The “STEP’s” to a Walkable Street

The design and development of a walkable street needs to be comprehensive and viewed as beneficial to the city as a whole.  As influential members of our community it is important for us to understand the concepts of urbanity and lobby for them in our individual fields.  The success of the Phoenix as an urban place will translate into economic success for Phoenix businesses and public programs.  In this walkable streets series we will be discussing:

Dimensioning the Street Section
The Economy of a Walkable Street
Proper Selection for Street Development
Health Benefits of non-sedentary Lifestyles 

Too often, in Phoenix, walkability gets reduced to shade or wider sidewalks; however, there is a comprehensive way to develop a walkable street.  The physicality of a city can be felt in the direct relationship between the pedestrian and the utility of a street that makes it function.  Time and time again we hear a desire to make the downtown streets of Phoenix more “walkable” but what does that really mean?  A walkable street must possess several attributes but no matter what those elements are, the blueprint of a successful street should follow the “STEP’s”.

  • Serviceable
  • Tie
  • Ease
  • Payback

A serviceable walkable street refers to what it provides.  What pieces of the urban fabric touch the sidewalk?  Is it a restaurant or cafe, a retail store, a building lobby? And how do we treat the area directly in front or adjacent to those types of establishments.  What are the uses of the sidewalk? Is there a bike rack, a bus station, a crosswalk? And how do we treat those situations without falling back on current conventions?

The meaning of a street that ties relates to the linkage it provides.  In the case of Phoenix, it would be wonderful if all of our downtown sidewalks were converted into walkable spaces and the goal is that one day they will be, but that is not the most productive way to start.  Think of streets as the main concourse of a mall.  The attractors are the anchor stores except in place of Macy’s and Nordstrom, Phoenix has a hotel and a convention center or a parking garage and a ballpark.  The streets between these anchors should be the focus for walkable street development.  See post:  (Mall Mentality)

Ease stands for ease of the environment and the pedestrian relates to it.  A person must feel that they can inhabit the space.  That they belong in that realm, that the sidewalk was made for them to use, rather than just the rim of the road.  The width of a sidewalk, the cooling devices utilized, is there a barrier between the pedestrian and the traffic.  This comes from the physicality and dimensionality of the streetscape.  See post:  (Street Section Design).   All together these elements collectively control how a pedestrian feels while walking down the road and ultimately whether or not they will choose to be a pedestrian on that route again.

Payback is the reward a pedestrian receives when they walk on a well designed walk-able street.  The stimulation provided by an active streetscape can provide inspiration and practicality.  The payback for our investment in walkable street design could be finding a new place to have lunch or a sale at an artisan shop?  Maybe there is space to have a conversation with someone they ran into or just came across a beautiful piece of public art.  The point is, the placement of street furniture and vegetation should be intentional and always with the experience on the walker in mind.

These uses can be used individually to produce specific effects in certain situations, but the benefit is amplified when all of these elements are used in combination.  This series on walkable streets will be the first of several urban design concepts discussed here that will relate to all types of business and community goals.  Let’s gets the urban revolution going and make Phoenix an even more desirable place for investment!

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