New Research on Transforming Unhealthy Corridors into Vibrant, Healthy Places Released by Urban Land Institute and Smart Growth America

For more information, contact: Trisha Riggs at 202-679-4557; trisha.riggs@uli.org

WASHINGTON (February 19, 2019) – The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has released two new research reports on the challenges and opportunities presented by unhealthy corridors: Blind Spots: How Unhealthy Corridors Harm Communities and How to Fix Them  and Envisioning Healthy Corridors: Lessons from Four Communities.

Blind Spots, produced through a collaborative effort between ULI’s Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance and Smart Growth America (SGA), and Envisioning Healthy Corridors continue ULI’s work on creating healthy corridors that safely accommodate all users, promote equitable economic development, and enhance community health.

“We are seeing an increased focus on the social and economic benefits of building for health and wellness. This is resulting in a transformation of unappealing, unhealthy corridors that discourage physical activity and social interaction into vibrant, attractive destinations that catalyze further community development and investment,” said ULI Chief Executive Officer W. Edward Walter. “These reports build on ULI’s work in helping to create healthy corridors for cities across the United States, and hopefully, they will spur conversations about how to use health to reimagine the future of these areas.”

Blind Spots looks at the impact of unhealthy corridors, why communities all over the country have them, and what can be done to transform them. The report examines their prevalence and location, the conditions they share, and the impact they have on people’s lives. It also explores the land use and transportation decisions that give rise to and perpetuate their existence, as well as opportunities to use policy and practice levers to reshape them into community assets.

“This report confirms that far too many major roads in our communities are dangerous by design, unhealthy, and economically underperforming. These problems are interconnected and often coexist in place, so transforming these unhealthy corridors into safe, thriving places for people will require interdisciplinary and place-based solutions,” said SGA President and Chief Executive Officer Calvin Gladney, who is a ULI trustee.

As part of the research effort, ULI and SGA undertook an audit of corridors nationwide, providing a statistically accurate snapshot of corridor conditions and prevalence. This research shows that unhealthy corridors constitute a loss to communities in terms of human life and safety, economic productivity, and transportation efficiency.

Key findings include:

  • Primary arterials are dangerous. These high-capacity, high-speed roads that connect highways and interstate arterials to lower-capacity roads and serve as the de facto main street in many communities around the country represent 157,033 miles of the nation’s 4.2 million miles of roadways—just 4 percent of the total—but have accounted for almost 30 percent of traffic fatalities in recent years.
  • Unhealthy corridors are ubiquitous. Sixty-seven percent of commercial corridors are at least moderately unhealthy, and 4 percent are severely unhealthy. Only 3 percent can be considered healthy.
  • Pedestrians are especially vulnerable. People walking make up a disproportionate share of traffic deaths on arterial commercial corridors. Nationwide between 2012-2016, 15 percent of people killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians, but on the commercial corridors analyzed for the report, pedestrians accounted for 32 percent of traffic deaths.

The report examines the causes of unhealthy corridors, finding that land use and transportation policies and practices oriented toward autos rather than people lead to the corridors’ proliferation and persistence. These policies and practices can and should be addressed so that corridors are better able to serve residents and workers in the communities, the report notes.

Problematic land use and transportation policies and practices include sprawling, separated land use patterns and policies, car-oriented street design and operations, many disincentives for private development to redevelop unhealthy corridors, and a lack of local autonomy. The report offers alternative approaches, including:

  • Replacing single-use zoning with mixed-use zoning districts;
  • Adopting Complete Streets policies that commit to creating comprehensive networks to support walking, biking and use of public transit;
  • Encouraging investment with land-value tax policies; and
  • Encouraging state transportation departments to adopt context-sensitive design guidance and give local governments more flexibility and autonomy.

Envisioning Healthy Corridors is a supplement to a 2016 ULI publication, Building Healthy Corridors: Transforming Urban and Suburban Arterials into Thriving Places. The new report describes efforts in four communities, catalyzed by ULI District Councils and ULI members, to transform their problematic urban and suburban arterials into healthy places. Corridor profiles summarize corridor challenges, recommendations from ULI-led workshops, and next steps:

  • In Englewood, Colorado, stakeholders explored opportunities to create a health-focused east-west corridor along South Broadway that links hospitals to neighborhoods, expands housing options, and creates a vibrant retail environment.
  • In Fayetteville, Arkansas, leaders looked at how College Avenue/Highway 71B could be designed for a variety of modes and how creative strategies could help foster the development of attractive, authentic places along the corridor.
  • In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ULI convened local and national experts to recommend enhancements to Grays Ferry Avenue, including improved on-street infrastructure that accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists, greening efforts, and affordable housing.
  • In the Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota region, an interjurisdictional collaborative was sought for the Rice-Larpenteur Gateway, along with ongoing holistic community engagement.

 The report shares common lessons and recommendations for achieving healthier corridors, including 1) lead with health; 2) get organized, 3) engage with the local community during the process; 4) promote policies and planning that focus on health and wellness; and 5) emphasize equitable economic development.

“As these reports show, unhealthy corridors can be deadly and costly for communities,” said Billy Grayson, executive director of ULI’s Sustainability Center, which includes the institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative. “America’s dangerous and underperforming urban and suburban arterials reside in the country’s collective “blind spots”—often places that are ugly, unloved, unsafe, and neglected. But they are not inevitable. Healthier corridors are possible, if the right mix of strategies can be brought to bear.”

About the Urban Land Institute

The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the institute has more than 42,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines. For more information, please visit uli.org  or follow us on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn, and Instagram.

About Smart Growth America

Smart Growth America envisions a country where no matter where you live, or who you are, you can enjoy living in a place that is healthy, prosperous, and resilient. We empower communities through technical assistance, advocacy, and thought leadership to realize our vision of livable places, healthy people, and shared prosperity. Learn more at www.smartgrowthamerica.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *