Benefits of Neighborways
Neighborways bring many benefits to the local and larger community. By inviting people in to the streets to walk and play, traffic is slower. Studies show that on streets with slower traffic, people have more friends and know their neighbors better. More people on the street means more eyes on the street and our streets become safer. Neighborways also provide a low cost sustainable transportation option for cities looking to do their part in addressing global climate change.
Public Health, Active Play +
Free Range Kids
Neighborways provide activity friendly environments that have great potential to reduce chronic health risks associated with inactivity and obesity. Today, the majority of adults and adolescents do not get the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity. In 1969, half of the country’s schoolchildren walked or biked to and from school. Today, less than 15% of children use active transportation. As active transportation levels have dramatically declined for both adults and children, obesity levels have soared. Currently, approximately one in three adults and one in six children and adolescents are obese.
Neighborways also promote active, unstructured play for youth. In cities and towns across the U.S, children are not getting out and playing due to a variety of reasons including safety concerns, increased screen time, more structured lives, and poor access to play spaces. Since the late 1970s, children on average have lost 12 hours per week in free time, including a 50% decrease in unstructured outdoor activities. Not only are there serious health consequences associated less unstructured play, but active play can impact child development. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Furthermore, it allows kids to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, and resolve conflicts.
Finally, all parents face a decision of when they are comfortable letting their kids venture out on their own. Neighborways lower the age at which kids will be safe walking and biking to the places they need to go.
A handful of studies demonstrates that features that make neighborhoods more walkable may also promote better social environments. For example, residents of walkable neighborhoods were more likely to report knowing their neighbors, trusting others, and being involved in social/civic life. Moreover, frequent walking was predictive of higher social participation rates. While there is still limited body of peer-reviewed evidence predicating social benefits to bike/walk infrastructure, these studies provide promising evidence in support of neighborways and its benefits.
Currently, both Portland and Seattle are prioritizing Neighborways to optimize their active kid-friendly transportation network citywide. Neighborway design and scale (e.g. grids with narrow streets, shorter blocks, and traffic-calming measures) is conducive to developing short distance travel routes for walkers and bicyclists without costly new infrastructure. While implementing neighborways is not the only solution to creating more livable, safe streets, they do offer an additional stratagem in developing a more comprehensive, connected network that enables users of all abilities to reach short trip destinations safely and with greater ease. In Somerville, specifically, we are interested in connecting neighborhoods with schools, squares and transit stations.
Traffic safety needs to be taken into consideration when promoting active transportation. Pedestrians and cyclists are two of the most vulnerable types of road users and account for a large number of motor vehicle-related injuries. It is also well established that injuries arising from events involving motor vehicles are more severe compared to other causes of injuries, including pedestrian–bicycle collisions.
Streets with higher vehicle speeds have a strong association with both a greater likelihood of pedestrian crash occurrence and more serious resulting pedestrian injuries. For example, at 20 mph, 95% of pedestrians survive auto crashes, while at 40 mph the likelihood of surviving is only 20%. Promoting neighborways with appropriate traffic calming elements is a promising intervention to reduce injuries and deaths. Studies have linked residential street bike routes to a reduction in crashes and injuries. Evidence suggests that traffic-calming schemes (e.g. markings, signage, chicanes) can alter driver behavior, improve conditions for non-motorized user and reduce the number of accidents by up to 15%. Moreover, as more and more people use neighborways, motorists will be less likely to collide with a person walking or biking. This “safety in numbers” concept has great potential in attracting users that would otherwise not walk or bike due to actual or perceived safety. Providing street environments that meet safety concerns will be essential in attracting more people to active transport as a key means of transportation
Improved Air Quality
Automobiles are a significant contributor to local air pollution. One of the often-highlighted benefits of neighborways is its ability to encourage commuting by bicycling or walking. When used for commuting or recreation, neighborways can help reduce the use of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) and therefore reduce total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and subsequent vehicle emissions that contribute to poor air quality. In Somerville in particular there is a lot of congestion associated with school pick-up & drop off. This gives residents an alternative way of getting their children to school.
Low Cost Sustainable Transit Option
Neighborways can be created almost entirely with paint and creativity. Of course if money exists many beautiful things can be done to make streets even better. The low cost of paint means we can create networks of low-stress play streets that connect neighborhoods, schools and parks across the City.
Neighborways have the potential to help decrease the use of single occupancy vehicles (SOV’s) and reduce VMT. In the U.S, 28% of all car trips are 1-mile or less and 41% of all trips are 2 miles or less. Neighborways can help municipalities reduce short car trips by providing safe, accessible routes to destinations such as transit, parks, social services, and grocery stores. Reducing shorter auto trips has implications for less oil dependency and lower greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.