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Build it so they can walk it

Sketches proposing new pedestrian alleys (top) and part of T&C’s western parking lot replaced with walkways (above) - Courtesy of Winslow Tomorrow/City of Bainbridge Island
Sketches proposing new pedestrian alleys (top) and part of T&C’s western parking lot replaced with walkways (above)
— image credit: Courtesy of Winslow Tomorrow/City of Bainbridge Island

Keeping downtowns oriented for pedestrians is a key planning goal.

If you can’t walk it, you likely won’t buy it, try it or stop and sip a chai in it.

“The most important thing downtown is how good the pedestrian environment is,” says transportation planner Jim Charlier. “It’s the bottom line as to whether a downtown will function into the future.”

Charlier was one of many planners, architects, conservationists and developers who took part in a recent design charrette sponsored by the city for Winslow Tomorrow.

Charged with crafting a core set of principles to guide downtown planning, charrette participants focused much attention on ways to improve non-motorized transportation. They advocated “connectivity and access for all” in the design principle, with “safe alternatives for the car existing for pedestrians, cyclists, the impaired and transit riders.”

According to Charlier, there are two kinds urban places: “one is the kind of place you don’t care about. You go, you make your purchase, and you leave. It’s a place to do business and collect property taxes.”

The alternative is a place that holds your interest, enticing a longer, more leisurely stay. It encourages people to get out of their cars and enjoy the outdoors and some face-to-face time with others.

“What distinguishes downtowns from suburban strip-malls is the pedestrian environment,” Charlier said. “Downtowns are places you’re tempted to stay, spend some time running into people you know, or don’t know.

“You can’t have this unless it’s a walkable place.”

While Winslow’s pavement is already regularly pounded by pedestrians, architect and charrette participant Peter Brachvogel said downtown should continue to build on a good thing.

Brachvogel hopes to see more walking and biking areas breaking up Winslow Way’s “megablocks” to draw people out of their cars.

“The area is interlaced with ways for pedestrian areas to link up,” he said. “It’s kind of ghosted now – you can see where paths could be included. Right now, every new development is seen in isolation. We need to include them in the growing fabric of trails.”

Brachvogel points to a charrette design illustration that shows a new winding pedestrian path along a proposed road on Town & Country Market’s west side. The proposed path would replace T&C’s present parking lot and move parking underground. The additional road and wide sidewalk would serve as one of many new veins connecting the main travel arteries of Winslow Way with the Eagle Harbor.

“Many people come here by boat, and I expect many more will,” Brachvogel said. “This would encourage these people who came here by marine travel, and are now on foot, to come up to the restaurants and grocery store.”

Another image shows Brachvogel’s idea of pedestrian tributaries running through shops and paved open spaces apart from automobile roads. Shoppers in the sketch stroll through a portion of downtown on the south side of American Marine Bank, coming across a range of architectural styles, merchants and residences set at a comfortable distance from engines and tailpipes.

“It’s a seductive walk,” he said. “It gives a little bit of a taste of the private realm without being nosy, and it’s not too removed from the car.”

Walkability is also dependent on utility, he added. Most services and amenities should exist within a seven minute walk – the space of time Brachvogel said most “people would feel embarrassed to drive and stupid not to walk.”

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This is the last of a five-part series exploring how principles from the Winslow Tomorrow design charrette may inform the downtown planning.

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