People will have a more difficult time walking around downtown Mobile than downtown Huntsville or downtown Birmingham according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) national walkability index.
The city’s walkability score currently averages around 12 in the downtown region. This score sits well below Huntsville and Birmingham’s average downtown scores, 16.5 and 17.8 respectively. To calculate scores for a particular city area, the EPA index measures intersection density, proximity to transit stops, and diversity of land use.
“The definition of walkability is simple: a walkable place is easy to walk around,” the index says. “Walkable communities come in various sizes and styles depending upon where they are located in the country; whether they are in a city, suburban area, or small town; and whether they have public transit. A walkable community in a small Northeastern village could look very different from a Southwestern city.”
For more information about the EPA’s methodology visit https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2021-06/documents/national_walkability_index_methodology_and_user_guide_june2021.pdf.
The Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is in the process of creating a new master plan for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to improve things for nondrivers according to a recent article from Lede reporter Maggie Kates.
“We’re hoping to improve all kinds of infrastructure around the county, to identify the needs of cyclists and pedestrians,” Tom Piper, transportation planning director with the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission, told Kates. “We have to have a bike/ped network, so you can get around the county without a car if you need to.”
The goal is to overhaul the MPO’s previous master bike and pedestrian plan, which it last completed more than ten years ago as required by the federal government, Kates reported. In addition, the plan should connect bike and pedestrian options to public transit.
Part of this push for more pedestrian friendly infrastructure stems from the younger generation’s desire for different modes of transportation and a concern for people in Mobile County who can’t afford a car, Piper told Kates.
Benefits of increased walkability
In recent years cities around the country have started to prioritize pedestrian-friendly infrastructure as more people seek out walkable communities when deciding where to live, according to the EPA.
“A 2015 survey by the National Association of Realtors and Portland State University found that 48 percent of respondents would prefer to live in communities containing houses that have small yards but are within easy walking distance of the community’s amenities, as opposed to living in communities with houses that have large yards and require residents to drive to all amenities,” the EPA index said.
This shift away from car dependent travel offers a wide range of physical and mental health benefits, according to Dr. LouAnne Giangreco, chief medical officer of American Family Care.
“Strolling through welcoming, pedestrian-friendly areas not only uplifts physical health but also enhances mental well-being, offering relief from stress, anxiety, and depression while boosting mood and cognitive functions,” Giangreco said. “…With the advent of fitness apps and wearable step counters, research now shows that both sustained walking sessions and short bursts of activity like taking the stairs can contribute significantly to our daily step count. Moreover, regular walking can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.”
A decrease in these specific diseases would be especially helpful to Alabama, where the percentage of people suffering from chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer is much higher, according to previous comments from Jefferson County health officer Dr. David Hicks.
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