Addressing Walkability Through Public Policy

The health of a community can largely be attributed to the opportunities that are provided for active transportation and physical activity among community members. For example, communities that depend on automobiles to transport people from one destination to another promote a less active lifestyle contributing to greater healthcare expenses related to poor physical health. A neglect of community-design principles, lack of walkable infrastructure, and compartmentalized built environments has led to less active lifestyles and a greater incidence of chronic obesity and related diseases.

Fostering Walkability

Communities that promote walkability and bikeability, by enabling people to reach their destinations without the use of an automobile, promote opportunities for regular physical activity participation among its members. Therefore, healthcare costs decrease as a result of better physical health.

A report commissioned by the Convergence Partnership reveals the need to design pedestrian- and transit-friendly communities to provide built-environment improvements, opportunities for active lifestyles, and alternative modes of travel. Policy changes, both at the local and state level, are recommended to foster active community environments, smarter growth (including social, economic, and environmental sustainability), and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and design.

Planning Tools

Local governments can incorporate existing and future plans for public land and facilities, infrastructure, multi-use trails, parks, and open space into municipal planning, policy, and law by utilizing these planning tools:

  • Comprehensive Plans provide a blueprint for future land use and development. Delaware’s state code requires municipalities to develop and update their comprehensive plan, which serve as the basis for zoning and land-use regulations.
  • Form-Based Codes, an alternative to conventional zoning codes, promotes mixed-use development and smart growth solutions with a design-oriented public participation process.
  • Context-Sensitive Design is a planning approach that considers the total context within which a transportation improvement project might occur. Looking at the whole picture helps to incorporate the need for pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.
  • Transit-Oriented Development improves the quality of life and health of the community by providing walkable, compact, mixed-use, higher-density development within walking distance of a transit facility.
  • Parks and Recreation Master Planning can foster healthy communities, promote conservation and environmental stewardship, stimulate economic activity, and provide transportation equity.
  • Mixed-Use Development is integrated development that incorporates two or more types of land use. The variety of land uses allows for people to live, work, play and shop in one area and meets the growing market demand for walkable, activity-oriented destinations.
  • ADA Self-Evaluation and Transition Plans are required, by public entities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II, to ensure that barriers within public right-of-way (i.e., curbssidewalkspedestrian crossingspedestrian signalsshared-use trailsparking lots, and bus stops) are identified and addressed.

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