Today's member blogroll piece comes from Ben Kaplan, who writes for Corridor Urbanism - news and opinion on urban development in Iowa's Creative Corridor. It is republished with permission.

We know that connectivity is the number one factor in walkability. Since we’re now armed with that knowledge bomb let’s take a look at some connectivity failures around Iowa's Creative Corridor.

Here’s the intersection of C Avenue and Boyson Road NE in Cedar Rapids. This intersection has a fair amount of retail, including two coffee shops, multiple restaurants, and shops. No, seriously, check it out:


Look at all this stuff! You could run to the gym, the bank, get a cup of coffee, do a bit of shopping, eat dinner, and pick up milk, eggs and bread. All right here! Except, the winding circuitous streets and cul-de-sacs add a lot to your walk. One of the reasons connectivity works, why it’s such a great driver of actually getting people to walk, is because it means there are short logical routes to get to where you want to go. In this neighborhood, the street design adds a ton of time to your walk, exacerbating the difference in convenience between driving and walking.

This area of south North Liberty has a retail center right in the middle of it. It has less stuff than the one in Cedar Rapids, and is surrounded by a less friendly walking environment. Still, it’s place to get a slice of pizza or a haircut. Even though there’s great walking infrastructure, like sidewalks and trails, the winding streets make driving the default choice to get around.

On the east side of Iowa City there are actually two commercial centers relatively close to each other. In the bottom of the image there’s an older commercial strip, and at the top a much newer commercial development (all the empty lots in that circle are either under development or developed now). It’s worth taking a look at each in more detail.

The older commercial center has one entrance for both cars and pedestrians. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Here’s the end of that cul-de-sac. There’s a barrier between the commercial development and apartments. That building on the left is a diner. Because of that ridiculous fence you would half to walk half a mile from those apartments to get to the diner.

The connectivity surrounding this older commercial strip isn’t terrible, but there are unnecessary physical barriers to prevent people from walking. It’s an environment actively hostile to pedestrians.

Now let’s take a look at the newer commercial center:

This looks walkable as heck! This is a great example of a new development geared towards being pedestrian friendly. If only it was well connected to nearby residential development.

Almost nobody is going to walk to either of these places. In the older center, it’s because the design has put up deliberate barriers to connectivity in a built environment that otherwise could be well connected. In the new center it’s because the surrounding subdivisions are a curly mess of cul-de-sacs and winding streets. The street layout itself discourages walking.

It’s way easier to make the older commercial center walking-friendly. Get rid of that fence. Add more pedestrian entrances along Scott Blvd instead of creating an artificial barrier. That’s it.

A lot of the land around the new center is still undeveloped. If the new stuff gets built along the same patterns as what’s there now, it will never be walkable. But if you build subdivisions with a much greater degree of connectivity, this area could blossom into a walkable paradise.

This is The Peninsula, a New Urbanist neighborhood in Iowa City. There’s a high degree of connectivity within the neighborhood, but only one road in and out. There’s a pedestrian bridge over the Iowa River that leads to Coralville, but the path there is winding and indirect. In the neighborhood, you're supposed to walk, but if you want to go anywhere else you’ll hop in your car.

Here’s a bonus spaghetti. This house in east Iowa City is about 2,900 feet from the Coralville performing arts center (that’s the destination in this image). That’s about a twelve minute walk. The connectivity in this part of Iowa City is so poor that you would have to walk 2.7 miles, an hour long walk, to cover a distance of 2900 feet. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

We’ve seen what poor connectivity looks like, so let’s cleanse our souls with some good connectivity.

This is Mount Vernon. It’s a grid with small blocks (the ultimate connectivity hack!), centered around a main street. This is what a walkable community looks like.

Here’s Uptown Cedar Rapids. Here we see neighborhoods that are highly connected internally, and to each other. This is what a walkable city looks like.

Want to see what connectivity problems are like on the ground? Chuck Marohn, Joe Minicozzi and Josh McCarty illustrate the challenges of walking in an auto-oriented, unconnected place in this short video.

All images from Google Maps

Related stories