Sprouts Farmers Market anchors the shopping plaza on First Avenue near Wetmore Road, which is a short walk for residents of Verde Apartments, across the street.
Except the sidewalks are more cracked than not, and traffic whizzes past with students heading to the University of Arizona and workers taking shortcuts to River and Oracle roads.
Instead of walking, Verde Apartments residents are more likely to hop in their cars and take the short drive to the store.
Just because something is in walking distance doesn’t mean it’s easy to walk to. This concept, described as walkability, is often a marker for sustainability and health and isn’t all that common in U.S. cities.
Tucson scores 43/100 on walkability, according to Walkscore.com, a website that ranks and analyzes the walkability and pedestrian safety of cities around the world. Interestingly, it ranks as the 27th most walkable large city in the U.S., with the most walkable being San Francisco.
People are also reading…
Walkability has four themes, according to a paper published at Harvard University by Ann Forsyth, a professor of urban design: the physical ability to walk in an area, short distances between desirable destinations, safety (both criminal and traffic-related) and the enticing factor of the walkable area.
Adriana Zuniga-Teran, a professor at University of Arizona with a doctorate in arid lands resource sciences, created a tool that measures walkability according to nine factors. The factors are connectivity, land use, density, traffic safety, surveillance, parking, experience, greenspace and community. This model can be applied to any community to determine the walkability.
Zuniga-Teran applied this method to the Sam Hughes neighborhood in Tucson and found that for the most part, “Tucson is a car dependent city,” she said.
This is largely because Tucson is a car-centric city that was commercialized after World War II, which “really changed the paradigm of American cities,” Zuniga-Teran said.
The way the United States conceptualizes cities after World War II prioritizes the automobile much more than it does the pedestrian.
“We often equate like being able to drive with freedom,” said Joey Iuliano, a professor in the UA College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture who specializes in urban planning and active transportation.
Iuliano asks the question: If the city’s only option to commute is to drive, is that really freedom?
He believes that having the option to walk, bike, take public transit or drive is freedom.
But how can cities like Tucson transition toward being more pedestrian-friendly?
A great place to start is sidewalks and bike lanes.
“Paint is not protection,” said Iuliano.
Expanding bike lanes while narrowing and or removing lanes for cars is safer for both drivers and pedestrians.
As for sidewalks, for them to be walkable, they must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning that they must be at least 3 feet wide and feature curb ramps that allow those with mobility devices to transition easily from the street to the sidewalk.
In Tucson and many other urban sprawl cities, the farther you get from the city center, often the less continuous and smooth the sidewalks are. Many more rural areas don’t even have sidewalks.
With the lack of sidewalks also comes the lack of marked crossings, which can lead to pedestrian accidents.
According to the City of Tucson’s Traffic Safety Campaign, one in three Tucsonans killed in car crashes are pedestrians.
But the City of Tucson is working to fix that.
City propositions such as 407 and 411 are working to create safer, more complete streets for both pedestrians and drivers.
Proposition 407 was approved in November 2018 and provides funding for projects such as ADA-compliant sidewalks, curb ramps, complete and connected sidewalks, enhanced street crossings, street lighting and landscaping for shade.
One project being funded is the Fifth/Sixth Street pedestrian safety and walkability project. It will complete the street in hopes of making it safer all the way from Campbell Avenue to Alvernon Road.
More than $5.3 million was set aside for the project from the voter-approved Prop 407, and the project is in the planning stages. Construction is scheduled to start in the summer of 2024, according to the project fact sheet.
The city prioritizes areas with frequent pedestrian crashes, disconnects in safe bike lines and poor transit services, focusing on the most vulnerable users, according to Patrick Hartley, Complete Streets program coordinator for the City of Tucson.
But “walkability isn’t just about the infrastructure,” said Hartley.
The Fifth/Sixth Street project is a perfect example of this, as the street has become a bustling community center with thriving businesses such as Flora’s Market Run and Tumerico, two cherished neighborhood restaurants.
The street will be narrowed to one lane on each side, creating space for a 7- to 8-foot bike lane with additions of continuous sidewalks, two new HAWK pushbutton crossings, landscaping and better lighting.
“It’ll improve walkability. Right now there’s large gaps in the sidewalk network,” said Ryan Fagan, the project manager.
On April 20, the city held an event at Alvernon Park to meet with the public about the project, gathering community input.
About 30 community members ranging from families to cyclists to older adults showed up to discuss the project.
Similar projects have been done and planned around the city, such as the improvements to the crosswalks and bus stops near Sunnyside High School on Tucson’s south side.
“I see the difference living in the community,” said Sunnyside mother Magda Quiroga, who cites the better bus routes as the reason her son can get to and from school quicker and safer.
The safety of the community is paramount in increasing the quality of life for Tucson citizens, drivers and pedestrians.
These projects serve as a starting point in the investment toward a more sustainable community with more options for people to choose how they interact with their communities.
The projects signal a move for the city to “(show) our willingness to really invest heavily in safety and complete streets,” said Hartley.
6 places to take a leisurely walk in Tucson
This park on Tucson's west side is just a few minutes from Tumamoc Hill and offers a 2.9-mile loop trail.
Greasewood Park, at 1075 N. Greasewood Road, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and has picnic tables in case you want to stay longer to take in the views of cactuses, palo verde trees and the occasional lizard.
Gates Pass at Tucson Mountain Park is known for its views at sunset, but it also has hiking trails for when the sun is still out.
To get there, take W. Gates Pass Road heading west past N. Camino De Oeste for about two and a half miles until you reach the main parking area.
Yetman Trail/Bowen House
Another popular destination at Tucson Mountain Park is the Bowen House, which can be reached via a two-mile round trip on the David Yetman Trail.
The stone house was built by Sherry Bowen, a former Arizona Daily Star editor, and it became part of Tucson Mountain Park in 1983 after he and his wife Ruby moved out.
To get there, take East Speedway Blvd. past I-10 and turn south onto Camino de Osete to reach the trail head at 415 N. Camino de Oeste.
Sabino Canyon offers several trails for hikers of all ages and levels of experience, along with some unbeatable views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
The trails, picnic spots and Sabino Creek can all be reached from the recreation area at 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park
This easy one-mile loop trail offers a different landscape view than most trails around Tucson with its turtle- and frog-filled ponds. After some decent monsoon storms, the park tends to be lush with greenery.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park, 2511 W. Sweetwater Drive, is just west of I-10 after taking Prince Road across the overpass.
Rillito River Park
The 12-mile Rillito River path on The Loop is one of Tucson's most popular spots for joggers and bicyclists, especially during monsoon season when water may be flowing in the normally dry river.
One of the best spots to get on the path is at the Rillito River Park lot on North Campbell Ave., just south of River Road.