Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 16th 2019


Outtakes—A Walkable City

By Rick Outzen

Jeff Speck coined the phrase “Pensacola Parking Syndrome,” which he used to describe a city that tears down its old buildings to create parking spaces to entice more people downtown until people no longer want to go there because it has become an empty lot.

Speck was in Pensacola on Monday, Sept. 17, as part of the News Journal and the Studer Community Institute’s CivicCon lecture series. He is a renowned city planner and author of the book “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

On Monday, he told the audience that packed the Rex Theatre that for a city to be walkable it must make the walk as good as a driving a car. The walks must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. Speck spent much of the 90-minute presentation on how to make walks safer. He said, “Safety is the area a city controls most directly and can have the most impact.”

Speed limits, the size of the blocks, the number of lanes and the width of the lanes are critical to pedestrian safety. According to Speck, streets that have a 35 mph speed limit are eight times deadlier than those with a 25 mph limit. Bigger city blocks also are more dangerous because they encourage drivers to drive faster.

He said the more lanes a street has, the faster the drivers will travel on it. Adding lanes doesn’t reduce congestion; it induces more traffic, according to Speck. He said that a two-lane street can handle 10,000 cars per day. Cities should inventory their streets and not add more lanes unless the traffic count warrants the expansion.

Speck lamented the push to increase the width of lanes from 10 to 12 feet. He believes that wider lanes make drivers think they’re driving on a highway. He was pleased that the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) had announced that 10 feet were appropriate for the width of streets in urban areas.

He recommended not to rebuild roads to decrease the lane width. Instead, he suggested restriping the streets to create bike lanes that should be placed between the parallel parking for vehicles and sidewalks to provide greater safety for the cyclists. If medians are added, Speck believes they should have trees because the foliage makes the drive more interesting and encourages drivers to slow down.

In closing, he said focusing on safety alone wouldn’t make a city more walkable. He recommended that all four elements must be worked on at the same time—usefulness, safety, comfort and interest.

Let’s get started.