Retrofitting the Suburbs to Increase Walking

Source: University of California Transportation Center (UCTC)

During the last half of the 20th century, cities and towns across America were built primarily for one transportation mode: the automobile. Much of this development occurred on the urban periphery, creating the suburbs that are now home to more Americans than either traditional central cities or small towns. Today, while federal transportation policies and urban planners have shifted toward promoting a more multimodal form of development, the legacy of the postwar era remains: thousands of suburban neighborhoods poorly served by any mode of transportation other than the automobile.

Researchers have spilled much ink debating the feasibility of alternatives to car travel, but have focused less on how suburbs built for the car might be transformed to accommodate other modes. Seven years ago, communities in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County decided to focus on this question. They found that walking is the gateway mode for alternative transportation. The 2009 National Household Travel Survey shows that 10 percent of all trips in the US are taken on foot. Relatedly, an American Public Transportation Association analysis of over 150 on-board transit surveys from 2000 to 2005 showed that walking is the access mode for about 60 percent of all transit trips.

Walking travel and land use patterns vary substantially within the South Bay. Analyzing the correlates of walking in that area provides insight into ways to retrofit auto-oriented suburbs for more pedestrian travel.

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