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2 ::  The Six MPO's

3 :: Caltrain Service

4 :: What are Walking

5 :: Why MPO's are

6 :: What Makes for a
      Good Walking Audit

7 :: What Makes a
      Community Walkable

8 :: What Happens Next?

feature story :: three perfect days in the silicon valley

What Makes a Community Walkable?

page 7

This, of course, is the $64,000 question that has dozens of possible $64,000 answers. We visited areas in San Jose, Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Los Gatos, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Los Altos during our brief stay in the region and saw examples of everything from curb cut designs that do and don't work to in-fill housing developments with hundreds of units and regional trail projects, all of which dramatically affect the walkability of a community. The themes that emerged from our three days included:
    a) sidewalks and crosswalks are the obvious building blocks of a walkable community. One must be able to walk along and get across roads without fearing for your life. But we saw sidewalks that were too narrow and even some that were inappropriately wide (and thus robbing the street of the activity and interaction that should make them attractive); we saw crosswalks that worked and some intersections that even with crosswalks were too scary for people to cross.

    Street trees create bulb outs and establish a canopy for walkers in Santa Cruz and Palo Alto.
    b) the devil is in the detail. The main streets of both Santa Cruz and Palo Alto use street trees to create bulb outs and to establish a canopy; but the planters used in Santa Cruz weren't large enough and vehicles parking on the street were clearly hitting the trees!

    c) land use is critical. Communities with mixed-use, moderate to high densities and housing downtown were lively, thriving places with people everywhere. The single use, low-rise business parks were surrounded by big, busy and very unwalkable roadways.

    d) people are key. People crave interaction, even just to watch other people. Public space, whether it was the downtown plaza in Watsonville or Los Gatos or the bustling sidewalks of Palo Alto's main streets, has to be inviting, welcoming, safe and accessible for people rather than just for motor vehicles.

    Simple alleyways between buildings make parks and train stations and main streets more accessible
    e) diversity is also critical to a truly walkable community. A mixture of chic boutiques and hardware and grocery stores; a mixture of income levels, race, age and gender; a mixture of travel modes; a diversity of architecture and landscaping, all contribute to a more fascinating and thus more enjoyable public place.

    f) codes and manuals. Patrick Siegman's seemingly photographic memory of area building codes, zoning policies, traffic manuals, and permitting processes enabled us to realize both the tyrannical impact of codes that are inflexible and the potential for codes to enable creativity and innovation that result in more walkable and desirable development.

    g) connections make everything possible. Simple alleyways between buildings make parks and train stations and main streets more accessible, and even the alleys themselves can be made interesting with murals, small shops and services etc. Palo Alto's bike boulevard connects low volume residential streets and creates a wonderful, direct route through the heart of the city.

    h) access is more important than mobility: the ability to get somewhere is more important than the ability to move. This is reflected in the priority given to one street over another and in the choices that are made on the allocation of road space.
next page, What Happens Next >>

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