Washington, D.C. - Expensive, but not Taxing: 3. Body

Washington, D.C. - Expensive, but not Taxing: 3. Body


(Diversity of Uses + Density of uses and people) ÷ (Good Urbanism) = Positive Human Well-Being.

Locating a variety of commercial, residential, and institutional uses within a density of several blocks rather than miles shifts the dependence from automobiles towards using one's own two feet, or two pedals. Driving to run an errand or even to work now becomes somewhat unnecessary and in many cases, a burden.  This simple urban strategy indirectly and subconsciously encourages people to be active on a daily basis and not just for a weekly spinning class on Wednesday. Walking and biking to move around a city also provides more opportunities for direct social interaction with other humans. We will talk more about that in another post. Here we are concern with the body. The United States of America currently holds the Undisputed World Heavyweight Title of, well… heavyweights. Living in a built environment such as D.C. keeps people active more consistently which ultimately aids in sustaining physical human health and well-being.

Typical scene along 14th Street in D.C., people walking, rolling and strolling.  

Everyone likes numbers and facts, so here are some I dug up.

According to the U.S. census bureau…,

  • The average American commute to work lasts 25 minutes.
  • Los Angelenos spend 90 hours a year simply stuck in traffic
  • New Yorkers average a 48 minute work commute (though I imagine there is some public transit involved)
  • The urban populous of China perhaps has the worst traffic of the modern era, including the world's longest and largest traffic jam ever recorded. The historic traffic jam occurred on august 2010 in Beijing, China measuring 62 miles long and lasting for 12 days

These numbers, these representations of precious time commodities, are large portions of our lives where are bodies are completely inactive and placed in uncomfortable posture positions. Our minds during these times are also stagnant to the immediate environments around us. Car travel for extended periods has been directly and scientifically connected to weight gain, back and neck pain, physical and mental stress, and airborne sicknesses.  A recent CNN article expands on these findings and affirms some of the progressive strategies I presented here.

The average human can walk ¼ mile (1300 ft., 400 meters, 3-6 city blocks) in approximately 5 minutes. This ¼ mile metric has been used for Millennia by civilizations such as the Romans, Greeks, and Anglo-Saxons. Seeing that human physiology hasn’t really changed in millions of years, the utilization of this measurement is still applicable. (To read more about the 1/4 mile walking metric go back to the first post in this series, "Washington, D.C. - Expensive, but not Taxing:.1. TIME")

To provide contrast to the latter set of figures, here are a few of my weekly walking/biking tasks based on the ¼ mile = 5 min metric, using my home in D.C.’s Shaw Neighborhood, as the point of departure. The amount of calories burned per trip are listed alongside the travel times...

·        To Work @ Bonstra|Haresign Architects: 1 mile away, 15-20 minutes walking, approximately 120 calories.

·        Larger groceries @ Safeway: ¾ mile away, 10-15 walking, 90 calories

·        Groceries @ Trader Joe’s: 1.25 miles away, 20-25 minutes walking, 150 calories

·        Smaller groceries @ All in One Market: 1 block away, 1 minute walking.

·        Local Bar @ Shaw Tavern: 1/2 mile away, 10 minutes walking, 60 calories

·        Shopping @ Chinatown/Gallery Place: 1 mile away, 15-20 walking, 120 calories

·        Shaw/Howard University Subway Station: 5/8 mile away, 12 minutes walking, 70 calories.

·        To National Mall/Smithsonian Area/Washington Monument: 1.25 miles to Mall, 25 minutes, 150 calories. (I usually do my 6 mile run      to/around the Mall and back home).

Now again these measurements are taken from my home but obviously these tasks would be strung together as a series of duties taken care of in some linear fashion. One would take care of as many tasks as possible while already out of the house before returning home. So in a practical sense, these times and distances are a tad shorter, especially when compared to the arduous cycle of parking and driving across town to complete tasks. Times and distances are further shortened when traversing by bike. And if the savings on time and money don’t appeal to you, then perhaps the added benefit of physical well-being and health will do the trick. In this regard, driving a luxury vehicle cannot compare. Taking the number presented above, on average, I burn around 1200 calories just " 'Takin' Care of Business"

However, simply having diverse uses in close proximity to each other is not enough when attempting to support walk-ability and bike-ability in a city. This needed density and diversity is a core component of good city making, but the application of this component must be done so in a responsible manner and in correspondence with the people who will use the city. Density does not necessarily mean urban and urban constitutes more than simply density. A good example of this can be provided by contrasting the global cities of Beijing, China and New York City, New York. Both are super dense cities, but I would argue latter is more 'urban' than the former.

Good Urban Principles: One of my favorite streets in DC, 15th Street NW. Although the width is a bit wider than the 45 foot ideal, 15th street has been retro-fitted to accommodate moving car traffic, street parking and a two way bike lane. All of these components shrink the relative size of the street making it safer for people using it.. The introduction of well sized canopy trees gives added comfort and scale to the street experience.  

This is where principles of Good Urbanism come in to play. Here are some good urbanistic principles that support walking/biking in cities and as a result support the physical/mental health and well-being of its citizens…

·        Tighter/Smaller Street Sections

Decently scaled street section, especially for a residential urban street. Buildings a relatively close to the street to define the public space; On-Street parking accommodated on both sides of the road. Street Trees are beginning to bloom and will soon provide shade and respite from heat and radiation as well as natural beauty. Crosswalks are clearly demarcated; most importantly there are no speeding cars.  

– There is a proportional relationship between the width of the street (Building face to Building face) and the ‘street wall’ (vertical distance of the buildings along that street).  Ideally, a good proportioned street has a width: height ratio of at least 1:2 and no larger than 1:5. Streets in these ratios create a feeling of comfortable enclosure for people using them. Crosswalks are limited to a 45 feet (14 meter) maximum limit and require a point of respite for any dimensions after that. They also help to control car speeds on roads by reducing the amount of lanes in each direction, reducing the width of each lane, and negating the sense of expansiveness on streets which is physiologically proven to make drivers go faster.

·        Smaller Blocks and Street Hierarchy

In urban areas, more smaller blocks equate to slower vehicle speeds which equates to fewer accidents and safer streets for pedestrians. It also makes locations more accessible because there are more route options.  

– Smaller blocks means more streets. More streets mean better connectivity for a given area. Connectivity refers to the number of options a driver or walker has when trying to reach a specific destination. They also help to control traffic speeds by requiring vehicles to stop more frequently at red lights and stop signs. The streets made by the many smaller blocks fall in a street hierarchy classification of Main/Arterial, Secondary, and Tertiary streets. Main streets are the widest, busiest, and speediest relative to city speeds. They host a variety of activities and are usually the local inlets into a city leading from highways. Secondary streets branch off from the main arterials and are much more intimate. Because of their more tranquil nature, secondary streets mostly relate to residential areas although they can host mixed uses as well. Tertiary streets are the smallest of the three. These streets branch off from secondary streets. This class of street is my favorite because they can take on a myriad of uses that often relate to a specifically pedestrian experience. Service alleys, two lane one way streets, pedestrian promenades, and arcades are all examples of tertiary streets.

·        Street Parking

– On Street Parking helps control road speeds by providing another dynamic for drivers to be aware when using the street. It also serves as a protective barrier between bike lanes and people using the sidewalk, and cars driving in the road.

·        Biking lanes

– Lanes with in the roadway dedicated to bikes only. In addition to providing space for bikes, the biking lanes help control vehicles speeds by adding to the dynamics drivers must be aware of.

·        Landscape/Maintained R.O.W’S

– Well-kept streetscapes and sidewalks are critical in promoting the walkability of a city. One of the major criticisms against walkability is the lack of upkeep with regards to sidewalks and storefronts. Providing street trees adds to the beauty of the street and provides shade for walkers. Benches allow walkers moments of rest. Rubbish containers contribute to visual up keep. Strategies such as bollards, street, parking, signage and properly design curbs and crosswalks all play into the walkability of a city.

·        Pocket Parks/Regional Parks

– As with any mode of transportation, there must be a destination. Visiting parks within the city are great motivators for walking and biking. They serve as places of natural respite and relaxation for those navigating through the dense network of well-landscaped streets. If located correctly, parks can be a great walking destination for the lunch crowd, a place for neighborhood sports, or simply taking a stroll on a nice day.

When diverse uses and density of uses are combined with good urbanistic principles the result is a community that not only supports walking and biking, but also urges it. Washington D.C. is such a place. People walk and bike everywhere: when going on dates, getting to work, going shopping, or simply for leisure. Ultimately, this phenomena aides in producing healthier individuals, the majority of which without knowing, are living healthier lifestyles. Walk it out people, walk it out. 



Washington, D.C. - Expensive, But Not Taxing: 2. Money

Washington, D.C. - Expensive, But Not Taxing: 2. Money