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J Magazine Fall 2017

The magazine of the rebirth of Jacksonville's downtown

HOW WALKABLE IS

HOW WALKABLE IS JACKSONVILLE? CONSIDERING WE RANK AS THE FOURTH MOST DANGEROUS CITY IN THE COUNTRY FOR PEDESTRIAN DEATHS, ‘TERRIBLE’ WOULD PROBABLY BE AN UNDERSTATEMENT. NEAR WALK BOTTOM BY MIKE CLARK // J MAGAZINE 10 INCHES LAB 40 J MAGAZINE | FALL 2017

10 Most Walkable here are few things worse than knowing how to solve T a problem and people refusing to take the advice. Rank City WALK Score U.S. Cities of 2017 That’s what happened in 1 New York 89.2 2013 when urban planner Jeff Speck visited 2 San Francisco 86.0 Jacksonville and told city leaders how to save 3 Boston 80.9 lives and make our city more livable. 4 Miami 79.2 “I told you guys what to do in 2013. Why 5 Philadelphia 79.0 aren’t you doing it?” Speck said to the Times- 6 Chicago 77.8 Union in a telephone interview. 7 Washington D.C. 77.3 Speck is an author, consultant and expert 8 Seattle 73.1 on walkable cities. His TED Talk in 2013 produced more than 1 million views. 10 Long Beach 69.9 9 Oakland 72.0 “The worst idea America ever had was suburban sprawl,” Speck said in that TED 49 Jacksonville 27.0 talk. And Florida is Ground Zero for sprawl. SOURCE: walkscore.com Speck has consulted in cities similar to Jacksonville like Oklahoma City, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. But Jacksonville is just now waking up to the importance of walkability. This is more than aesthetics. It involves safety and the vitality of cities themselves. The fact is that Jacksonville is one of the most dangerous cities in the country for pedestrians, ranking No. 4 on the pedestrian death index compiled by Smart Growth America. Jacksonville’s walkability ranking is so low, 27 out of 100, that we officially rank as unwalkable. Downtown and nearby neighborhoods like Springfield and Riverside-Avondale ranked reasonably well in the mid-’70s, but Speck said those rankings are overrated since the walkability scale does not account for safety. The problem can be summed up this way: • Our city, like most in Florida, has too much sprawl. • Our roads have been designed to move cars quickly without enough regard for pedestrians. “The reason Florida does so horribly in these rankings,” Speck said, “is because so many Florida streets were designed by the DOT or so many local streets were designed with standards set by the DOT. Now the DOT is reforming itself slowly and surely. But the DOT’s basic methodology has been to apply highway-style design criteria to local streets.” That is why the Forest and Park streets intersection in Brooklyn looks like a highway from the air. This encourages speeding and discourages walking and bicycling. “You’ve created a landscape where people rely on the automobile to accomplish the most minor tasks,” Speck said. Speck’s book, “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time,” has become a bible among urban planners. It’s the logical successor to the seminal Jane Jacobs book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” The good news for cities like Jacksonville is that major improvements Downtown can be made fairly easily, Speck said. Road diets, which are being studied in several Jacksonville locations, involve reducing lane widths, slowing traffic and providing more space for pedestrians and bicyclists. In many cases, lanes can be eliminated or reduced without hurting traffic flow, which local consultants have discovered in Brooklyn, for instance. “Four-lane streets can be as inefficient as they are deadly because the fast lane is also the left turn lane, and maintaining speed often means jockeying from lane to lane,” Speck writes. A road diet may take a four-lane street and replace it with three lanes along with a center lane for left turns. After changes were- FALL 2017 | J MAGAZINE 41