The “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan’s coastal communities – Element 4: Walkability

Walkable communities can improve the quality of life for residents and visitors, and can also increase economic vitality by supporting local businesses.

Walkable communities require more than just placing sidewalks along the streets in business or residential areas; they need to make those using the path feel safe and provide a pleasant experience. In any community, walkability between home and businesses can reduce traffic congestion and increase awareness of local surroundings by the people who choose to walk to where they are going. In coastal communities, walkability can foster a connection between people and their coastal environment that improves quality of life and makes them want to protect their coastal resources and heritage.

In coastal and waterfront communities, pathways along the water can provide amazing views and connect people to the water in their community. This can actually increase use of the pathway, reduce traffic, and improve quality of life. Walkability in coastal communities also means public access to the water. Water-based recreation can contribute significantly to local economies. Having paths that lead to the water ensures that the public can actually get to the water to participate and financially support these recreational industries.

Design is an important consideration in establishing a walkable community. A safe and enjoyable pathway that connects places where people live and work oftentimes has characteristics that make the environment look like the path was developed with the user in mind and not an afterthought to a local road or highway. Wide pathways with buffers separating them from vehicle transportation can make people feel safe. Vegetated buffers, in particular, can also provide opportunities to manage storm water in urban communities. Additionally, modest signage can ensure that people know where they are going without ruining impairing visibility of natural or cultural scenery.

Even in communities that have a strong infrastructure of paths and walkways, parking and vehicle transportation cannot be ignored. In coastal and waterfront communities, seasonal tourism might place a high demand on the roads and parking lots, and weather may also require some to forego walking and instead drive to work. Deciding where parking should go in relation to the rest of the community requires planning and understanding where people will want to travel to if they are unable to take advantage of well-connected pathways.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively involved in projects that seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life, and promote economic activity in Michigan’s coastal areas. This article was adapted from: Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a report created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant. The document can be accessed at: http://coastalsmartgrowth.noaa.gov.

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