We Want to Walk

These are examples of innovative street design implemented near the University of Oregon to include pedestrians, bicycles and cars.“Back in diagonal parking”, common before WWII, is an attempt to better help drivers see bicyclists as they leave parking spaces.

September 19, 1989    The Oregonian.   Brent Thompson

This column prompted the writing of what came to be known as the “Transportation Planning Rule”. At the time Susan Brody was Director of the Department of Land Conservation and Development. She slogged through days of meetings over months to finalize the rule writing.

          Oregon arguably has the best body of land use planning law in the United States.

          The goals of the 1970’s such as farmland preservation and the prevention of urban sprawl and leap frog development have been achieved to some extent.  Oregonians did not want to duplicate California’s style of land use planning.

          But there is an important aspect of planning we have ignored.  While we have wisely protected our farm land and contained our cities, we have not made our cities and towns comfortable to walk, stroll, or linger in.

          It is difficult to quantify comfort which is part of the problem.  Inside our urban growth boundaries we are duplicating California;’s worst sins by not trying hard enough to make people comfortable.  We know we don’t like large parking lots, congestion, and strip development with an endless series of single story single use structures with standard franchise themes, but we don’t know what to do to avoid this type of planning.  The types of development are oriented solely to automobile, not pedestrian use, which makes these areas uncomfortable for people.

         We continue to build shopping centers in the middle of parcels, surround them with asphalt, and omit sidewalks and paths to neighboring residential areas.   We justify such development by saying the shopping center is “regional” which means shoppers have to drive there.  From the streets we can see some landscaping—but far away across an expanse of asphalt—- the shopping center.  This is a model commonly seen in California.

         Shopping centers and commercial buildings do not have to be built that way.  They can be built closer to surface streets with parking lots at the side or the rear,  That invites people to walk there thus making people un-quantifiably more comfortable.  Buildings should be placed on parcels to enhance rather than detract from the streetscape.

          Cities should reflect the values of their residents in planning.  If we want to drive our cars everywhere,  we  should continue as we have for the next decade and beyond.  If we want he option of walking, we can object to any planning action that does not provide for all forms of transportation equally.  The state land use transportation goal provides for that, but it is often ignored by developers and planners.  We can remind planners of the content of the transportation goal by reminding planners that “We want to walk.”

         That does’t mean we always want to walk nor that we don’t want to drive, but that we don’t want to be penalized for walking, riding a bicycle, or using public transportation.  We would like alternatives that invite both driving and walking.

          Imagine your car out of service.  Can you function in your town?  If not, your city needs to revise its planning policies.   Your town needs site design guidelines and transportation policies that provide easier access for walkers, bicyclists, and users of public transportation.

         These things can be done, and planners do want to incorporate the will of the people in their planning.   They often now how to make a comfortable town.  They simply need community support to do it.  Letting planners know that we want to be able to walk is a good start.  

          Oregon planners and our legislators have led the state closer to proper land use than other states.  They just need to bring us the rest of the way.  A single planning action rarely affects a city greatly, but if there are enough of them where the comfort of carless people is a priority, the entire city will become more comfortable.  It is possible to reduce the amount of parking needed throughout an entire city.    

         The US standard is one parking space for every 400 square feet of commercial space.  As a state wide goal, we could conceivably plan well enough for alternative forms of transportation to make our state wide standard one space for every 600 square feet of commercial space.  If we set that as our goal our professional planners will figure out a way to achieve it.


This was written after a visit to the Springfield Gateway Mall on a field trip while at the Oregon Planning Institute statewide planning conference in early September 1989.  The shock of the absence of pedestrian amenities caused Brent Thompson to write the column which he delivered to the Oregonian for publication.   Susan Brody head of the Department of Land Conservation and Development then decided to undertake rule writing to give “teeth” to Goal 14 of Senate Bill 100.   The Oregon Transportation Planning Rule was the result. Now there are criteria to include all forms of transportation in every land use planning action. Yah!

This street design near the University of Oregon campus features parking on the left, a vehicle traffic lane, another row of parking and two bicycle lanes along the right curb to separate bicyclists from moving traffic. The green area defines the pedestrian zone. A label for this type of street design might be “multi model transportation equity”.