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story.lead_photo.caption Matthias Pfeil of Dresden, Germany, speaks during the Transatlantic Walkability Symposium on Thursday in Little Rock. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

A summit with a delegation from Germany last week allowed city leaders, staff members and advocates to air ideas for how to make Little Rock more walkable.

Matthias Pfeil, transport development planning coordinator for the city of Dresden, said Arkansas' capital city immediately reminded him of his own when he arrived ahead of Thursday's discussion, especially because of the trees and the river trail.

But Little Rock's statistics, zoning and structure put it a world away from a German city flush with mixed-use buildings and train lines, some speakers and panelists said. According to Walk Score, an algorithm that rates U.S. cities cited by Little Rock architect James Meyer on Thursday, Little Rock is a car-dependent city and the third-most walkable city in Arkansas despite being the largest. Searcy and Fort Smith rank higher.

Promoting walkability has been a hot topic of discussion in Little Rock's current mayoral race as a way to both retain young people and make resources accessible for people of all ages and incomes.

Thursday's program was part of a roadshow featuring discussions about sustainable mobility sponsored by the German American Chambers of Commerce.

Some speakers and panelists, including Dave Roberts of the civil engineering firm Crafton Tull, wondered if Little Rock's structural skeleton makes overall walkability a bridge too far, with city zoning regulations putting stores and services driving distance from residential areas.

Crystal Bowne, program coordinator at national nonprofit America Walks, said many of Little Rock's streets are built for cars, when in past decades they included public space that encouraged walking.

"If you design a road for cars, you're going to get cars," she said. "I'm not advocating for horse and buggy, but what I'm saying is, we know how to fix this."

Others, including architect Mason Ellis, pointed to planned projects in Little Rock that would connect different parts of the city, such as bike paths linking the Central High and Capitol View/Stifft Station neighborhood to the Arkansas River Trail.

Tab Townsell, the executive director of Metroplan, the long-range transportation planning agency for central Arkansas, said Little Rock's form of government is an obstacle. Instead of a two-headed local government that includes both a city manager and a full-time mayor, Little Rock should give its mayor the power to implement infrastructure that promotes walkability.

Some panelists pointed to feasible, low-cost changes small businesses can make to encourage their employees to be active. Chris Hancock, chairman of the young professionals organization Create Little Rock, said companies can encourage employees to cycle to work by providing showers and a place to put one's bike.

Erin Gildner, vice president of the Arkansas chapter of the United Spinal Association, said one way to promote walkability is to bring people of all physical abilities to the table in planning discussions. Gildner, who uses a wheelchair to get around, said potholes and sidewalks in disrepair sometimes add as much as 10 minutes to her travel time.

"I think it's extremely important to have a broad group of individuals that provide advice," she said.

Bowne also referred to the need for diverse voices.

"People know what they need in their own neighborhoods," she said.

Metro on 09/17/2018

Print Headline: Little Rock walkability issues discussed; forum looks for ways to reduce reliance on automobiles


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Archived Comments

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    September 17, 2018 at 5:27 a.m.

    Did Little Rock pay to fly a german over here? I feel like there is A LOT we are not being told about

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    September 17, 2018 at 5:28 a.m.

    "People know what they need in their own neighborhoods," she said.

    thats why you pad the population with foreigners.....

  • JIMBOB47
    September 17, 2018 at 6:59 a.m.

    Maybe LR should make their roads 'DRIVEABLE' before worrying about 'WALKABLE' issues?

  • Nodmcm
    September 17, 2018 at 7:01 a.m.

    Arkansas has some of the worst health-related outcomes in America, many due to lack of proper exercise. Sidewalks are prevalent in older parts of Little Rock, but they may be in disrepair. Walking is great exercise, if you can avoid getting hit by traffic. Public transit makes biking and walking more attractive for commuters, with bike racks on buses. Thank God the Millenials are putting pressure on places like Little Rock to provide more options for walking and biking.

  • abb
    September 17, 2018 at 7:09 a.m.

    Little Rock would be 100% more walk-able if we can keep felons in jail.

  • RBear
    September 17, 2018 at 7:32 a.m.

    abb that has NOTHING to do with walkability, but you got your little right wing ding in. Keep staying ignorant.

  • Jfish
    September 17, 2018 at 8 a.m.

    This statement pretty much sums it up, "But Little Rock's statistics, zoning and structure put it a world away from a German city flush with mixed-use buildings and train lines, some speakers and panelists said.". Until there is better planning and slowing the urban sprawl in West Pulaski County, nothing will change. I agree with NOD and Rbear.

  • CartoonDude
    September 17, 2018 at 9:07 a.m.

    For your own safety, you shouldn't walk in Little Rock.

  • RBear
    September 17, 2018 at 11:21 a.m.

    CartoonDude I walk in it every day and haven't had a problem. I walk downtown, day and night, and don't have a problem. I walk in many neighborhoods around the city and don't have a problem. But I also walk with an awareness of where I'm walking, making sure I'm in well-lit areas or along well traveled streets. That's not because it's Little Rock. That's just smart urban methods.
    When I lived in San Antonio, I lived on the western edge of the urban core. I knew my surroundings and when it was okay to walk and when to take a cab or Uber. The bottom line is that you are in a city, not walking down the streets of downtown Harrison. Heck, there are parts of Harrison I wouldn't walk for fear of methed up white supremacists.