Planner, author Jeff Speck shows Colorado communities what makes a city walkable

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— The city of Montrose has good bones.

Its core grid is large, but its blocks are sized nicely compared to its streets.

During a webinar Wednesday, Jeff Speck used Montrose as an example of a city grid that lends itself to pedestrian traffic and is easily walkable.

Speck is a city planner, urban designer and author, whose most recent book is titled “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

The Colorado Main Street Program, which is part of the Department of Local Affairs, organized the webinar for its member communities, and Speck drew from them for examples.

Steamboat was not a shining example of walkability.

Using an aerial view of the mountain area, Speck highlighted how the roads didn’t form blocks at all.

The pedestrian trails that Steamboat has built aren’t a great solution for the lack of a walkable grid with sidewalks, Speck said.

“These never really get the volume of sidewalks on streets,” he said about the paths, adding that they aren’t well supervised without traffic alongside them. “This is a model shown not to be welcoming to pedestrians.”

Speck said the first part of “Walkable City” and a TED Talk he has done on the topic focus on why walkability is a good thing, but the second part of his book and the presentation he gave Wednesday assume the audience already is on board with walkability and skips to how cities can get people to walk.

He gave four conditions that have to be fulfilled to motivate people to walk more: a reason to walk, a safe walk, a comfortable walk and an interesting walk.

To meet those conditions, Speck reviewed the structure of cities and how the physical conditions can either induce more vehicle use and traffic or make cities more inviting for pedestrians and cyclists.

Factors such as the ratio of building height to street width, one-way versus two-way lanes, the inclusion of parallel parking and tree cover all affect how attractive it is to walk through a neighborhood or community.

Wider streets lead to faster, more dangerous vehicle traffic, Speck said, and building new roads doesn’t reduce congestion, instead it induces more people to drive and creates more traffic.

As a number of the main streets running through Colorado Main Street Program communities actually are state highways, Speck suggested the towns and cities work together to pressure the state for changes such as fewer or narrower lanes that might make downtowns more walkable.

The first part is being armed with the best arguments for why walkability is important and what has been shown to work, Speck said, while the biggest challenge is getting it done.

Jeff Speck TED Talk

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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