In a weekend column for The Washington Post, architect Roger K. Lewis outlined various steps that cities can take to make their streets more inviting to pedestrians. (Get it? Steps!) Sure, streets should be safe and easy to navigate, but he also suggests trees, outdoor café seating, and stores with nice, big windows — not only to drum up business but also give walkers something to look at. Sidewalks should also be in good condition, he argues, lest a lady get her high heels caught in a crack.
But how far will people walk? Lewis says the current standard used by city planners is one quarter-mile, despite the fact that people regularly walk much farther than that in footastic cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco.
In addition to changing terminology, we need to modify a pervasive American planning standard: the dogma of the one-quarter-mile walking radius. If you look at development plans, you’ll see circles drawn around transportation nodes to show the presumed limits of how far Americans are willing to walk. The Washington Post reported recently that some Tysons Corner property owners have complained that, because of assumed walking distance standards symbolized by such circles, planned [transit-oriented development] density allocations around Tysons’ four new Metro stations don’t extend far enough. Their complaints might be justified.
A quarter-mile is 1,320 feet, walkable in about five to six minutes. That’s twice the length of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, or the length of the Constitution Avenue frontage occupied by the east and west buildings of the National Gallery of Art. It’s really not very far. If walking is pleasurable, Americans will gladly walk more than a quarter-mile and longer than five or six minutes.
Would you be willing to walk for more than five or six minutes if that walk were safe and pleasant? Would you do it in high heels?