This blog post is part of the Everyday Destinations series, which focuses on increasing physical activity in small and rural communities through everyday destinations. Start your journey here.
Pedestrian-oriented design refers to features of the built environment that encourage pedestrian activity and improve pedestrian mobility. Examples of pedestrian-oriented design in the context of destinations include providing convenient sidewalk access to destinations such as housing, parks, commercial development, and community facilities; making building facades along public paths more interactive through strategic placement of windows and doors; and locating surface-level parking away from walkways.
This approach can be applied to existing neighborhoods by increasing amenities for people engaged in active transportation, such as connecting buildings to existing pedestrian networks, providing awnings for shelter from rain and sun, and increasing building access from sidewalks. Pedestrian-oriented design can work in conjunction with other approaches, such as infill development, to strengthen existing assets by increasing access and walkability in business corridors or growth areas.
This approach may also be applied by communities who are interested in transit-oriented development (TOD), where development is centered around a transit hub, such as a commuter train station or a multimodal transportation hub (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Prince George's County Planning Department 2010).
For these reasons, pedestrian-oriented design is an effective tool to reduce sprawl, increase vibrancy in town centers and main corridors, and encourage access to everyday destinations.
Community design that considers how people interact with space can increase access for all community members. By considering the public/private interface, or how buildings relate to public spaces and pedestrian networks, communities can create spaces that are welcoming for people with varying mobility needs, such as adults with strollers, people who use wheelchairs, and children. Communities can encourage universal design features, such as wide walkways and nonintrusive grading for destination access points, to increase accessibility for people with different mobility levels (Wright and Johnson-Wright 2016).
To ensure that all community members benefit from this intervention, communities can consider connecting pedestrian-oriented design with affordable housing, which creates opportunities for people with lower incomes to benefit from accessible destinations. Further, pedestrian-oriented design can create opportunities to engage community members and reflect local characteristics in public spaces, such as building facade improvements and planting strips.
Pedestrian-Oriented Design: Wide sidewalks, accessible building entrances, and street trees support pedestrian access. Source: Michigan Municipal League (CC BY-ND 2.0). Alpena, Michigan, is a pedestrian-friendly community.
Connection to Small and Rural Towns
Some small and rural towns began as pedestrian-oriented settlements built around main streets or commercial corridors. Over time, some of these communities may have retained elements that support walkability, while others may have adopted growth patterns that contribute to sprawl. In these communities, strengthening pedestrian-oriented design can build upon traditional development patterns and increase access to everyday destinations.
In small and rural towns where destinations are far apart, pedestrian-oriented design can encourage a shift from auto-oriented development to spaces where community members have the option to walk. Adding pedestrian-oriented design features can strengthen a community's sense of place and support sustainable economic, environmental, and social conditions that contribute to healthy, walkable places.
Case Example: Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado, has planned for and implemented pedestrian-oriented design to enhance destination connectivity through transit-oriented development (TOD) in areas ranging from downtown to suburban centers. The planning approaches adopted by multiple partners present solutions to provide equitable access to destinations throughout the Denver metropolitan area.
The Regional Transit District (RTD) created FasTracks Strategic Plan for Transit Oriented Development in 2008 and revised in 2010. This strategic plan encourages compact, mixed-use development with pedestrian-oriented design and streetscapes to complement a transportation expansion plan in the Denver metropolitan region. RTD outlined goals that encourage multimodal transportation options and pedestrian access to transit stations.
Further, the policy specifies diversity in housing choice to include people with low– and moderate–income and connections to destinations within a 10-minute walk of transit stations, which can include optimizing parking options in areas with good pedestrian connections (RTD 2010). In 2021, the RTD adopted an equitable TOD policy to encourage the development of affordable housing on district-owned land, which sets the stage for destinations in underutilized land near transit stations (RTD 2021).
In 2014, the City of Denver published Transit-Oriented Denver, a local-level strategic plan for implementing TODs. The plan elevates the need to create a network of connected destinations through six TOD principles (Denver 2014). The plan presents coordination recommendations across city departments and outlines connections to community partnerships that can lead to implementation, including the Denver TOD Fund.
The Denver TOD Fund was established "to create and preserve affordable housing along current and future transit corridors in the City of Denver" (Enterprise Community Investments n.d.). The loan fund is supported by a public-private partnership that includes the city and county of Denver, quasi-governmental organizations, nonprofit, foundations, and private investors (Urban Land Conservancy n.d.). Since its inception, this fund has supported multiple destinations around public transit stations, including affordable housing, community facilities and nonprofit spaces, and a public library (Enterprise Community Investments 2021). The fund supports development in surrounding municipalities with Fastracks transit stations and high-frequency bus stops (Urban Land Conservancy n.d.).
Strategic Points of Intervention
Practitioners have a variety of options to help their communities adopt pedestrian-oriented design. This section provides a non-exhaustive list of strategies that professionals with the ability to influence the built environment can use to improve access to everyday destinations. Collaboration between these professionals and public health is crucial as public health professionals can support planning approaches and engage partners but may not have the authority to implement some of the strategies identified below.
This blog encourages communication and engagement between public health and planners to discuss approaches that might be applicable in their community. For more information on the role of public health professionals in helping implement these strategies, click here. For more information on other partners that play a role in implementing the growth area identification approach, click here.
The following list of strategies can help professionals from different sectors come together and implement planning approaches that support a mix of accessible everyday destinations. Community engagement is crucial throughout every step of implementing the strategies below. Planners and public health professionals can collaborate to create equitable engagement to collect and act on community needs. Communities should select the strategies based on their context and constraints. The links at the end of actions provide more guidance materials and examples from small and rural towns across the country.
Community Visioning and Goal Setting
- Define and provide examples of pedestrian-oriented design principles, such as street-oriented buildings, destinations connected through buffered sidewalks, and mixed land uses, that align with community context (Westminster 2009).
- Adopt community vision and goals that highlight the importance of pedestrian-friendly destinations (Elgin 2018).
- Elevate the connection between building placement and pedestrian infrastructure, such as sidewalks and pathways, within community vision and goals documents (Gresham 2017).
- Describe who will benefit from pedestrian-friendly accommodations (Hayward 2019). This perspective creates room to address historic inequities that have adversely impacted access to everyday destinations for groups that have been marginalized.
- Determine building form strategies, such as active ground floor uses and pedestrian-friendly shop fronts, that align with community character and encourage walking (Hayward 2019).
- Adopt strategies that encourage pedestrian-friendly access points between residential spaces and pedestrian amenities through design elements in comprehensive plans (Tempe 2020).
- Connect universal design standards with walkability to encourage accessibility to destinations (Dunwoody 2020).
- Ensure comprehensive, subarea, and functional plans consistently identify requirements that improve pedestrian conditions. For example, plans such as bike and pedestrian plans, or comprehensive plan components that focus on commercial corridor development can integrate pedestrian-oriented design goals and strategies (Elkhart 2015).
- Conduct an assessment to identify specific corridors and community areas where walkable site design is preferred (City of Wichita and Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization 2018). This approach sets the policy basis to enact change through additional points of intervention.
- Identify partners and internal groups who can advance walkable site design (Lafayette 2017).
Regulations and Incentives
- Adopt design guidelines that encourage walking in designated community areas through requirements for building scale (how a building fits with the existing surrounding areas), accessibility, and pedestrian orientation (how a building connects to a pedestrian network) (Arvin 2013; Gresham 2018; Woodinville 2020)
- Advance site design decisions that encourage pedestrian safety, including street-facing facades that provide views from the building to the street (Tempe 2005).
- Adopt a form-based code, which can help advance pedestrian-oriented design and protect community character (Burlington 2017).
- Specify building form and placement requirements to ensure that proposed developments support pedestrian mobility (Petoskey 2013).
- Encourage pedestrian-friendly site design close to pedestrian facilities in adopted community development ordinances, while recognizing the need for multimodal transportation options (Dallas Borough 2009).
- Address historic pedestrian-oriented land-use patterns and scale as part of zoning regulations, where appropriate (St. Augustine 2011). This strategy ensures consistency between existing community elements and new developments.
- Specify setback standards that improve the pedestrian experience in designated districts (Asheville 2021).
- Improve access to buildings by requiring private buildings to connect to sidewalks and public space (Lenexa n.d.).
- Require parking lot locations that do not conflict with pedestrian network, such as moving parking to rear or side of a lot (Asheville 2021; Petoskey 2013).
- Provide guidance to developers for designing pedestrian-oriented developments. Kirkland, WA, published a guide that discusses design features to create comfortable environments for pedestrians, including site features, parking lot locations, and scale within business districts.
- Invest in temporary sidewalk extensions or parklets to build new destinations near businesses (Sand Point 2012).
- Invest in community facilities, such as public libraries, schools, and park facilities, that demonstrate pedestrian-oriented design and are accessible by multimodal networks.
- Provide grant opportunities to retrofit existing buildings within a designated pedestrian-oriented area to encourage greater interface with sidewalks and public spaces.
Communities have active organizations, leaders, and professionals that can contribute to implementing the strategies provided in the previous section. Built environment and public health professionals should consider, and if applicable, reach out to the following groups to implement pedestrian-oriented design. These groups can also recommend other organizations that may be able to collaborate.
The following nonexhaustive list of partners offers potential starting points — there may be more partners to consider, depending on the community.
- Connect with community members to determine where pedestrian-oriented design is most needed and if proposed designs are in line with local community culture and character.
- Gather insights from business owners and commercial property owners; they can be important partners because pedestrian-friendly design principles support increased economic activities.
- Provide opportunities for special interest groups, such as outdoor physical activity groups and bike advocacy groups, to share their perspectives on what planning approaches would be most helpful.
- Collaborate with developers, who can implement design features that support walkability through private projects and partnerships.
- Partner with transportation departments to align planned future investments in pedestrian amenities along routes. Planning site-based interventions to complement route upgrades can lead to coordinated improvements with broader impact than individual, unconnected projects.
We are interested in case examples that support physical activity through everyday destinations in communities with a population less than 20,000 people. If you are aware of such communities, please share their stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. By directing us to such articles you can help other small and rural communities become more active and healthier.
Read this post and visit the Everyday Destinations project page for background information, additional context, and overarching considerations that support creating great communities for all.
Asheville (North Carolina), City of. 2021. "§7-8-8 Neighborhood Business District." City of Asheville Code of Ordinances.
Arvin (California), City of. 2013. "§17.43.050 Design Guidelines." City of Arvin Code of Ordinances.
Burlington (Vermont), City of. 2017. Article 14: PlanBTV Downtown Code.
Dallas Borough (Pennsylvania). 2009. "§27-202 Community Development Goals and Objectives.V Dallas Borough, Pennsylvania, Code Of Ordinances.
Denver (Colorado), City of. 2014. "TOD Principles." Transit Oriented Denver: Transit Oriented Development Strategic Plan.
Dunwoody (Georgia), City of. 2020. "Community Work Program." City of Dunwoody 2020-2040 Comprehensive Plan.
Elgin (Illinois), City of. 2018. Comprehensive Plan: City of Elgin.
Elkhart (Indiana). 2015. "Corridor Character: Land Use & Transportation." City of Elkhart Comprehensive Plan Update.
Enterprise Community Investments. n.d. "Denver Regional Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Fund."
Enterprise Community Investments. 2021. "Denver Regional TOD Fund Term Sheet."
Gresham (Oregon), City of. 2017. Civic Neighborhood Vision and Design District Update: Policy Framework Plan.
---. 2018. "§4.1200 Civic Neighborhood Plan District Design Manual." City of Gresham Development Code.
Hayward (California). City of. 2019. "Vision and Plan Goals." Hayward Downtown Specific Plan.
Lafayette Consolidated Government (Louisiana). 2017. PlanLafayette.
Lenexa (Kansas), City of. n.d. "§4-1-C-7. Pedestrian Oriented Design Standards." Unified Development Code.
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Prince George's County Planning Department. 2010. "Plan Highlights." New Carrollton Approved Transit District Development Plan and Transit District Overlay Zoning Map Amendment.
Petoskey (Michigan), City of. 2013. "902. Required Standards." Code of Ordinances City of Petoskey, Michigan.
Regional Transportation District (RTD). 2010. FasTrack Strategic Plan for Transit Oriented Development.
---. 2021. "RTD Board Approves Policy That Encourages Development of Affordable Housing on RTD Property." News Stop: Stories, February 24.
Sand Point (Idaho), City of. 2012. Downtown Streets Design Guide.
St. Augustine (Florida), City of. 2011. "§28-188. Lot, Yard and Height Requirements For Historic Preservation Districts 1, 2 And 3." City of St. Augustine Code of Ordinances.
Tempe (Arizona), City of. 2020. "Community Design Element." City of Tempe General Plan 2040.
Tempe (Arizona), City of. 2005. "§5-612 Pedestrian Oriented Design Standards." Zoning and Development Code City of Tempe.
Urban Land Conservancy. n.d. "Denver Transit-Oriented Development Fund."
Westminster (Maryland), City of. 2009. "Part 3: Vision for Future Development." Community Character and Design.
Wichita (Kansas), City of, and Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. 2018. Wichita: Places for People.
Woodinville (Washington), City of. 2020. "§21.24 Pedestrian-Oriented Commercial Overlay." Woodinville Municipal Code.
Wright, Steve, and Heidi Johnson-Wright. 2016. "Design for Everybody." Planning, March.
Active People, Healthy Nation
Active People, Healthy NationSM is a national initiative led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Increased physical activity can improve health, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.
Top Image: Tony Webster/flickr.com (CC by 2.0). Bike Trail in Inver Grove Heights, Dakota County, Minnesota.
About the Authors
Jo Peña is a research associate with APA.
Sagar Shah is a planning and community health manager with APA.