Patrick Hess is a Strong Towns member and resident of South Bend, IN. In response to our recent request for Halloween reflections on walkability and pedestrian safety, Patrick wrote this article.
The neighborhood where I live in South Bend, Indiana, is commonly known as Sunnymede and is the trick-or-treat destination for many people that live within the city limits. The neighborhood was built up in the 1920s and 1930s as a development to the east of downtown. It has a mix of house sizes and styles. It is predominantly made up of single-family homes with detached garages normally accessed by a narrow driveway along one side of the house. Homes are mainly owner-occupied, well maintained, and vary in price from $100,000 on some streets up to $500,000 on others.
Trick-or treating goes from 5pm until 7pm, and every year my neighbor and I try to keep track of how many kids stop by for candy. The weather was good this year and at 6:20pm our count was up around 350 kids when we both ran out of candy. If we had enough, we would have probably reached close to 500. This was the 4th Halloween we've spent in our neighborhood and I've made the following observations that shed some light on why people enjoy trick-or-treating in our neck of the woods:
1. There are a lot of houses in our neighborhood and they're relatively close together. Lots are typically 35 to 40 feet wide and around 100 feet deep. The blocks of the neighborhood are around 1200 feet long and 200 feet deep. This means there are about 60 houses per block.
2. The neighborhood density means it is easy to walk. Kids only have to go 40 or 50 feet between houses, so kids can stop at a relatively large amount of houses in a fairly short time. Your standard suburban development has lots at least 2 or 3 time bigger, making the houses fewer and farther between. More walking with fewer stops makes for a less desirable trick-or-treating.
3. It is easy to walk because the street design keeps speed down. Streets are just barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another when cars are parked on either side of the street. Residents regularly park a car on the street since some houses only have a one-car garage. There is extra traffic on Halloween from outsiders coming in, but the narrow street design keeps the increased number of kids on the sidewalks safe. It's difficult to safely navigate the streets at speeds any higher than 20 mph. There are also relatively few intersections, making it easier and safer for pedestrians to move about without crossing paths with traffic. Even better, all of the intersections have stop signs which allows for both drivers and pedestrians to take notice where their paths cross. Sidewalks also play a key roll as they are a dedicated pedestrian route.
(A side note: Growing up, the suburban neighborhood I lived in was also a trick-or-treat hotbed that drew people. This was 100% due to the fact that it had sidewalks. Only 2 other neighborhoods in that particular suburb of 30,000 odd people had sidewalks besides ours.)
4. Convenient/accessible even for people coming in from other parts of town. As much as we should focus on making our cities walkable and accessible via public transportation, it is nearly impossible in the current day and age to avoid the use of cars to get us around because of the way so many cities are laid out and organized. I'd wager 90% of the kids that came to my street for trick-or-treating came from outside our neighborhood. Probably 99% arrived in cars driven by their parents. And all those cars were parked up and down the streets. Our fairly compact residential neighborhood, with its narrow residential streets has the ability to absorb hundreds of cars parked within it, making it accessible for others coming to the neighborhood. No special infrastructure or huge parking lots required, just a simple standard street. Larger thoroughfare streets on the perimeter of the neighborhood do not have on-street parking, thus allowing higher traffic speeds. These areas were trick-or-treating "ghost towns."
5. It's safe to walk around. In my work as an architect and urban planner I am very big on the idea of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and Jane Jacobs' ideas that safe neighborhoods as so because there are always "eyes on the street". On Halloween, there are hundreds of people in our neighborhood watching the proceedings. There are street lights, and houses are close together, leaving no dark empty voids in between. There is a feeling of security walking the blocks, and there is little worry that something bad might happen on what should be a fun evening with the family.
Halloween is a terrific time to see true civic engagement and to understand what our streets, neighborhoods, and existing infrastructure are capable of supporting.
(Top photo by Steven Depolo)