When you add up all the benefits of walking, it is no surprise that this approachable and inexpensive form of exercise has surged in popularity in recent years. Regular brisk walks provide health benefits such as improved confidence, stamina, energy, life expectancy, and weight control¹ and walking trails are now at the top of the list of amenities homebuyers want in their next community.² When planning a new community that promotes walking, it is important to pay attention to the following three elements:
Sidewalks and trails improve the walkability of a community when they are laid out in an organized and well-connected pattern without dead-ends. A connected continuous walking system provides users with the flexibility to choose their route based their fitness level or the time they wish to spend walking. Connecting to popular destinations like parks, recreation centers, schools, and retail centers allows users to incorporate walking into their daily trips.
For pedestrians, feeling safe is just as important as being safe. Residential streets with fast moving vehicles can be uncomfortable and can discourage walkers from using them. One technique to create a safe pedestrian environment is to slow traffic by using a narrower road width. Drivers perceive narrower roads differently than wider roads and tend to drive slower on them. Features to improve the safety of those walking include clearly marked road crossings and adequate lighting. Not only will these features help walkers feel safe, they will also provide better visibility for drivers.
Taking regular walks is all one needs to do to get the health benefits. However, residents are more likely to walk if they enjoy the experience. Adding street trees that provide shade goes a long way in making walking more comfortable year-round. Landscape planting along a route can add color, texture, and bring life to the experience. For sites with natural beauty, a trail alignment that takes advantage of scenic views creates those moments that make the journey even more special.
At a time when it is common to feel trapped behind a screen or in a car, sidewalks and trails provide community members with an easy way to get outdoors and be active. Incorporating connected, safe, and appealing pedestrian routes into the design of a new community is a simple way to offer a higher quality of life for the prospective homebuyer.
Noah Halbach is a Project Manager at RVi and a member of the City of Austin Pedestrian Advisory Council.
¹ 12 Benefits of Walking, Arthritis Foundation, 27 July 2018.
² Top Amenities by Generation, John Burns Real Estate Consulting, 27 July 2018.