Walkable Cities and Bikeable Streets: The Upsides and Downsides

When the term ‘urbanization’ comes to mind, many people drift back to the Great Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. To an extent, this period in human history was indeed known as the beginning of the Urban Age. 

However, ancient civilizations have also tried to create urban settlements. Did you know that the first traces of urbanization stem back to the Uruk Era in ancient Mesopotamia? That would be somewhere around 4300-3100 BCE!  

A general fact is that our ancestral fathers were not satisfied being cave dwellers as some may think. With urbanization growing exponentially, economic growth, access to utilities, and modern modes of transport have emerged. 

Even so, decades of rapid automobile adoption have created diminishing returns. Cities are moving closer to a walkable or bikeable mindset. In this article, we will discuss what walkable and bikeable communities are and their pros and cons. 

Urban Walkability and Bikeability Gains Foothold in the US 

Here’s a scenario to consider – you wish to visit a nearby supermarket for some errands. The neighborhood’s lush greenery seems too scintillating to resist on the way back. Would all this sound convenient or appealing if a car was the only option to take?

Today, it’s not uncommon to find massive storefronts with their perimeter lined with vehicles. In some cases, there is no room for a bike or even to walk. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that such a scenario would have been impossible to imagine for our ancestors.  

Thankfully, walking around and bicycling are gaining precedence in US cities. The idea of quickly riding onto a bike or simply strolling to a nearby store is relaxing. A shared mindset is gradually transforming US residential neighborhoods into walkable/bikeable suburbs. 

‘Walkable urbanism’ is the term ascribed to this movement in 2023, as metropolitan areas are increasingly supporting walkability. New York City led the pack, with Boston and Washington DC following closely behind. Others have assumed future transformation, including Tampa, Nashville, and Miami. 

As per a 2023 study, nearly 1.2% of the US landmass among 35 surveyed metropolitan areas is currently walkable. This statistic is not bad but does indicate that the country still has a long way to go. 


What Are the Reasons in Favor of Such Communities?

Folks in support of walkable/bikeable communities believe that they are good for the environment and the economy. Let’s look at the list of all proposed benefits.

Better Physical Health 

Walkable or bikeable communities promote greater health and well-being since residents can stay active. The European Society of Cardiology states that walking significantly reduces the risk of early mortality. This is true even if a person walks less than 5,000 steps each day. The same goes for biking as it facilitates better muscle movement and greater flexibility. 

Improved Mental Health 

Walkable communities often become great public spaces for people to gather and meet. They’re almost like locations for a pleasant promenade without the need for ostentation. As residents slow down, greet each other, and absorb their neighborhoods, their endorphin levels may increase. This promotes happiness and good mental health. 

Increased Social Interactions 

A major problem with urbanism has been the lack of social interactions within communities. Hosting regular social events is good but what bonds people is the little greetings and conversations they may have spontaneously. Walkable/bikeable communities encourage citizens to talk more and build friendships. How many times have we found car drivers or passengers initiate a meaningful conversation with each other while on the road? 

Reduced Automobile Accidents 

Traffic congestion, lack of parking spaces, and increasing road accidents happen due to the rising numbers of vehicle ownership. When larger vehicles are limited to urgent usage, traffic and automobile accident statistics come under control. 

Renewed Community Identity 

With urbanization, cities have become mundane functional links for vehicles instead of bonding spots for people. This has harmed a community’s identity, which is the unique character of a place. When cities become walkable and bikeable, the feeling of an ‘outdoor room’ is generated. Residents will actively participate in the community’s cultural identity, history, heritage, and more. 

Have the Risks Been Accounted For?

Just like anything else, walkable or bikeable neighborhoods also come with their set of downsides. Let’s discuss the two most pressing concerns. 

A Different Kind of Accident Risk 

As mentioned earlier, walkable communities lower the incidences of automobile accidents. However, the fact remains that all vehicles will not be taken off the streets simply because a community becomes walking/biking-friendly. 

This raises the risk of accidents among pedestrians and bicycle riders. For instance – Chicago is a speedily transforming walkable city. It may be the birthplace of the skyscraper but was given the title of the most walkable US city in 2024. 

Sadly, the number of pedestrian and bike accidents is increasing across Illinois as a whole. In Chicago, two separate occasions were reported involving pedestrian hit-and-run crashes. The victims may need weeks or months to recover after which they must fight for compensation. They will likely require the support of an experienced personal injury attorney in Chicago, IL to win their case. 

Some cases are straightforward where the driver is at fault. Others are complicated where the victim may also share liability. According to TorHoerman Law, victims may suffer from injuries like organ damage, brain trauma, broken bones, etc. Without proper awareness and strict measures, keeping pedestrians and bikers safe can be a challenge. 

Possibility of Overcrowding and Noise 

Walkable communities are often bustling with noise which sounds more like cacophony. This happens because these communities are full of activity, especially during peak hours of the day. People may gather together and chit-chat. Meanwhile, other vehicles may blow horns to keep the crowd at arm’s length. 

All of this contributes to disturbance. If someone prefers quieter neighborhoods and increased privacy, they may find it a nuisance to reside in a walkable community. 

For those who prefer walkable/bikeable communities, it’s important to find the right neighborhood. This process will include identifying the preferred location, assessing its walkability scores, using online rental platforms, and seeking recommendations. Finally, an in-person visit will provide a clear picture. 

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