Planning in many American cities, suburbs, and rural towns for the past several decades has inexplicably but systematically excluded the oldest form of transportation in the books: walking.
This is primarily due to car-centric planning, which not only takes place in sidewalk-less cul-de-sacs of suburbia, it also takes place in metropolitan centers like Los Angeles and Atlanta. As our nation faces an increasingly alarming obesity crisis, the benefits of foot-powered transportation are becoming ever more clear and relevant, and things like walking commutes are on the rise. The only problem? Design doesn’t change as quickly as people do.
Walk Score, a popular website that ranks any address in America on a 100-point scale of walkability, has just released rankings of the most walkable cities in America. Unsurprisingly, New York and San Fransisco topped the list, but Minneapolis earned the honor of ninth place. Our ‘City of Lakes’ earned a total walk score of 69.3, though there are much higher scores in the heart of downtown and some of its more walkable neighborhoods.
This matches up with a recent Star Tribune article that focused on the recent surge in the populations of downtown Minneapolis, which has been accompanied by an increase in the number of children as well. Minneapolis City Council member Lisa Goodman stressed walkability when she said, “No one will raise their kids in a city that is not safe, not clean and is not good for walking.”
In a recent interview with The Line, Minneapolis planner Peter Musty emphasized the need to work walking into our cities and everyday lives, which is good for cities and good for people’s health.
Providing a stark contrast to our happy progress in the Twin Cities is a tragic case that has been developing outside of Atlanta. Last year, a woman in Marietta, Georgia walked with her three kids across a crosswalk-less section of street separating their bus stop from their apartment. While they were crossing, a drunk driver struck and killed the mother’s four-year old son. The driver, despite being a repeat offender who fled the scene, is facing less jail time than the mother, who was convicted of vehicular homicide for walking across the street with her kids. There’s a thorough summary of the event and the response from the transportation community on Grist.
Events like the one in Georgia happen far too often, as Transportation for America revealed in its report on pedestrian deaths, Dangerous by Design. That title sums it up: it is an issue of design, which can be solved by complete streets, smarter planning, and policy that promotes multi-modal infrastructure with mobility and safety for all users in mind. That’s policy that moves Minnesota’s cities, suburbs, and towns forward—safely.