Step by step: Sudbury on its way to being a walk-friendly city

It's been 10 years since Sudbury city hall promised to improve the area's walking experience. In 2007, former mayor John Rodriguez signed a "Walk 21" document. That is a movement from a global organization which focuses on making walking more enjoyable. So how well has Sudbury done since then?

'Walking culture' includes infrastructure and psychology, says architect

It's been 10 years since Greater Sudbury, Ont., committed to making the city more pedestrian friendly. (iStock)

What do you reach for when you leave the house — car keys or walking shoes?

It's been 10 years since Sudbury city hall promised to improve the walking experience around the city.

In 2007, former mayor John Rodriguez signed a 'Walk 21' document. That is a movement from a global organization which focuses on making walking more enjoyable in communities around the world.

By signing the document, the city agreed to:

  • Increase inclusive mobility
  • Improve spaces and places for people
  • Improve integration of networks
  • Support land-use and spatial planning
  • Reduce road danger
  • Decrease crime and fear of crime
  • Create more supportive authorities
  • Increase a culture of walking
Former mayor John Rodriguez signed this document in 2007, committing Greater Sudbury to become a more pedestrian-friendly city. (The City of Greater Sudbury)

How is the city doing?

Local architect Ted Wilson says the downtown has found its stride.

Wilson lectures at Laurentian University's McEwen School of Architecture. He says one important aspect of creating a pedestrian-friendly city is the psychological aspect.

Streets with different storefronts or perpendicular signage keep commuters engaged says Wilson. Adding that switching up what pedestrians see every 30 feet or so keeps their minds engaged.

"If I have to walk 500 feet of the same frontage, it's daunting," says Wilson. "People will find other ways to move to another street that allows them to find a more interesting path."

Wilson says Elgin is a great example of this variety.

"From the Townehouse, moving along to Little Montreal, the gallery shops there, right down to the newspaper office — you've got a nice little community," he says. "That makes for a very interesting and enjoyable pedestrian experience."

All types of pedestrians

It's important to remember, that not everyone can walk easily says Wilson.

Accessibility has improved with infrastructure like ramps, but city planners must take all types of pedestrians into account when planning improvements to a street, for example keeping curbs low or building wider walkways.

"Whether it's a mom or dad with a stroller, a  person using a cane, someone in an assisted vehicle, someone with a shopping cart — any of those situations involve having to make sure the surfaces you walk over aren't impeded by some sort of physical barrier," Wilson says.

Perception rather than planning?

Daniel Barrette, the executive director of Rainbow Routes Association says Sudbury is a lot more walk-friendly than many people think. He says the problem is one of perception.

He says people living in larger cities accept the fact that they have to walk long distances, because it's less stressful than using a car.

However Barrette says in Sudbury "being able to go everywhere by car is fairly easy to do, so people don't really give themselves the chance to walk that 40, 45 minutes."

"And actually perceive it as being something that's really far or something that's more challenging than it actually is," he adds.

Marisa Talarico, Sudbury's active transportation coordinator says investing in more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure draws in younger, long-term residents. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

Walk the walk for future Sudbury

Sudbury's active transportation coordinator, Marisa Talarico says the city's efforts to improve the pedestrian experience can be seen in the relatively new crossovers, and the plans for a north-side sidewalk along the Kingsway.

When it comes down to it, she says, a more walk-able city means a sustainable city.

"We know younger generations are driving less, and there's more interest in living a sustainable lifestyle," Talarico says.

"So I do believe it's to the city's benefit to invest in cycling and walking, to attract people to come here, live here, work here and start families here."