Monday, October 12, 2015

News-Press: Focus on Walkable Communities

The Sunday 10/11/15 News-Press "Views" section featured walkable communities, in anticipation of this week's (10/15) Symposium on Walkable Communities sponsored by the City of Fort Myers. Below are links to the editorial, two commentaries, and an article.

Editorial: Our future depends on walkable communities  

They are called walkable communities. They focus on creating safe, healthy and feet-friendly environments that allow for reasonable and productive commercial and residential growth and at the same taking the stress off of our dependence on cars.

These communities are being pushed and developed across the nation, including Florida, with encouraging results. They are working, and on Thursday, at a first-of-its kind symposium, called "Making Dollars and Sense of Walkable Urban Communities,” residents and business leaders from throughout Southwest Florida, will learn how well they are working and how they can be implemented here.

The focus of this event, where over 300 people are expected to attend, is on economic advantages, land valuation, return on investments, and what case studies have proven. The keynote speakers – Joe Minicozzi of Urban 3, Chris Leinberger of LOCUS Institute & Arcadia Land Co.; and Jeff Speck, author of "Walkable City", have national recognized credentials and have steered many of the walkable community projects now in place and coming from the ground in many parts of the country.

There also will be other national and local consultants, area business and government leaders, as well as experienced Florida investors and developers, offering their prospective and analysis. The News-Press, a sponsor for the event, has and will continue to support efforts for pedestrian and cycling friendly and safe streets, the importance of exercise and health and becoming less reliant on transportation by motor.

Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General announced an historic "Call to Action," stressing the importance of building communities where walking is a safe and convenient option. The cities of Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Bonita Springs also have signed on to the "Mayor's Challenge," an initiative by the U.S. Department of Transportation, agreeing to address a complete streets approach to transportation planning.

Walkable communities are an innovative way to develop small tracts of land that offer economic development advantages for retail, office and residential space, and doing it in a way that people can enjoy this unique approach by walking or riding a bicycle. The projects make sense in what is happening in Fort Myers with its downtown growth and Midtown proposals focused on developing the area around City of Palms Park. They make sense for Bonita Springs, where plans are underway to redevelop and enhance its downtown area. They make sense for Southwest Florida's largest city, Cape Coral, which has struggled with how to make its downtown area more pedestrian and business friendly, and now has a way to do that with its Bimini Basin project. Cape Coral also has applied to the League of American Bicyclists for a Bike Friendly Community designation.

What communities are recognizing is that not only are vehicles creating traffic gridlock but also unsafe conditions at an alarming rate. Florida continues to lead the nation – and Lee County among the leaders in the state – in cycling and pedestrian deaths. There have been 17 cycling and pedestrian fatalities this year in the county. As officials look at infrastructure demands for growing communities, there is a demand and need for complete streets that provide not only roadways for traffic but also bike paths and sidewalks. In fact, some existing roadways in the state are being changed from four lanes to two lands for cars, to allow expansion of areas for cyclists and walkers.

Not only do walkable community plans boost economic development by providing retail, office and residential place in an efficient way, but there also is a greater emphasis placed on walking to these destinations to promote a more healthy lifestyle.
Downtown Fort Myers, photo by News-Press

What the symposium will address is:

· Transit oriented development. Studies conducted in Nashville and Portland show that every $1 invested in transit area redevelopment has, on average, increased local sales by $3 to $4. In other words, provide good public transportation and people will get out, shop and spend money.

· What Sarasota learned from its Citrus Square redevelopment project was that it could provide a mixed use development, three stories high, with commercial and resident space over only eighth-tenths of an acre, working with a complete streets concept and reduced vehicle speeds, people will come and property values will increase. It is profiled as a highly walkable area with residential price ranges from $150,000 to $335,000. The area emphasizes green building techniques and is placed on one fifth of the property that would typically be needed for a shopping center style development. Property values have increased form $3.2 million in 2003 to $56 million by 2011.

· One of the featured speakers, Joseph Minicozzi, the principal owner of Urban 3, which is the consulting arm of real estate developer Public Interest Projects, will explore how financial analysis, data visualization and analyzing development decisions at the neighborhood, municipal and regional levels can impact projects. His company provided that type of urban analysis to a major economic development project in High Point, North Carolina, called “Uptowne,’ and created an economic forecast for the city for anticipated tax revenue.

· How AARP and the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute support the plans of communities to develop a vision that shows the potential of creating streets that “are more walkable, bike friendly and livable,” and doing it with various “photovision” tools The groups say this vision creates a return on investment by increasing “business income, property values and new development while decreasing vehicle crashes, pedestrian injuries and fatalities."

Among its design tools for cities focusing on short-term improvement projects are repainting bike lanes to be six feet wide, using chicanes, or extended street curbing to help slow down vehicles, directional signs to notable areas, as well as "road diets" that reduce the number of travel lanes used by vehicles and provide space for "other modes of travel," like bicycles.

· Pedestrian scaled lighting, used in Takoma Park, Maryland; enhanced intersections for beach goers, used in Kailua, Hawaii; inspiring redevelopment along small town main streets, used in Kingsport, Tennessee; and putting crosswalks where people need them.

The event brings focus to what makes sense for our streets, for our health, for our safety and for our economic development.

Click here to continue reading, including the list of featured speakers. 

Strong demand for walkable tourism  by Christopher B. Leinberger is professor at George Washington University School of Business & President of LOCUS, a project of Smart Growth AmericaWashington, D.C. He is one of the featured speakers at the Walkable Urban Communities Symposium on Thursday in downtown Fort Myers.

Walkable communities important for our health
By Ann Pierce, organizer of the Walkable Communities Symposium.

Walk, don't drive, to an economically vibrant downtown by Dick Hogan, News-Press business reporter, including interviews with local officials about the benefits and challenges of creating walkable communities.

Walkable urban communities symposium

· When: 8 a.m. to 4 30 p.m. Thursday. Doors open at 7:30 a.m.

· Where: Harborside Event Center, downtown Fort Myers

· Cost: $55 for symposium, breakfast and lunch.

· For information or to register for event: Go to or call 321-7100.

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