Amid these difficult times, with COVID-19 requiring so many to work or finish the school year from home, many people are choosing to get their exercise by walking, jogging, or cycling in their local neighborhoods. When done following the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these activities provide the benefits of physical exercise, stress reduction, and much-needed connection with nature. Walking seems to be the more popular activity as family members of all ages can benefit from the interaction while exercising.
Experts have long touted the benefits of walking, yet few of us, in the past, found time in our busy days to take a simple walk. Walking is a relative term that means foot (or wheel) transportation. My teenage daughter uses a power wheelchair for mobility and her rolling fits under the category of walking. Often bike riding falls in line with walkability as well. Many urban and suburban dwellers have the benefit of utilizing bicycles as an option for commuting to work or to other amenities. Many think of cycling only in terms of recreation, and it can be, but a bicycle is also an alternative form of (active) transportation. While some communities are well-positioned for this influx in active transportation, others may not be.
Walkability is a planning term that measures an area’s ease of connectivity via non-vehicular transportation. Walkability speaks to a location’s walk score, which analyzes hundreds of routes to nearby amenities and produces a score based on those factors. In other words, walkability measures how friendly an area is to walking. Walkability factors include the presence or absence and quality of pedestrian facilities, amount of vehicular traffic and roadway conditions, surrounding land uses, accessibility, and user safety, among others. Sustainable urban design and walkability go hand in hand. A walk score helps us remember that streets are more than just a place for cars and trucks. A street is meant for all modes of transportation, and places with multiple mobility choices get higher walk scores. We should relish the process of transportation rather than trying to get somewhere as fast as possible. Ralph Waldo Emerson is purported to have said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Why not gain benefits from that journey? The outcomes of a good walk score are livability, which affects economic development, safety, health, environment, quality of life, and many other community benefits.
When things get back to normal, post-pandemic, what will we have learned from our walks? Will we realize that our legs and lungs are stronger from it, that our mind is clearer, and our perception of our neighborhood is now different? Alternatively, will we default back to our cars, forsaking this newly found joy that has been an important part of our daily routine? Life moves so fast when it’s spent inside our glass and steel bubbles zipping from place to place. We often sacrifice so much for the sake of speed and convenience. Will we realize that our community’s walk score is low because our communities have not fully embraced their transportation options? It is never too late to make changes to your town’s built environment by adding options for active transportation. If infrastructure changes are needed, then a walkshop along with grants can help with planning, design, funding, and implementation.