Features & Articles : Three Perfect Days in Silicon Valley
Makes a Community Walkable?
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:
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.
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!
Street trees create
bulb outs and establish a canopy for walkers in Santa
Cruz and Palo Alto.
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.
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.
Simple alleyways between buildings make parks and train
stations and main streets more accessible
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.
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.