Observations to Making a City Walkable

When making the choice to move Gangplank to downtown Chandler one of the goals was to be in an area that was walkable.  The last four months has allowed me a lot of time to observe what is important in making a place walkable.  The improvements for widening Arizona Avenue for pedestrians (how rare for Arizona) is almost complete and here are some reflective thoughts.

Sidewalk width is very important.
Drivers of vehicles like wide lanes and lots of them to avoid congestion and speed their commute.  Pedestrians and cyclists are no different.  Nothing is worse than getting stuck behind a slow walker and having no way to easily pass them.  Go wide or go home.

Trees are critical.
Not only do they provide shade which is necessary when it is a brutal 100 plus degrees out, but they provide the aesthetic necessary to allow people to lengthen their horizon of vision.  This gives perspective and raises awareness for pedestrians of their overall environment.

Empty lots are bad.
People don’t like to walk/cycle past empty lots.  They will walk for half a mile and think its a short walk if there are no “gaps” in the property line.  Insert a single empty lot and people will complain about walking a single city block.

Tall buildings insulate.
The bigger the buildings the more protection they provide from the elements, sun, wind, etc.

Raised crosswalks change culture.
This was my biggest take realization.  Just by having a raised brick crosswalk I have seen the same mid street crossing completely transformed.  It is now common that cars will stop at the crosswalk when someone is just simply standing waiting to cross the street. Adding strong visible cues to motorists is important!

Places to congregate accelerate community.
Something as simple as a benches, tables and chairs or inlets encourage people to hang out and have conversations.  This encourages other people to do the same.  It brings activity and life to pathways and starts dialog among those in travel within the place.  It acts as an ignition spark for building community.

In a nutshell, we underestimate how much of a mental shift being walkable really is.  Lots of little things especially visual cues are necessary to help ease into a culture of wanting to walk or cycle from place to place.  The reward is being connected to your place and being energized.

I challenge you to start walking or biking to anything that is within 1/2 mile of where you live or work.  When you do so, put yourself in observation mode.  Think about every little thing that you like and dislike when doing the challenge.  These are the little things that you need to work with your city/neighbors on to change the culture.


  1. I hope you live around the corner from Gangplank and walk/bike there. It’s great that Chandler has a walkable downtown, but Chandler is not a walkable community overall and I bet most people drive to the downtown area to walk. Chandler is a suburb of Phoenix – the point of suburbs is that they are far removed from the city and hard to get to without a car and a long commute to separate them from the main city riffraff . So its great that a few people can walk to work in Chandler, but I bet most people who go to Gangplank drive from Phoenix, or from within Chandler itself. Too bad Gangplank’s not in downtown Phoenix by the light rail. Not that it’s so much more walkable there, but at least it’s a city center and would be more accessible by non-car alternatives than downtown Chandler.

  2. I do not live around the corner. I am a horrible satan and own a motorized vehicle. There is no place in metro Phoenix that is really urban enough to be 100% walkable. It is hard to classify cities like Mesa and Chandler who are 100 years old and bigger than capitals of other states as simple suburbs like Anthem or Surprise. Most people at Gangplank drive from Gilbert, Chandler, Queen Creek or Mesa. The rail line wouldn’t be available to them if we were located in downtown Phoenix either. I appreciate the general sentiment, but laugh at the prospect that Phoenix is any better. I am doing my best to affect where I am.

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