Sidewalks, Streets and Walkability

By Thomas K. Tiemann, PhD, Alan C. Scott and Katherine N. Atkins.

Published by Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Policy makers have been trying to find ways to increase walking in the general public to improve public health, increase transit use and improve general livability in cities. One of the problems facing researchers evaluating or developing policies to increase walking is the lack of agreement on the details of what makes a place “walkable.” The walkability of a place seems to be a complex interaction of the micro-level characteristics of an individual street and the macro-level characteristics of the neighborhood around that street. Researchers have made some progress on the effects of different macro-level attributes like block size, density, and mix of uses, but micro-level attributes have not received as much attention. This paper studies how a selection of micro-level attributes affect perceived walkability. Participants were presented with computer generated pictures of a typical low rise business street with sidewalks, but with different combinations of bike lanes, parallel parking, a planting strip and trees. Participants were asked to rate the walkability of the space for each of the nine different combinations of environmental features and also provided forced choice preferences between pairs of combinations. Statistically significant differences were found among the ratings and the differences were corroborated by the pairwise forced choice data. The findings suggest that alterations to micro-level characteristics (including relatively inexpensive alterations) could alter the perceived walkability of an environment and also suggest that the method employed holds promise for studying the effects of other micro-level attributes.

Keywords: Walkability, Walkable Streets

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.41-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.415MB).

Thomas K. Tiemann, PhD

Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Elon University, Prato, USA

Dr. Thomas K. Tiemann is an economist, who has studied street-level activity in cities for many years including street markets and crafts fairs in the US and Europe. He has taught at Elon University in the US for over 25 years and has taught short courses in Krakow, Poland. Tiemann has also worked on the connection between the physical form of cities and health.

Dr. Alan C. Scott

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Elon University, Elon, USA

Dr. Alan C. Scott received his PhD in Psychology from Boston College, US. He has spent many years documenting obstacles and barriers to safe and independent travel for pedestrians with visual impairments, and has worked to scientifically evaluate accessible technologies designed to improve the safety and independence of such pedestrians.

Katherine N. Atkins

Student, Department of Psychology, Elon University, Prato, USA

Katherine N. Atkins is a recent graduate of Elon University and was at the time of this work an undergraduate psychology and sociology double-major with research interests in sensation and perception.