(Photo above: Downtown Bend walkers | Photo Courtesy of Commute Options)
It’s been said that walking is the superfood of activity — it’s free, you can do it nearly anywhere, and it’s a great way to incorporate physical activity into your day. Health professionals also recognize that creating walkable cities creates healthy people. But can walking be an economic driver and benefit businesses as well? Research says yes, walkable places are great for business.
Making neighborhoods and business districts more walkable increases the number of people who shop and dine there. Some studies show that people on foot may spend as much as 65 percent more than people driving. In one particular study in Brooklyn, redesigning a parking lot into a pedestrian plaza boosted retail sales by 172 percent. That’s right, they decommissioned a parking lot and made it into a “people lot.”
Mindy Aisling, executive director for Downtown Bend Business Association, couldn’t agree more. “Walkable streets are really important to Downtown Bend. First, walkability increases safety, not only for the walkers, but studies show that much like camera surveillance, more ‘eyes on the street’ reduce the crime. Second, great walking places increase a sense of ownership, resulting in people who want to take better care of our public spaces. This benefits everyone. Walking also builds ‘social capital’, because more people are interacting with each other, promoting inclusivity and community.”
Of course in central Oregon communities, tourism is a large economic driver. For tourists, walking is one of the best ways to experience a town, and improving walkability makes more people want to visit. Think about some of your favorite cities to visit. Chances are, you like to stroll through them, popping into coffee shops, cafes and shops as you go.
And let’s not forget the millennial generation is and will continue to be our future economic driver. A study performed by Brookings Institution found that 63 percent of millennials would prefer to live where they do not need a car very often. In addition to driving, people want a variety of options to get to and from different neighborhoods and business districts.
Smaller towns in central Oregon also recognize the importance of improving walkability. Casey Kaiser, planner for the City of Prineville says Prineville is working towards improving walkability for a variety of economic reasons. The City is working towards making it easier to walk to downtown Prineville by adding walking and biking paths that bring people from the edges of town into the downtown area. They are also improving lighting on the sidewalks for better visibility for pedestrians, so they can continue to do business when it gets darker. Improved street crossings are in the works for the downtown area as well.
Kaiser adds, “Prineville is working towards walkability as an economic driver. People want choices on how they get from point A to point B, so we are sure to always include walking paths and sidewalks as part of our city’s transportation system as a whole. Walking is part of creating a livable community, and that’s our goal, to make Prineville into an attractive place to live.”
Want to learn more about how walkable your neighborhood or town is? Check out the website walkscore.com. It’s a great tool to learn about walkability.
Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit commuteoptions.org.
Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. katybryce.com