The city that I live in recently sent out some surveys for residents to fill out about issues and concerns that people have with the city. Many of the questions dealt with streets and getting around walking and by bike. I was really pleased to see that there is some attention being paid to this issue, as our city has a tremendously low Walkability score. There is almost nowhere you can get to easily without a car.
Yet, just seeing that there is a desire to make the city more livable for everyone, even those who want to walk or bike, doesn’t solve the simple issue of density. Because of the size of the lots that the houses are built on, you simply can’t make things close enough to make a difference.
As an example, my city has a density of 2500 people per square mile. The suburb just south of us has a density of 5500 people per square mile. The large city where I grew up is even denser still. It takes these higher densities to make non-car travel even feasible. All the bike paths in the world aren’t going to make a difference if I still can’t get anywhere quickly because of all the land taken up by large lots with single story houses.
Our city is starting to build more high density housing, in terms of apartment complexes. Additionally, many lots seem to be much closer together with houses that are built up and not out. It’s going to be impossible to change the core housing layout though without completely razing neighborhoods, which simply won’t happen. It’s not that it needs to either, but it does dictate the type of suburb that you will have because of a very specific type of urban planning from 60 years ago.