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Are Walkable Cities Better for Pedestrian Safety?

In a 2024 survey by the National Association of Realtors, 78% of participants said they wanted to live in a walkable city. This underscores a significant shift in cultural lifestyle goals, prioritizing health, convenience, and sustainability. 

However, with more people walking around, there is also more potential for car accidents and other incidents. So you may wonder: are walkable cities truly safer for pedestrians? To answer this question, we’ll examine data from walkable cities and investigate pedestrian safety in these cities. 

What Is a Walkable City?

A walkable city refers to an urban environment designed so that residents can meet their everyday needs without using a car. In a walkable city, a significant portion of the environment is designed to make it easy to walk wherever you need. This is about more than just having enough sidewalks and crosswalks, though well-designed walking paths are a distinct mark of a walkable city. 

One key characteristic of a walkable city is mixed-use development. This means that on the same city block, you may see offices, schools, restaurants, stores, and housing all within a short distance of each other. This makes it easy and efficient for people to walk from one place to another and meet their daily needs. 

Benefits of Walkable Cities

Walkable cities are more than just convenient — they generally improve the quality of life for their inhabitants. Here are some of the documented benefits of living in a walkable city. 

For Individuals and Families

Firstly, walkable cities are great for public health. Engaging in regular physical activity by walking to meet your needs improves your cardiovascular health and can help with weight management. A study by the Boston University School of Public Health noted that people who live in walkable cities usually have healthier habits and lower rates of health conditions like heart disease and diabetes than those who live in commuter towns. 

Citizens of walkable cities can also save some money by not using their cars. Americans spend $9,000 a year maintaining their vehicles and filling them with gas. Even if you keep your car after moving to a walkable city, the decreased usage will benefit you and your family economically. 

Just as walkable cities aim to provide for your material needs, they also aim to meet your social needs. Many walkable cities include outdoor public spaces for rest and recreation. These spaces are excellent for families, people with pets, and community members who just want to get outside and see their neighbors every once in a while. 

For the Environment

Walkable cities are also good for the world around us. Cars and trucks are the world’s most significant producers of greenhouse gases, leading to air pollution. In cities with a decreased emphasis on commuting by car, the air is cleaner and less polluted. 

Because green spaces and outdoor public spaces are so common in walkable cities, this helps the environment by preserving nature and natural habitats. Keeping green spaces also improves local air quality and, therefore, the quality of life for inhabitants. 

Pedestrians walking across crosswalk

What Percentage of US Cities Are Walkable?

According to the World Economic Forum, only 1.2% of cities in the USA are walkable. Let’s dive into how this number was calculated.

 What Is a Walkability Score? 

In 2007, Walk Score released a system for numerically rating cities based on their walkability. They focused on how easy it was to complete daily errands without a car. The score ranges from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating that most errands can be completed without a car.

The Walkability Score considers several aspects, including:

  • Proximity to amenities: This includes how close grocery stores, restaurants, schools, parks, libraries, and other public amenities are to a specific address.
  • Density: The score considers the population density and the density of housing and businesses, as denser areas tend to be more walkable.
  • Pedestrian-friendly infrastructure: The presence of quality sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and other infrastructure that supports safe and comfortable walking experiences.
  • Street Layout: The score assesses the block length and the directness of routes, as shorter blocks and more direct routes typically improve walkability.
  • Public Transport: Accessibility to public transportation options is considered, enhancing the overall mobility of residents without relying on cars.

With these factors in mind, Walk Score graded various cities into the following categories:

  • 90–100: Walker’s Paradise — Daily errands do not require a car.
  • 70–89: Very Walkable — Most errands can be accomplished on foot.
  • 50–69: Somewhat Walkable — Some errands can be accomplished on foot.
  • 25–49: Car-Dependent — Most errands require a car.
  • 0–24: Very Car-Dependent — Almost all errands require a car.

This grading system can help users better understand an area’s general walkability and associated public transportation system.

Most Walkable Cities in the United States

Here’s a quick list of the cities with the highest walkability scores in the USA. 

  • New York City, New York: With its extensive public transit system, vast array of amenities, and compact layout, New York City is often considered the most walkable city in the U.S. Neighborhoods like Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Midtown, and the Financial District are particularly pedestrian-friendly.
  • San Francisco, California: Known for its walkable neighborhoods such as Chinatown, the Financial District, and North Beach, San Francisco offers residents and tourists ample opportunities to explore on foot despite its hilly terrain.
  • Boston, Massachusetts: Boston’s compact urban design, historical areas, and significant investments in public spaces like the Boston Common and the Freedom Trail make it a highly walkable city. Neighborhoods like Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the North End are especially pedestrian-friendly.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: With a grid street layout that dates back to the 17th century, Philadelphia is designed for walking. Center City, Old City, and University City are among the most walkable areas, rich in history, culture, and amenities.
  • Chicago, Illinois: Chicago’s extensive lakefront trails, parks, and dense downtown area contribute to its walkability. Neighborhoods like the Loop, Near North Side, and Lincoln Park are particularly conducive to pedestrian life.

But what do these cities share that makes them walkable? 

Counterintuitively, high walkability is often directly linked to the availability and efficiency of public transit. Extensive networks of buses, subways, trams, and trains enable residents to travel longer distances without a car. In cities like New York and San Francisco, the public transit system acts as the backbone of urban mobility, supporting a lifestyle that minimizes the need for personal vehicles.

Local governments in walkable cities actively promote policies that enhance walkability. This can include zoning laws that support mixed-use developments, incentives for pedestrian-oriented projects, and regulations that limit vehicle speeds in dense areas. 

Least Walkable Cities in the United States

Some cities are known for requiring a car to get anywhere. Here are cities to avoid if you want to live in a walkable place.

  • Chesapeake, Virginia: With its widespread suburban development, Chesapeake lacks pedestrian pathways and connectivity across its diverse neighborhoods.
  • Fayetteville, North Carolina: Fayetteville’s layout and infrastructure prioritize car travel, making it difficult for residents to commute on foot due to sparse sidewalks and pedestrian amenities.
  • Jacksonville, Florida: Jacksonville’s extensive geographic area and suburban sprawl make it one of the less walkable cities.
  • Montgomery, Alabama: Montgomery faces walkability challenges with its car-centric design and limited pedestrian infrastructure.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina: Despite having a more walkable city center, Charlotte’s overall urban sprawl and a layout designed around car transport place it among the cities with lower walkability scores.

This is also not an exhaustive list of the least walkable cities — many other cities nationwide neglect public infrastructure and transportation, affecting walkability scores and leading to a systematic issue.

Factors Contributing to Poor Walkability

One common culprit of poor walkability is urban sprawl. Sprawl refers to the spread of a city’s suburbs far from its central business district, leading to lower population density. This spread often results in residential areas that are significantly distanced from commercial centers, workplaces, and amenities, necessitating reliance on vehicles for transportation.

Another is car-centric infrastructure. Many cities have been designed to primarily accommodate vehicular traffic, resulting in wide lanes of traffic and small, poorly maintained sidewalks. Such infrastructure not only discourages walking by making it inconvenient but can also pose safety risks for those who choose to walk.

Impact on Residents and the Community

Poor walkability affects people in a few different ways. In cities where walking is not a viable option, residents must own a car or rely heavily on a public transportation system that may or may not be adequately funded. This leads to more traffic and higher emissions of greenhouse gases from the city’s population. 

Also, owning a car is expensive — and maintaining good roads costs even more. Families may spend a significant amount of their income insuring, maintaining, and gassing up their vehicles — meaning they spend less on other necessities. Cities will also have to invest more money in road and bridge maintenance, which they may otherwise be able to fund things such as public wellness initiatives. 

Are Walkable Cities Safer for Pedestrians?

Pedestrian accidents have become more common in recent years, hitting a 40-year high in 2024. Generally, the cities considered least walkable are also considered some of the most dangerous for pedestrians. Due to their lack of infrastructure to support pedestrians, these cities often require those without vehicles to cross multiple lanes of traffic at a time or walk alongside a highway to get where they need to be. These dangerous maneuvers can lead to collisions, injury, and even loss of life. 

While walkable cities may experience a higher volume of pedestrian traffic, the rate of severe injuries and fatalities can be significantly lower than in cities where walking is less common. Walkable cities often have clearly marked signage and crosswalks in areas with high pedestrian activity; they are also designed so that pedestrians have safe places to cross high-traffic areas. 

What Makes Walkable Cities Safe?

In general, pedestrian-first design makes walkable cities safer than less-walkable ones. Here are the specifics of how that gets done. 

Infrastructure and Design Features

Central to walkable design is the complete street concept, which affords equitable space to cars, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. Complete streets prioritize the safety and convenience of non-vehicle travelers, effectively reducing the likelihood of accidents for everyone on the street. 

Pedestrian safety zones are also key features in walkable cities and are usually accompanied by traffic calming measures such as speed bumps, narrower roads, and pedestrian-only streets. Adequate lighting, signage, and road markings are also essential to ensure that pedestrians can move safely through urban areas during the day and at night.

Policy and Regulation

Setting and strictly enforcing lower speed limits in urban areas is a proven method to enhance pedestrian safety. Lower speed limits reduce the severity of injuries in the event of an accident and give drivers more time to react to pedestrians crossing the road. Traffic enforcement cameras and regular patrols can help ensure compliance with these limits, making streets safer.

Commitment to investing in pedestrian infrastructure is vital for creating safe, walkable cities. This includes funding for the maintenance and expansion of sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian signals, and other elements that support pedestrian mobility. 

Community Engagement and Education

Raising public awareness about pedestrian safety through campaigns can significantly impact behavior. These campaigns can inform drivers and pedestrians about the importance of vigilance, right-of-way, and the potential consequences of negligence. By highlighting safe walking practices and the benefits of walkable communities, such initiatives can foster a culture of safety and respect among all road users.

Are Walkable Cities Better for Drivers?

Walkable cities are great for pedestrians and cyclists. But sometimes, you need to keep your car to get around. As such, many drivers worry that walkability measures may inconvenience them or even cause safety issues. 

However, walkability can also benefit drivers. The most apparent benefit for drivers is that there’s less traffic in walkable cities. With fewer people using cars, there’s less opportunity for congestion and traffic jams, which also means less potential for car accidents.  

Not only will you get where you’re going faster, but you’ll also be more likely to find parking once you’re there. Because more people can walk to popular destinations, there will be less competition for parking spots. 

Though walkable cities are designed with pedestrians in mind, they also make life better for drivers. 

Are There Drawbacks to Walkable Cities?

Creating walkable cities, while beneficial for public health, comes with its own set of challenges. One of the most pressing issues is gentrification, which can lead to the displacement of long-term residents due to rising property values and living costs.  Gentrification can change the demographic makeup of neighborhoods, sometimes resulting in a loss of cultural diversity and community character.

Additionally, the significant financial investment required to develop and maintain pedestrian-friendly infrastructure can burden municipal budgets. These expenses cover the initial outlay for creating wider sidewalks, safer crosswalks, and green spaces and include the ongoing upkeep costs. While these innovations lead to a better future for residents, small cities may have difficulty finding affordable ways to implement them. 

The shift towards walkable cities encapsulates a broader cultural move towards health, convenience, and environmental sustainability. By prioritizing pedestrian spaces, cities enhance safety and promote a healthier, more sustainable, and inclusive future for all residents. 

However, staying safe while walking from place to place is essential. Pedestrian accidents are still possible in walkable cities, and you need to know that if you end up injured, you know your rights afterward. If you or a loved one was involved in a pedestrian accident in California, contact Heidari Law for representation. 

FAQs About Walkable Cities

What Is a Walkability Score?

A Walkability Score is a numerical assessment assigned to a location based on how friendly the area is to pedestrians. It considers the ease of completing daily errands without a car, proximity to amenities, and the quality of pedestrian infrastructure, offering a straightforward way to evaluate an area’s convenience for walking.

Can Walkable Cities Reduce Traffic Accidents?

Yes, walkable cities contribute to reducing traffic accidents by creating safer environments for pedestrians and reducing overall vehicle use. The design of these cities emphasizes pedestrian safety through improved crosswalks, traffic calming measures, and reduced vehicle speeds, leading to fewer accidents and safer streets.

How Do Walkable Cities Impact Mental Health?

Walkable cities can positively impact mental health by encouraging physical activity and fostering a sense of community and belonging among residents. The opportunity to engage with the community in pedestrian-friendly spaces reduces feelings of isolation and supports mental well-being.

Are Walkable Cities More Expensive to Live In?

While walkable cities can be more expensive due to the higher demand for centrally located housing and amenities, they often offset these costs with transportation savings. Residents may save on car ownership, fuel, and maintenance, balancing overall living costs.

How Can a City Become More Walkable?

A city can increase its walkability through targeted investments in pedestrian infrastructure, such as sidewalks and crosswalks, and policy changes prioritizing walking over driving. Engaging the community in the planning process ensures that improvements meet the needs of all residents, creating a more inclusive and walkable environment.

***Disclaimer: This webpage has been crafted by Heidari Law Group solely for educational purposes. The content of this article aims to offer a broad comprehension of the law and does not constitute specific legal advice. By accessing this site and perusing its contents, no attorney-client relationship is established between you and any member of Heidari Law. Additionally, it’s important to note that the legal landscape is subject to continuous change, rendering some of the information provided herein potentially outdated or no longer applicable.

Sam Heidari

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Sam Heidari

Sam Ryan Heidari

Sam Heidari is the founding principal of Heidari Law Group, a law firm specializing in personal injury, wrongful death, and employment law with offices in California and Nevada. Sam Heidari has been practicing law for over 11 years and handles a wide range of cases including car accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination, and product liability. The Heidari Law Group legal firm is known for its comprehensive approach, handling cases from initial consultation through to final judgment. Sam Heidari is dedicated to community involvement and advocacy for civil liberties.

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