Creating walkable, bikeable and transit-supportive communities in Halton

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1 Creating walkable, bikeable and transit-supportive communities in Halton By presenting current research and best practices, the information in this paper is meant to support and broaden discussion on how communities can be built to foster the health and well-being of current and future residents. Changing economic climates and other constraints as well as emerging new evidence can mean that not all current best practices can be adopted now or even in the future, but a rich dialogue is best served by a good understanding of the breadth of the available information. For a more detailed, 71-page paper covering these issues, please contact the Halton Region Health Department at 311 or There are many reasons for us to look at how neighbourhoods are built. Studies show that community design impacts our health and well-being in the following ways: Breathing clean air Air quality is a major public health concern for people living in southern Ontario. Reducing the distance that people drive is one of the most important ways that we can reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases. The best way to reduce distances driven is to build homes, jobs, schools, and services closer together. Being active Physical activity is an important way to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke. One way to be active everyday is to use active transportation as a way of getting from one place to another. Active transportation has many benefits: it helps increase our physical activity and it decreases the amount of time we spend sitting in a car. Active transportation Active transportation is any trip made for the purpose of getting to a particular destination in an active way to work, to school, to the store or to visit friends. Choose the mode walking, cycling, wheeling, in-line skating, skateboarding, and ice skating. Walking and cycling are the most popular forms of active transportation. It can also involve combining modes such as walking/cycling with public transit. Improving Safety Our physical safety is improved when streets are designed in a way that reduces the risk of accidents for drivers, cyclists, and people walking. Good street design can include on-street parking to provide a buffer between pedestrians and moving traffic. It can also include well-maintained sidewalks and bike lanes, free of potholes and overgrown landscaping. When many people are out and about, our personal safety is improved. Windows facing the street create a sense of personal safety and reduce the fear of crime. Creating Community Knowing our neighbours creates a sense of belonging and community. The way communities are designed can encourage people to gather in parks, public squares, cafés and shops. Having a variety of appealing places to meet people, hold community events, and celebrations helps develop vibrant communities. What makes a Walkable and Transit- Supportive Community? Research has shown that the density, diversity (many different uses), and design of a community work together to increase active transportation and transit use.

2 Density Density refers to the number of people and jobs in an area. Density is important because it influences the distances between our homes and our workplaces, shops and schools. Lots of people and jobs provide support for local businesses and make transit possible. Research shows that as density increases, the distance people travel by automobile declines, and walking, bicycling and public transit use increases. Research has also found that doubling the number of people living in a neighbourhood can reduce the distance people drive by 20 to 30 percent. Low density Medium density INCREASED POPULATION DECREASED DRIVING = INCREASED WALKING, CYCLING AND PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION Using transit is one of the best ways to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases. This is important for our new and existing neighbourhoods. Studies have looked at the densities that are required to support transit. The more people there are, the better public transit can be and the easier it will be to use. Many of Halton s neighbourhoods currently do not have densities to support public transit. However, the Province of Ontario requires 40 percent of new housing units to be built in existing communities. This means that as Halton develops, densities in communities will increase and therefore be able to support public transit. It makes sense that new housing units are located in communities that can be walkable, which in turn can support good bus service. A variety of densities in new and existing communities could provide a mix and a range of houses, create interest and attractiveness. In addition, having a mix of densities supports various types of transit service. For example, the areas around downtowns and transit stations should have high densities which can support excellent bus service and street cars. Corridors, which are located along major roads and major transit routes, should have medium densities that can support good to excellent bus service and possibly light rail. Creating walkable, bikeable and transit-supportive communities. High density Density Residential Type Type of Transit Service Single detached Ranges from none to buses every half hour. Semi-detached, townhouse, duplex, rows, triplex Good bus service to excellent bus service, and possibly light rail. Row houses, low-rise apartments, medium-rise apartment plus high-rise Excellent bus service, streetcar and with high rise can support subway and feeder bus network. Source: Modified from Metro Toronto Building Ltd., 1990; Hemson et al., 1993; Lehman & Associates with IBI et al., 1995 as cited in Metrolinx,

3 Diversity Diversity is also known as mixed-use. A mixed use neighbourhood has a variety of homes, workplaces, stores and services. Mixed use also refers to the variety of options available. Is there one store or many stores? Is there one type of home or are there many types of homes such as apartments and townhouses? People are more likely to choose an active form of transportation over driving when destinations are within walking distance of people s homes and workplaces. A comfortable walking distance for most people is a five to 10 minute walk or a distance of 400m to 800m. 800m 400m (10 min) (5 min) It is important for there to be a mix of land uses where people live and work. Land use mix affects the choices people make about how they go to work. Often people need to run errands or attend appointments at some point during the work day. If stores and services are not close to where people work, it will not be possible for them to use active transportation or public transit. schools Having schools near to homes reduces how far children travel by car. When there are larger but fewer schools, children are bused or driven to school. The distance between home and school plays an important role in a parent s decision about how children go to school. When schools are close to homes, they become the hub of a neighbourhood. Schools can provide the community with a place for preschool, after school care, language training, as well as a place for community events and celebrations. Transit Public transit is an important part of a walkable community because it allows people to visit places that are too far to walk. For people walking to transit, short distances are needed. Studies show that the farther away a transit stop is, the less likely it is that transit will be used. Open space, parks and recreation Having access to natural areas, such as open space and parks, directly affects our health. Trees and vegetation provide shade and help lessen the negative impacts of climate change by reducing the urban heat island effect which occurs when pavement, concrete, and buildings in urban areas absorb and give off heat. Elements of a mixed-use community Diversity of housing People s housing needs differ with changes in their lives related to age, family size, health, and social and economic circumstances. For example a new graduate or senior may not want or need the same type of home as a family of four. Ensuring different types of homes and densities creates a neighbourhood in which people from all income levels and all ages can live, work, play, and retire. Recreation facilities and parks are key places for people to be active. They are also destinations and can help increase levels of active transportation. There is an important role in the community for both small neighbourhood parks and larger community parks as each provides different recreational opportunities and encourages physical activity in different ways. Diverse uses People are more likely to walk where there are different types of local shops and services within walking distance of their homes or work. The number of shops and services within walking distance is important to encourage walking. In addition, having a supermarket, grocery store, or a produce store within walking distance ensures that people have access to healthy food. Creating walkable, bikeable and transit-supportive communities. 3

4 Design A walkable neighbourhood is designed to be attractive and safe. It is important to think about how streets and trails can support active transportation because walking and bicycling almost always occur on public streets and trails. Communities that give priority to cars don t support transit, bicycling and walking because they are typically built with wider streets and large parking lots, leading to increased traffic volumes and higher traffic speeds. On the other hand, communities that support transit, bicycling and walking have sidewalks, on-street parking, buildings set close to the sidewalk and attractive features such as art, trees and benches. This contributes to our perceptions of an area s safety and walkability. PRIORITY PRIORITY = = Wide streets Large parking lots No sidewalks Sidewalks On street parking Buildings close to sidewalks Art, trees, benches Elements of a well designed community TRAFFIC SPEED TRAFFIC SPEED Street Design Streets serve many purposes. They are part of a transportation network that moves pedestrians, cyclists, transit, and motorists from one place to another. Streets are also places in themselves where social activity occurs. These two purposes make street design a challenge because it requires balancing the needs of many different users. Creating streets as places is important in an urban setting and for walkability. Road design can help determine speed of travel, which impacts the number and severity of collisions. It also helps to determine the character of a particular place in much the same way as land uses and buildings do. When designing streets it is important to think about both the setting the street is in as well as the role that the street plays in moving people and cars. Pedestrian Connectivity Connectivity refers to how easy it is to get from one place to the next. When sidewalks, trails and pathways in a neighbourhood connect to one another it makes it possible for people to get to where they need to quickly and easily. Streets that are connected allow people many possible ways of reaching their destinations. When streets are not connected and the route to get someplace is indirect, people are less likely to walk because the distances are longer. There are two main types of road networks: cul-de-sac networks and grid networks. Cul-de-sac networks and greater roadway widths make walking and cycling more difficult. Cul-desacs reduce the number of direct routes that pedestrians can take. Wider roadways make it more difficult for pedestrians, especially children and seniors, to cross the street. Wider roadways also encourage faster speeds. On the other hand, a connected road system designed in a grid, allows more direct travel between places, offers more route options, and shortens the distance a pedestrian must travel before reaching a safe place to cross. Newly-built neighbourhoods are being designed on a grid street network. However, many of our existing communities have been built as cul-de-sacs which are difficult to change. But creating connectivity in already existing neighbourhoods is still important. For these neighbourhoods, linkages can be created by developing pathways that connect cul-de-sacs to major roads. Bicycle Connectivity Bicycle travel is an important part of active transportation. Bicycles allow people to cover a larger area than can be covered by walking. The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have high rates of bicycle users of all ages and abilities. The bicycle networks in these countries are made up of a mix of bicycle lanes and paths that help the bicyclist go from place to place the easiest way possible. Many of their bicycle lanes are separated from the road (sometimes called cycling tracks ) and this has resulted in making cycling safe and attractive. Bicycle lanes that are separated from the road (but not part of the sidewalk) are designed to make people feel safe and are comfortable and convenient for every user of all levels of cycling ability. Bicycles are considered vehicles by the Province of Ontario and are legally entitled to be on all roadways including arterial roads, collectors, and local streets. This means that all roads in a community should be designed, updated, and maintained in a way that supports safe bicycle use. Even if there is a bicycle lane and off-road bicycle network, for faster travel some bicyclists will choose to ride on the road. They have that right and should feel safe and comfortable doing so. Creating walkable, bikeable and transit-supportive communities. 4

5 Just as with sidewalks, bicycle lanes and paths need to connect places if they are going to be used for active transportation. In addition to a bicycle network, bicyclists need close and secure parking that protects the bicycle from weather and theft, and change rooms with lockers and showers. Pedestrian and Cycling Environment The quality of the pedestrian and cycling environment refers to the way we feel about a place. It is important to encourage people to walk and cycle. Because walking and cycling travel is much slower than travel by car, people are able enjoy the landscape including different types of buildings much more easily. Research indicates it is important to consider the following attributes for pedestrian and cycling environments in order to support active transportation: Safety and Accessibility Benches and other seating to take breaks from walking. Sidewalks and bicycle paths clear of ice and snow. Well lit routes at night. Shade for hot days and shelter in case of rain. Design that allows people with wheelchairs and other mobility devices to travel as easily as other people. Buildings Buildings that face the sidewalk and have direct access toand-from the sidewalk without having to walk around to the other side of the building. Walkways and entrances designed so that people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices can navigate easily. Windows that face the sidewalk and are free from visual barriers for visual interest and eyes on the street. Public Transit Stops Public transit stops designed for maximum appeal and shelter passengers waiting in the rain or snow. Seating for transit users. Stops directly connected to the sidewalk in a way that does not impede pedestrian traffic. Parking Creating walkable, bikeable and transit-supportive communities. Street parking to buffer walkers from moving traffic. Streets designed so that cyclists do not have to ride close to parked cars in case of opening car doors. Parking lots located behind buildings and pedestrian movement a priority in parking lots as well as elsewhere. 5

6 Given the role that Walkable and Transit- Supportive Communities play in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases and fostering good health, when building neighbourhoods in urban areas consider: Density Locating homes and jobs within a 400 m to 800 m radius around downtowns, transit stations, activity centres and corridors. Achieving densities that support public transit including: High density in downtown, transit stations, and activity centres Medium density in corridors Medium density in new communities within 800 m of downtowns and transit stations Diversity Providing a mix of uses in each neighbourhood including: A range of housing for people at all stages of life and income Six diverse uses within 400 m of residents and 17 diverse uses within 800 m of residents A retail food market such as a supermarket, grocery store, or produce store within 800 m of residents An elementary school within 1500 m of residents A secondary school within 3000 m of residents and on local transit routes An existing or planned transit stop within 400 m of residents A village square or parkette within 400 m of residents and a neighbourhood park within 800 m of residents Community parks and recreation facilities located on local transit routes For more information, visit halton.ca/walkable, Dial 311 or toll free Design Designing neighbourhoods so that: Residents have access to sidewalks or paths along both sides of all streets Streets are designed with short block lengths to make crossing streets easier Neighbourhoods have a linked open space system that is interconnected allowing pedestrian, bicycle and other recreational activities continuously throughout the community Neighbourhoods built on a cul-de-sac street pattern system are connected to major roads by direct pathways Neighbourhoods have a cycling network that includes bike lanes and off-road cycling or multi-use trails. Cycling on urban roads: - have designated or separated or facilities when traffic volume and speeds are moderate to high - can be shared only with low traffic volume and speeds (<40km/h) and no other facility is feasible Intersections should be safe for cyclists Reduce number of stops or places where cyclists need to slow down Bike riders have access to lockers, bicycle racks, and showers in commercial buildings All streets, roadways, and designated bike routes are well maintained (free of potholes, debris, and overgrown landscaping) Building frontages positively address the street, with active uses at ground and first floors Length of blank walls (without doors or windows) along sidewalks is reduced Retail and service buildings designed so at least one entrance faces a public area such as a street, square or plaza On street parking is provided on selected streets All off-street parking facilities are located at the side or rear of buildings Each transit stop has at least one bench and is sufficiently sheltered Sidewalks connect directly to transit shelters Trees between the streets and sidewalks HE-14090

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