Walking. Everybody does it. But not everybody values it. It’s easy to take for granted. And the thrill of being able to travel faster than the foot holds incredible allure. But in moving to faster forms of transportation over the past century, we’ve largely abandoned this low cost, high value means of getting around.
To the extent that we’ve realized the error of our ways and improved walkability, we’ve seen substantial economic benefits. But most of the city of Fort Collins still languishes in enclaves that, even if they have great walking infrastructure (sidewalks), still fail to fill them with pedestrians. That’s because the distances between where people live and where people work and shop in most of Fort Collins prohibit walking as a form of transportation.
Walk Scores aren’t a perfect measure of which neighborhoods are walkable and which aren’t, but they’re still a pretty useful tool for at least getting a sense of things. According to WalkScore.com, the city’s two most walkable neighborhoods are downtown (which refers to the commercial part of Old Town — yes, people do live there) and residential Old Town. Clearly we knew something back when Old Town was being built that we’ve apparently forgotten more recently (such as when Provincetowne was built around 2002).
When you live in an area with a low walk score, you obviously tend to drive everywhere. And the more you drive, the higher your personal transportation costs, the higher the road repair and maintenance costs are for the City (because you’re causing more wear and tear from driving everywhere), and the more accidents and near misses there are (which has a negative economic impact on the City, not to mention the social/emotional ramifications).
Neighborhoods with higher walk scores also tend to weather recessions better. When houses were being foreclosed on throughout town in the 2008 recession, and house prices were plummeting, Old Town houses prices remained fairly stable.
And of course, there’s the health advantages of walking. Not only do you get exercise as you walk, but you also have time to see the things around you. You have time to interact with the world at a walker’s pace… calmly, comfortably, casually. You learn about the place where you live; you meet other people who are also out walking; and you run into friends and acquaintances and strengthen ties with your community. The slow paced interaction with the world, and the serendipitous, social connections that are strengthened, all lend themselves to emotional and social health on both a personal and communal level.
As Fort Collins continues to grow by leaps and bounds, there’s been a lot of discussion about what that growth should look like. Should we build up? Should we build out?
I believe we need to build in. We need to take unused parking lots that make walking feel unfriendly and uncomfortable and turn them into pedestrian-friendly areas with access to residential housing as well as a host of amenities. We need to consider our suburbanized parts of town and find ways to bring shops, offices, restaurants and other amenities in closer to where people already are. And we need to build better infrastructure between our residential and retail ares so that walking doesn’t feel like a daunting task, but instead is a safe, comfortable, and friendly means of getting around.