PEDESTRIANISM BY DESIGN has become a mandate for most urban planners, but certain assumptions about what makes a neighborhood walkable haven't been empirically challenged—until now. A recent study by the RAND Corp. confirmed that pedestrian activity increases in areas featuring grid street patterns with four-way stops and in mixed-use zones with a diversity of businesses. But researchers found no evidence that shorter blocks (of less than 600 feet) encourage walking, as is the conventional wisdom among New Urbanists.
The study, which examined several criteria in the New Urbanism Smart Scorecard (a set of guidelines developed by the Congress for New Urbanism in partnership with the EPA) also found mixed correlations between walkability and density. Significant increases in pedestrianism were noted in neighborhoods with a housing density of greater than 14 units per acre. However, walking activity was lower in areas with a density of 11 to 14 units per acre than in areas built out at seven to 11 units per acre.
Data for the study were crunched from the 1995 National Personal Transportation Survey, which included interviews of 42,033 households nationwide. But researchers say there is still room to drill down further. “We will need to examine whether these [criteria] have to be done in concert in order to have a big impact on walking,” says Rob Boer, the study's lead author. “We also need to explore ... whether people who are interested in walking may seek out certain types of neighborhoods.”