Urban designer shares tips for walkable cities

Published: Oct. 16, 2019 at 11:41 PM EDT
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An urban designer who travels the world helping cities become more walkable paid a visit to Burlington.

Jeff Speck is an internationally recognized city planner and author of “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

At a University of Vermont-hosted event Wednesday night, Speck said Burlington is advanced in terms of infrastructure, but there’s more to be done. He shared his Theory of Walkability which consists of four key concepts that he says will make Burlington easier and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Speck says in order to get more people walking, their journey has to be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. He says narrowing the streets is one way to ensure safety.

“Some of your lanes are too wide. So if your streets have more lanes than they need, you have some four-laners that could be three-laners but be a lot safer and there would be room for bike lanes in them,” he said.

Speck says cutting four lanes down to three could also make more room for on-street parking.

According to Speck, a walk is useful when there’s adequate housing nearby and comfortable and interesting when the buildings en route are visually pleasing.

“It’s basically about shaping streets with buildings, with friendly faces that turn them into outdoor living rooms and make them comfortable,” Speck told WCAX News. “Streets that lack edges actually aren’t streets that you want to be in. And then, are your parking decks up against the street? Which I’ve seen in some places which is super boring.”

Speck suggested adding greenery to parking garages to make them more appealing.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, was also in attendance. He welcomed Speck to the podium after giving a brief speech at the start of the event. Weinberger said he has followed Speck’s work and thinks Burlington is adhering to the principles he has laid out. He also said Burlington installed 12 new crosswalks in the past year and created three miles of bike lanes to better accommodate walkers and bikers.

Many people in the crowd were excited about the progress Burlington has made toward walkability and optimistic about Speck’s suggestions.

“I enjoyed how he brought up how it’s important to use biking as a way to sustain this community and make it safer for our children and other children to come up,” said UVM student Ama Sika.

Dean Corren, who lives in Burlington, said he thinks Speck’s ideas are feasible.

“He’s coming from a very practical, economics-based approach to these problems and he knows what’s doable and what’s not doable,” said Corren. “And Burlington’s already doing some of it and can do much more and we look forward to that.”

WCAX also asked Speck how realistic it is to expect people to walk and bike in Vermont when it snows for half of the year. Speck said he’s found that the most walkable city in the world, Copenhagen, Denmark, also has harsh winters but he says their walk and bike-friendly infrastructure keeps people choosing bikes over cars.