available from local businesses or through neighborhood grants. If you have no sidewalks in your neighborhood, contact your city or town to see who has jurisdiction over the land adjacent to the street and work to create walkways and street trees at the same time. Make sure that the new trees will not block the pedestrian walkway.

    Planting trees / tree locations
    Local planting procedures may vary depending on the climate and soils of your community. See the National Arbor Day Foundations Tree Planting Guide for assistance in identifying the right trees for your neighborhood. According to Denver Digs Trees, an exemplary volunteer organization which helps people throughout Denver plant street trees in their neighborhood, if there is a planting strip between the sidewalk and the street that is at least 5 feet wide, center the tree there. If the landscape strip is less than 5 feet wide or if the sidewalk is attached to the curb, measure 5 to 7 feet back from the sidewalk to locate the tree. If there is no sidewalk, measure at least 10 feet back from the curb. For healthier stronger street trees, leave 35 feet between new or existing large variety street trees. If planting trees near overhead power wires, you need to use smaller varieties of trees and they need to be placed at least 25 feet apart. [Image from The National Arbor Day Foundation, www.arborday.org]

    For public safety and good visibility along the street, trees need to be various distances away from driveways, alleys, fire hydrants, mid-block crosswalks, corner intersections, street lights, traffic stop signs, and buried utilities. Low branching trees should not be planted so close to the edge of the road that cyclists are forced out further out into the road. Additionally, trees with large trunks should not be placed next to high speed streets, in narrow medians, or on the outside of curves where they might get hit. For trees that have recently been planted on your property near sidewalks, you can prevent the roots from buckling the sidewalk by watering trees for longer and less frequent periods of time (this will encourage roots to grow deeper) and by cutting young roots regularly along the sidewalk using a 13" spade. Check with your city or town for more information on tree setback, planting, and pruning guidelines.

    Street tree maintenance
    If you have street trees in your neighborhood, you can help ensure that they will always be healthy by preventing damage from lawnmowers and vandals; weeding, watering, and fertilizing the area; and trimming any small offshoots. Read more about these tasks at the City of Rochester's web page on street trees. Once planted, tree branches need to be kept trimmed so they do not encroach into the street or sidewalks and do not block visibility. Tree branches over the street should be at least 14 feet high to avoid hitting sanitation trucks and school buses. Branches near sidewalks should be trimmed up at least 8 to 10 feet to avoid hitting pedestrians and bicyclists and allow motorists to see around corners, driveways, and alleys. Trees in medians also need to be trimmed up to allow left turns out of and into driveways and side streets. To prevent tree roots from buckling sidewalks, ask your city or town to install root barriers along the sidewalk, to plant deep rooted trees in areas adjacent to the sidewalk, or to look into using more pliable sidewalk materials near trees. While many cities and towns require the adjacent property owners or homeowner associations to trim the tree branches along the streets, many cities usually provide maintenance to trees in medians and mature trees where the branches are too high to reach without special equipment.

    Small improvements that go a long way — flowerbeds
    A simple idea with high aesthetic benefits is to carve out an area adjacent to the street or sidewalk to plant a bed of flowering plants or shrubs. This area need not be large: sometimes the prettiest flower-beds are only a row of flowers wide. Property owners and passersby alike will appreciate the effort, the color, and the enjoyment of your flowers. If a number of people in your neighborhood also create flowerbeds, the entire neighborhood will be enhanced. For small neighborhood businesses, flowerbeds and pots of flowers not only make you a good neighbor but can also serve to make more people pay attention to your place as they pass by. Flowerbeds should not be placed where they may block or interrupt a sidewalk or walkway along a street or where they may force people to walk in the street. Also, consider planting species that are native to your climate since they will require less maintenance and look better in the long run.

    Other considerations
    • Using low height shrubs and trees with high canopies will maintain visibility and sight distance at intersections, driveways, crossings, and other critical areas along the street system. Plants and shrubs should be low growing and trees should be trimmed up to at least 2.4 to 3.0 m (8 to 10 ft.) to ensure that sight distances and head room are maintained and personal security is not compromised.

    • Communities must agree on who is responsible for landscape maintenance.

    • It is important to choose plants that will be relatively low-maintenance and adapted to the local climate and it is important to provide adequate space for future growth.

    • Some landscaping may require irrigation that can be costly.

Build homes and buildings that make the neighborhood look better
By examining the two pictures below, you can see the difference that building designs and setbacks can have on the aesthetic character of an environment. Clearly, the image on the right looks like a more inviting place to walk than the image on the left.

Neighborhoods with buildings that are located closer to the street (i.e. short setbacks) are generally more pleasant for walking than neighborhoods with buildings that are located farther from the street (i.e. deep setbacks). People in neighborhoods with short setbacks can better interact and see people who are walking along the street or working or living inside of the buildings. This interaction and transparency creates a safer and more interesting walking environment.

Short setbacks may sound good, but you may wonder how you enact such design standards and how do they affect existing developments. Setback requirements are established in building or zoning ordinances that developers must follow when building new buildings or homes. Ask your city or town officials what the setbacks standards are in your community. When new development is being proposed for your neighborhood, pay attention to when the proposal goes in front of your city or town council or other city or town officials. Work with city or town officials and your neighbors to try to decrease the setback distance by asking or requiring developers to move parking lots and garages to the rear of the buildings or homes and by bringing the buildings up to the sidewalk and street. In some cases, such changes might necessitate a variance or special permit. While variances and special permits are suitable for one-time changes, you may need to work towards changing the municipal codes or zoning ordinances for long-term, systematic changes. Though they differ from city to city and from town to town, the City of Anchorage has prepared a Frequently Asked Questions section about zoning, zoning changes, and variances.

When a building is being redeveloped in your neighborhood, work with city or town officials to be sure that any new setback guidelines are being followed. Though it might take awhile in a neighborhood that is already built-out, through redevelopment, eventually buildings can be brought closer to the street or sidewalk. An alternative approach to bringing the building closer to the sidewalk is to bring the sidewalk closer to the building. This can be achieved by working with your neighbors and city or town officials to install sidewalks that are not immediately adjacent to the curb and instead create at least a 6-foot wide planting strip between the street and the sidewalk where trees and other plants can be planted. The addition of this planting strip will effectively move the sidewalk closer to the buildings already in your neighborhood.

Similarly, work with your city or town officials to create design guidelines that developers must follow when they build new buildings or redevelop existing buildings already in your neighborhood. These design guidelines can incorporate visually interesting and pedestrian-friendly features into homes or buildings such as front porches, hidden or alley-accessible garages, fencing, diverse facades, and various other building details.

Streetscape improvements — ways to make walking more pleasant along the street
In addition to street trees and other landscaping features that can be planted to improve the streetscape, benches, paving treatments, decorative tree grates, raised planters, lighting, and art can also help improve the walking experience of pedestrians. The expense of some of these improvements may limit them to commercial areas. Areas with a large number of apartments and high-rise residential buildings generally can warrant the installation of these improvements as well.

Benches and raised planters can provide places for people to rest, take in a view, converse, or wait for a bus depending on how they are situated. Benches should be made of sturdy, vandal-resistant materials to discourage graffiti, scratches, and other forms of vandalism. Fixtures should always be placed so they avoid blocking the walkway or creating an obstruction to a person in a wheelchair. Finally, there needs to be an understanding about who will maintain these fixtures.

Paving treatments can create visual interest and can include different colors in concrete sidewalks or the use of bricks or pavers in certain areas. Different colored concrete can be used to designate certain areas for certain activities, such as bicyclists in one area and pedestrians in another, or can be used to create interesting mosaics. While bricks and pavers can be used in similar ways, they should be used sparingly in areas where they will not pose tripping hazards or uneven surfaces for bicyclists or people using wheelchairs.

Art and decorative tree grates can also create visual interest and can provide pride and identity within a neighborhood. Art should be tasteful and as vandal-resistant as possible. Public art need not be stand-alone pieces - many of the most successful works are those incorporated into the streetscape such as interesting paving patterns, benches, gates, railings, fences, streetlights, trash receptacles, and bike racks. Decorative tree grates can be made of wrought iron and, like art pieces, can be forged or created locally. Fountains are also excellent for creating central places for people to congregate and enjoy. The maintenance of these fixtures needs to be determined before their installation and will be an important consideration in picking the materials and design. Public art should be placed to avoid blocking the walkway, should be free from sharp corners or edges, and should be ADA compliant. Tree grates should normally not be placed in the primary walking path unless they are friendly to people in wheelchairs and people wearing high heels.


Georgia Department of Transportation, under development, Pedestrian Facilities Design Guide. http://www.dot.state.ga.us/DOT/plan-prog/...

City of Rochester, "Rochester's Street Trees: Keeping the City Green." http://www.ci.rochester.ny.us/index.cfm?id=402

National Arbor Day Foundation, "The Value of Trees to a Community." http://www.arborday.org/trees/aerialbenefits.html

National Arbor Day Foundation, "Tree Guide." http://www.arborday.org/treeguide/

Denver Digs Trees http://www.theparkpeople.com/

City of Anchorage, "Zoning - Frequently Asked Questions." http://www.muni.org/Planning/Faq.cfm