Slope and How it Affects Walk Appeal

As urban planners, landscape architects, architects, and urbanists, we see places a little differently than most. My wife and I both enjoy going to great urban places, but of course we each have different reasons. For her, it is dependent upon the actual mix of stores that are included in the place. For me, it is about the place as a whole. I enjoy deciphering what it is about a place that attracts people and businesses to locate where they have.

Of course, I am the odd one in this relationship. I can go to places like the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City or Cherry Creek in Denver and be perfectly content to not set foot in a single store.

So what have we learned from studying places? Generally speaking, we have learned that many things are measurable (See Steve Mouzon’s Post: Walk Appeal Measurables). We have also learned that there are several features that can’t be measured (See Steve’s subsequent Post: Walk Appeal Immeasurables). I will not elaborate too much more on either the measurables or immeasurables in this post because Steve and others have done a good job going into greater detail.

The Effect of Slope on APA’s 2011 Great Streets in America.

In this post, I would like to discuss something more along the lines of the landscape architecture expertise – how slope can affect Walkability, or Walk Appeal. In most instances, a pleasant (urban) walk correlates to a relatively flat walk. Generally speaking, sidewalk slopes should strive to be less than 2%, or less than 6-feet of elevation change for a standard 300-foot block length. A street with a slope of 2% or less feels pretty flat, and the difference between going uphill and downhill is not noticeable when walking.

Of course, this isn’t to say that places that have slopes of greater than 2% cannot be appealing. Mountain communities break the rules often and with very appealing urban places, yet they do so in a place, relative to its surroundings, that is flat…even if it requires stairs, elevators and escalators.

In Colorado, we have several examples of great urban places set into extreme hillsides. In these, it is as if the more successful and popular businesses gravitate toward the relatively flat locations. Historic Manitou Springs is one such example, where the center of activity is actually along the flattest place in town. The flattest location coincidentally is also along the valley or low point in town-a trait that is common in small mountain towns.

Having said that, the general rule remains, the flatter the walk can be, the more activity you can expect to see along it. This is very true as it relates to locating retail along a street. Comfort is a factor in making this statement, but so are the logistics of accessibility, universal design and how the architectural elements appear in a streetscape.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a similar post to this one titled “Greater Complications Create Greater Results“. More recently, I also wrote this piece along similar topics: Walkability: The Evolution of Its Definition

This post is a part of a Blog Off instigated by Author and Urbanist, Steve Mouzon. See other posts from the Blog Off here.

Prior and Future BlogOffs can be found here.

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3 Comments

  1. Can someone please give more detail about what percentage slopes constitute thresholds in walkability? In other words, what metrics are used to determine whether a walking surface is gentle, moderately steep, very steep, etc… Thank you.

    1. Hi Douglas, the easiest answer, or maximum rule of thumb is to have no greater than a 5% slope. Anything that exceeds 5% as a walking surface requires hand rails. Parking lots where cars are parked should also not exceed 5%, or 1-ft of elevation change for every 20-feet of horizontal change.
      ADA ramps may not exceed 8.333% slope, or 1-ft per 12-ft (also referred to as 12:1 slope).
      The less slope the better of course, 2% is usually a good goal to shoot for.

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