How Walkable ‘Activity Centers’ Can Reduce Driving

Encouraging mixed-use neighborhoods that help reduce vehicle miles driven and put urban amenities within easy walking distance is possible with surprisingly modest policy tweaks.

2 minute read

July 12, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Pedewstrianized street paved with red bricks flanked by historic four-story buildings in Dublin, Ireland

Pavel Losevsky / Adobe Stock

Walkable neighborhoods and ’15-minute cities’ in the United States could be closer to reality than we might imagine, writes Kea Wilson in Streetsblog. This optimistic view comes in part from research showing that “U.S. homebuyers are hungry to live in neighborhoods where they don't always have to depend on cars to get around” and that, with some “modest policy changes,” U.S. cities could quickly become more pedestrian-friendly.

According to Wilson, “with a few inexpensive tweaks, millions of American neighborhoods may already be far closer to the 15-minute city ideal than policymakers realize.”

A study from Brookings Metro and Replica revealed that “even in the most car-dependent places in America, a lot of people actually do live near a lot of places they should theoretically be able to walk to — and even if those busy nodes aren't reachable on foot, those residents still traveled a shocking 14,500 fewer miles per year on average than their neighbors out in the sticks.” Wilson notes that the researchers defined “activity centers” more broadly, including “standalone mixed-use neighborhoods with a handful of cafes and churches but no bike lanes, or even arterial strip malls where no one would dare travel outside an automobile if given the choice.”

Adie Tomer, senior fellow at Brookings and the co-author of the report, advised that “to get average trip distances down even further, policymakers would be wise to, first, implement zoning reforms that allow Americans to build more activity centers in and around more census tracts, increase the housing supply in the destination-rich neighborhoods they've already got, and limit the construction of car-dependent new developments where there are few to no activity centers nearby.”

Tomer also advises transportation officials to “scrutinize the many reasons residents aren't choosing to visit their closest activity centers right now” and implement policies that support better access and more sustainable transportation modes.

Thursday, July 6, 2023 in Streetsblog USA

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