Walkability – What’s it all about?

October is right around the corner, and if you’ve been following this blog then you know what that means: Walktober is coming! I’ve written a bit about it before, but as an overview, Maryland has an official state exercise (which is walking) and every October the state gets together to celebrate, learn about, and get involved with all things walking. You can find more information about Walktober at http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/walktober.

There are so many reasons to get excited about walking. It has important health benefits and can be a fun way to spend time with family and friends. But for some people, finding a place to walk can be difficult. Walking in the area surrounding your home or workplace is easiest for many people because it doesn’t require extra time to get to the place where you want to walk. But there are many places where people don’t feel comfortable or safe walking. Recently, people have started talking more about how Walkable certain places are. Walkability is a way to describe how safe, comfortable, and accessible areas are for pedestrians (or people who are walking there). One of the things Walktober focuses on is pedestrian safety, so I thought it would be good to talk about what community members can do to figure out if there are pedestrian safety issues in their area.

 So what makes an area walkable? Things like even sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping, crosswalks and places to sit all make people feel walking in that area is safe and enjoyable. On the other hand, things like uneven sidewalks (or no sidewalks), litter, speeding cars, and lack of crosswalks makes people less likely to walk in an area. Often, people know right away whether they feel comfortable walking somewhere. However, it can be hard to explain exactly why you feel that way. As Walkability was researched and discussed, people also developed ways to measure Walkability. These measurement tools can be a great way to help you and people in your community identify changes that could be made in your area to encourage walking.

There are different ways to measure walkability. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a Walkability Checklist you can do on your own wherever you live. University of Delaware has a different tool, the Walkability Assessment Tool, for government officials or others involved in making decisions about policies affecting walkability. AARP also has a couple of toolkits, one for individuals and another for people who might be interested in leading a larger community effort around walkability. These tools and more are great ways to get an idea of how walkable your area is and what could potentially be improved to encourage walking. Youth development programs (like 4-H or scouting organizations), community groups, and neighborhood groups are examples of groups that might be interested in assessing the walkability of their area. After that, consider getting involved with local leaders or local government to see if there are efforts going on in your area to improve walkability!

Even if you aren’t sure you are ready for a full walkability assessment, stay connected with Walktober! There will be local events (more information about those will be on the Walktober website) and Walkinars where community leaders, experts, and other officials will cover a variety of topics related to walking and pedestrian safety. You can register for the walkinars here! We hope you will get involved and enjoy everything Walktober has to offer!

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