Pedestrian Master Plan

Municipalities can work to improve walking conditions through a variety of plans: comprehensive plans, capital improvement plans, or long-range transportation plans. Indeed, pedestrian needs should be addressed in all such plans. The community can make a greater commitment to walkability by creating a pedestrian master plan. Pedestrian master plans are produced in close cooperation with residents, businesses, and community organizations. Most focus on identifying dangerous locations and opportunities for new or improved walking routes. The plan also focuses attention on implementation, identifying funding sources and policies, standards, and practices that need to be revised or created. The plan should specify a methodology for prioritizing future pedestrian improvements. Finally, the plan should also specify pedestrian mode share goals as a way to measure progress over time.

For more information on specific pedestrian planning activities, click here. Click here for examples of local pedestrian plans or here for more about the cost of developing a plan. For guidelines on creating a safety-focused pedestrian plan, see How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. The cities of Bellevue, Washington and Portland, Oregon have established mode share targets.

Advocacy Tip:

Due to the expense involved, advocates may be rebuffed in requesting that a pedestrian master plan be created. Consider asking the municipality, via the city council if necessary, to form a pedestrian advisory committee first, and then request that funding for a plan be allocated in the next year’s budget.

ADA Transition Plan

Municipalities that are truly dedicated to creating safe, walkable communities will plan comprehensively for all types of pedestrians, particularly those with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires public agencies with more than 50 employees to develop and implement an ADA Transition Plan. The plan specifies how, and under what schedule, the municipality’s streets, public facilities, and programs will be made universally accessible. The improvements identified in a transition plan were required to be completed by January, 1995. Once the plan is adopted, it is required to be regularly updated.

See A Checklist for Accessible Sidewalks and Street Crossings for a summary of ADA guidelines for curb ramps, sidewalks, and other pedestrian features or click here for the full United States Access Board guidelines. Frequently asked questions about ADA requirements for transportation planners and other public agencies are available here. The Department of Justice guidance ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments provides technical assistance with ADA compliance.

For guidance on designing facilities for accessibility see the Federal Highway Administration for trails here or a special report from the Public Rights of Way Access Advisory Committee called Accessible Public Rights of Way: Planning and Designing for Alterations.

Advocacy Tip:

Universal design benefits everyone, not just pedestrians with a disability. Unfortunately, many U.S. municipalities remain out of compliance with this important planning requirement. A great number have never adopted a transition plan. Advocates should ask for a copy of the plan. If none has been completed, it should be requested. If necessary, recruit disability advocates to your cause.

Complete Streets Policy

Complete Streets accommodate the needs of all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders, of all ages and abilities. By adopting a Complete Streets policy or ordinance, a municipality signifies its commitment to all citizens and modes. An advantage of making this commitment is that regional or state funding sources may be more readily available for upgrading or redesigning incomplete streets.

The National Complete Streets Coalition, of which America Walks is a strong supporter and Steering Committee member, promotes the adoption of Complete Streets policies at the state and local level. In 2006, America Walks worked with its members to adopt an official position favoring Complete Streets. Click hereor here for more information on the Complete Streets movement. See the Seattle Complete Streets Ordinance for a model complete streets ordinance.

Advocacy Tip:

If your city has a Complete Streets Policy, find out how it’s being implemented. If not, ask your city council, Metropolitan Planning Organization, or state Department of Transportation to adopt a Complete Streets Policy. Consult the example policies on the National Complete Coalition website.

Effective Public Participation

Public participation is integral to the success of transportation planning and should be considered at every stage of the infrastructure planning process, from collecting baseline data to conducting post-implementation evaluation. Including pedestrian stakeholders in the planning review process can help secure citizen support for projects and help a municipality identify safety concerns that it may not be aware of.


Learn about a Pedestrian Safety Planning Group in Bethlehem, New York in this case study.

Read about facilitating public participation and the importance of pedestrian advisory councils.

Advocacy Tip:

If you request the formation of a pedestrian advisory committee to provide stakeholder involvement in planning decisions, resist the suggestion to merge pedestrian interests with those of bicyclists. “Non-motorized transportation” advisory committees tend to be dominated by bicycling interests, which are far different than those of pedestrians, and usually better represented on bicycle-pedestrian committees.

Sidewalk Ordinance

The presence of sidewalks in a community is associated with higher levels of walking and physical activity (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2004; Fulton, Shisler, Yore & Casperson, 2005; Institute of Medicine, 2005; Saelens & Handy, 2008). Requiring developers to build sidewalks in conjunction with new construction is an effective and efficient way to create a comprehensive sidewalk network. A stringently enforced sidewalk construction policy can help municipalities fill in gaps in their sidewalk system and prevent gaps from occurring in the future. Constructing sidewalks along with other development can also be less expensive than retrofitting the right-of-way.

The City of Charlotte, North Carolina, instituted a program to construct sidewalks on residential streets lacking them. In addition to the Charlotte program, see this summary of Greensboro, North Carolina’s sidewalk ordinance, which was amended in 2002 to support that city’s walkability policy.

Advocacy Tip:

Many residents are surprisingly hostile to the idea of new sidewalks on their street. This is especially true in rural areas, or in settlements that were once rural. Cities may find it useful to start with those neighborhoods who want sidewalks. Once they are in place, objections from residents in other areas may wane.

Connectivity & Networks

Street connectivity is associated with higher levels of physical activity (Frank, Andresen, & Schmid, 2004; Frank, Sallis, Conway, Chapman, Saelens & Bachman, 2006; Saelens, Sallis, Black, & Chen, 2003; Smith, Brown, Yamada, Kowaleski-Jones, Zick, & Fan, 2008). Grid networks and block lengths of 200-800 feet help make cities more walkable by creating multiple direct routes. This reduces walking distance compared to longer blocks or curvilinear street systems (Dill, 2004). In addition, higher numbers of intersections reduce unmarked mid-block crossings (which traffic engineers try to avoid) and create street crossings that are typically shorter than those on arterial streets, thus providing more areas for pedestrians to cross the street safely (Ewing, nd; Zegeer, Sandt, Scully, Ronkin, Cynecki & Lagerwey, 2008). Communities may increase pedestrian connectivity by creating easements and paths connecting cul-de-sacs or across blocks longer than 800-1000 feet.

Connectivity can be measured many different ways. These include block length, block size, intersection density, street density, the Connected Node Ratio (a measure that factors in the number of cul-de-sacs an area has), and more. Click here for more information on using these indices. Another great resource for the background and supporting research of connection between walkability and connectivity is found here. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute has more information on creating roadway and pathway connectivity.