Discussion Forums

America Walks Twitter Chat with Jeff Speck on March 7

America Walks was excited to host Jeff Speck on March 7,  2016 for a Twitter Chat. The chat took place over an hour and offered participants a chance to get insights from Jeff on his experience and expertise on walkable cities, a topic that he literally wrote the book on! A selection of questions and responses are posted here. For more insights from Jeff, check out #AWAsksJeffSpeck on Twitter.

Questions and Answers with Jeff Speck

What are three key take aways from your book Walkable City?

1. That the best arguments for walkable cities are economic, epidemiological, and environmental — and they are compelling.

2. That a city can make significant gains quickly by simply re-striping its existing streets to a less high-speed standard.

3. That the place to start is the city’s downtown, where robust walkability is possible, and where a huge infusion of attainable housing usually makes sense (and should be actively supported with City resources).

What cities do you consider to be good examples of walkability?

In Europe, almost every one. In the US, to name a few: Boston, NY, DC, Charleston, Savannah, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, etc., but only in their downtowns.

Read the Mercer or Economist Quality of Life rankings. Wouldn’t you know it, they align completely with walkability. And no US cities score well.

What makes them good walkable cities?

Good bones—a small-block street network from before 1930—and good transit, mostly.

What are 2-3 things a community taking the first steps to walkability should do?

Restripe downtown streets to include no more lanes than necessary, and no lane wider than 10 feet. Then use the extra space for bike lanes (protected where possible) and more on-street parking.

Edit city codes to reduce or eliminate the on-site parking requirement, and make front parking lots illegal.

What resources are available for communities to take these first steps?

The books Walkable City, The Smart Growth Manual, and Suburban Nation. The Smart Code, available free on the web.

What are points advocates can use to help motivate transit and planners to design walkable cities?

The good transit and city planners need no motivation. The politicians and citizens do. I am always focusing first on safety and the fact that moderate-speed streets—which most cities lack—save lives. Houston kills four times as many people per capita in traffic than Boston, thanks to its wide, fast streets.

What are points advocates can use with local elected officials?

The above, plus the economic and health arguments made in Walkable City. In terms of investing in mobility infrastructure, cities need to know that each dollar a bike commute spends requires a city subsidy of about $1.50, while each dollar a driver spends requires (and receives) a city subsidy of about $10.00.

Can you discuss some of the economic benefits found in walkable cities?

The economist Joe Cortright calculates that, by investing in walkability, Portland reduced peak-hour drive times by 11 minutes, saving residents about 2.5% of GDP.

We know zoning regulations affect walkable communities What are examples of pedestrian-friendly codes?

The Smart Code is one example of a form based (rather than use based) code that is available for free download as shareware; the cost is making it legal in your city. But hundreds of cities, including Miami, have replaced their codes with a form-based code, to great effect.

What can suburbs do to become more walkable? How do we address the legacy of suburban sprawl?

For the older suburbs, most of the rules in my book apply. For the newer ones without old main streets, not much. The book Retrofitting Suburbia shows how dead office parks and shopping malls can be turned into mixed-use town centers, and a good number have. But otherwise, the best one can do in cul-de-sac sprawl is usually to restripe the streets to be safer and add bike lanes. But they were not designed to ever support walkability, and can’t do it without greater integrations of mixed use.

How can walkable communities address larger issues of social justice and equity?

All cities, counties, and states should pass Inclusionary Zoning ordinances and make granny flats legal. Beyond that, great efforts are needed to make affordable housing once again the focus of our governments like it was in the 60s, especially because we now know how to do it right!

What cities have developed equitable walkable cities? What elements helped achieve this?

European cities have. In the US, even a modicum of equity will not be possible until we have a federal leadership that enacts laws mandating it. It is not in a locality’s economic interest to be the only place in its region that treats the poor well, because it then becomes overrun by smart poor. That said, a few smaller cities like Burlington, VT, have enacted excellent policies of this type.  Not to end on a sour note, but this sort of federal legislation, like all the legislation we need, will not be possible until money can no longer buy elections.