Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Downtown Langley and Willowbrook: Urban design that makes you walk more or walk less

This January, I purchased a Fitbit. This high-tech pedometer shows me how many steps, and therefor how many kilometers I walk in a day. The device provides me with this information which actually nudges me to walk more than I did previously.

There is a lot of good research and on-the-ground examples of how built-form —how we design streets, public spaces, and buildings— impacts the walkability of an area. The Walk Friendly Ontario project has a great resource section on their website if you want to see on-the-ground examples and read research on this.

One of the things that I’ve noticed over the past eight months is that where walking is enjoyable, I tent to walk more.

For example before I purchased my Fitbit, I would always walk to and around Downtown Langley. I would also walk from the SkyTrain station to my work in the Olympic Village area in Vancouver, and walk to grab lunch. When I went to Willowbrook Mall, I’d catch the bus from Downtown Langley.

With the Fitbit, I found that I would easily walk 3 kilometers while going around Downtown Langley. Also, I would walk about 5 kilometers going between the SkyTrain, work, and a lunch spot. All this walking didn’t seem like a chore, it was enjoyable. The built-form in these areas are geared towards walking.

Since I’ve been wearing the Fitbit, I’ve started to walk to Willowbrook Mall. The stress of walking next to high-speed traffic, combined with the monotony of having nothing to look at but surface parking lots, makes walking from Downtown Langley to Willowbrook an unpleasant experience. I was actually shocked when I found out that it is only 3 kilometers from my house to the Willowbrook Mall area because it feels much, much longer.

An intersection along Willowbrook Drive in the Township of Langley

McBurney Lane in Downtown Langley

Looking at the preceding pictures, where would you want to walk? I know where my first choice would be.

Walking is critically important for our mental and physical health. Check out Happy City for more information about this point. Local government really needs to support community design that encourages walking. This means preserving walkability in places like Downtown Langley, and building new neighbourhoods around walking in places like Willoughby. As the Willowbrook area in the Township of Langley proves, creating a place where people want to walk requires more than just putting in sidewalks.

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