June 29, 2004

If New Urbanists Have Their Way…

"...which is happening increasingly often, say goodbye to strip malls fronted by seas of parking, office parks with faux waterfalls and cookie-cutter subdivisions," says a Chicago Tribune report on the New Urbanists' annual conference.

Goodbye to strip malls fronted by seas of parking -- wouldn't that be great!

"The goal of the movement is to revive the kind of planning and architecture that shaped cities such as Chicago, with its scrambled, dense mix of homes, shops, restaurants, sidewalks, parks and offices.

"This kind of planning is basically dead in America, New Urbanists say, replaced by a shift toward things simpler and, in their opinion, soul-killing: strip malls, office parks and subdivisions, all accessible only by car. . . .

"Most Main Streets across the U.S. would be impossible to build today because zoning codes often prohibit limited parking as well as building offices and apartments above stores, said [former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, president of the Congress for New Urbanism."

June 28, 2004

New 3.5-Mile Trail in Southborough

"After two years of talks with the MWRA, the town has received permission to extend its trail along the Sudbury Reservoir -- a major stride in the town's overall trail network," says the MetroWest Daily News. "Once it is complete, the Open Channel Trail will connect with the existing 2 1/2-mile Sudbury Reservoir Trail. The entire trail begins at the east end of Main Street, goes west along the water the whole way and ends near the town's Northborough Road."

Ah, to finally have our Cochituate Rail Trail open in Framingham as well....

Update: There's a Web site where you can keep track of area railtrail news, at www.Framinghamtrails.org.

June 27, 2004

The Other Major Local Mall Project

In addition to the major Natick Mall expansion, there's another large-scale mall project on the table in MetroWest: a $105 million, 850,000-square-foot new mall on the Hudson-Berlin line on Rte. 62.

Interestingly, in keeping with the current trend in major shopping centers (see previous post), this won't be an enclosed center.

"The open-air mall, called Highland Commons, would include high-end department stores. smaller shops, and restaurants," Globe West reports.

The developers are promising "quality design, construction, and landscaping . . . to make it a visually attractive and desirable shopping destination," the story says. However, there's NOTHING in the article about pedestrian/bicycle access or a pedestrian friendly environment.

Attention Hudson & Berlin planners: This is new development. You've got a golden opportunity to begin reversing decades of pedestrian-hostile sprawl and demand a design that gives equal weight to non-motorized travel. This would make the new mall a much more appealing addition to your communities, instead of just another bunch of stores surrounded by an ocean of pavement that forces vehicle-only access.

June 25, 2004

Natick Mall Expansion Design

The MetroWest Daily News reports on architectural drawings for the Natick Mall expansion, which will apparently feature "tall, conical glass entrances and concrete berm that will rise and fall like rolling hills. An all-glass restaurant sits above a tunnel and one restaurant will have an outside eating deck," the article says.

Outside is nice, although a deck over a view of a parking lot wouldn't be all that appealing.

The artist's rendition on the News Web site shows three people walking by the buildings; but if you look carefully, that view at least is certainly not very pedestrian friendly -- there's no barrier at all between the sidewalk area and the street. The only reason those artist-rendition pedestrians appear to be strolling so casually and happily is that there are no speeding vehicles (or ANY vehicles) in the drawing.

The architects, Beyer Blinder Belle, also worked on the fabulous Grand Central Terminal restoration in New York. So hopefully they have something better in mind for the mall expansion than a modern, sleek-looking center surrounded by a pedestrian-hostile environment that one would only want to drive to or between.

Mayor Daley’s Green Crusade

"The longtime Chicago mayor has vowed to make his city the greenest in the nation," begins an article in Metropolis magazine.

More than 40,000 trees have been planted in the city during his tenure; 63 miles of "median strips with planters were built into city streets and filled like cornucopias with flowers, plants, shrubs, and of course, more trees."

“It’s not just about beautification. And he gets that," Lisa Roberts, director of the Garfield Park Conservatory ("one of the nation’s largest and oldest—which was on the verge of total collapse when Daley put her in charge of a complete renovation") told Metropolis. "One of the smart things he did was to bring in some researchers to address city council members who showed that the presence of greening in people’s lives has a direct link to lowering crime rates, improving test scores, boosting real estate values, et cetera."

I would add: a greener city is also likely to be a more walker-friendly community.

(If you'd like to see what planting trees can do for a moribund business district, do take a look at this Flash presentation from Urban Advantage).

June 24, 2004

Decline of the Traditional Mall

"These days, you either go [shopping] for the experience... or you go to Wal-Mart for the discount. The regional mall is boring without bargains."

So urban planner William Fulton, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California School of Policy, Planning and Development, told the Los Angeles Times, in an article Moving the Mall Outdoors.

"Developers are tearing down or reconfiguring covered malls from Raleigh, N.C., to Columbus, Ohio, making room for outdoor centers that mix traditional retailers with big-box stores, high-density housing, stadium-style theaters, grocery stores and restaurants," the article notes.

"Many people live in communities where there's not a main street where they can walk, window shop and meet people," Ellen Greenberg, director of research for Congress for the New Urbanism, told the Times. "What we're learning is people value that and miss it, which is why it's being imitated in these lifestyle centers."

Framingham Seeks More Say On Natick Mall

Framingham officials have asked their counterparts in Natick not to fast-track approval for the proposed 500,000-square-foot Natick Mall expansion, according to the MetroWest Daily News.

Framingham officials say they'd like to be part of the approval process for the project. "In a letter sent to Natick officials yesterday, Framingham Planning Board Chairman Tom Mahoney said the board is concerned with increased traffic on routes 9 and 30, a rotary planned inside mall property, and bicycle and pedestrian access to the site," the News article notes.

Yes! Pedestrian and bicycle access to the site! And it would be great to have pedestrian friendly streetscape WITHIN the project as well ... like ground floor restaurants with outdoor seating, lovely landscaping and places to stroll without being next to whizzing traffic or an asphalt ocean.

June 23, 2004

Smart Growth, Smart Choices

If you haven't seen it yet, I had an opinion piece in the MetroWest Daily News Sunday, Smart Growth, Smart Choices.

The Arcade project is a nice step toward bringing more residential and commercial activity to the heart of downtown [Framingham]. But "mixed use" alone won't breathe life into a moribund business district. If the Arcade complex is surrounded by uninviting concrete and asphalt, it's not going to do much for the neighborhood.

On the other hand, if the center has an appealing, well landscaped sidewalk area, perhaps even a small, human-scale (i.e. not like Boston City Hall!) plaza outdoor restaurant or cafe dining in nice weather ... that could truly bring vitality to the surrounding community.

There's lots more, of course :-)

June 21, 2004

Great (and not so great) Public Spaces

The Project for Public Spaces has an interesting list of Great Public Places, incuding buildings and streets as well as parks and markets. There's also a Hall of Shame for places that are empty, uninviting, disorienting and inaccessible.

Area sites in the thumbs-up list include Post Office Square (Boston), Boston Common & Public Garden and the Minuteman Bikeway. Widely-detested Boston City Hall Plaza makes the Hall of Shame.

They've also posted guidelines for What Makes a Successful Place (hint: accessibility, comfort, sociability and activities taking place), as well as Why Spaces Fail. These are important issues as Framingham begins revitalizing downtown and Natick oversees a major mall expansion, because even smart people can get it wrong. And once you've got a bad development, it can take decades to get rid of.

Why did Boston's Lafayette Place fail so miserably, while Copley Place not only succeeded but added vitality to neighboring Newbury and Boylston streets? Why is Quincy Market such an appealing public area and Boston City Hall so ghastly? Integration with the neighborhood, creating an appealing streetscape that people want to linger in ... these are key for nurturing a successful commercial center.

June 20, 2004

Downtown Redevelopment Before Your Eyes

How do you spruce up a tired-looking, unappealing downtown business district? Create a pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

Don't believe it? You can actually see some vivid step-by-step transformations, thanks to Urban Advantage (Flash browser plug-in required) .

The first picture shows an existing avenue that you'd be unlikely to want to park, shop or walk on. Click through on the orange right arrow to see what happens when you 1) give the buildings a facelift, 2) re-do the street surface and sidewalks, 3) add trees and attractive lighting, and 4) attract pedestrians.

There's a second business-district example here, as well as lots of other images here.

It's really worth looking at some of these pictures to see for yourself what a pedestrian-friendly streetscape looks like, and how it can transform a neighborhood.

June 18, 2004

Maine Town’s Streetscape Plans

The town of Oakland, Maine's downtown revitalization plans include creating "a continuous system of curbed sidewalks on both sides of the street that give the visual cue that the user has entered a distinct and pedestrian friendly downtown area."

What does that mean? "Create landscape buffers between this sidewalk and parking lots adjacent to the street to screen cars and asphalt. Add street trees to this buffer, where appropriate, to provide scale and shade.>

If you look at one existing stretch of street, you see a road, a strip mall, a parking lot, and noplace you'd feel like strolling. A rough sketch here shows the idea of what happens when you don't simply install a sidewalk, but add pedestrian-friendly ambiance to that sidewalk -- including trees to serve as a buffer between walkers and traffic on one side, and getting rid of the parking-lot asphalt in front of buildings on the other side.

That's not a multi-million-dollar project, and they're not re-creating Newbury Street. But it shows how these basic, pedestrian friendly changes create a more desirable downtown.

June 17, 2004

‘Slaves To Our Cars’

Development over the past several decades has worked to make our community anything but walkable. It's not just that we're fat and lazy -- we are -- but that our developers have left us stuck in isolated subdivisions. . .

These days, I live only about a mile from where I grew up. But the culture is far different.
My teenage children walk nowhere.

Cheryl Truman is writing in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, but she could be talking about a lot of suburbs west of Boston, too. She recalls when she was growing up, and "walked to the grocery store, drugstore, barber and bookmobile, all of which were about a mile away. A city park was about a half-mile away; a school playground offered green space and shade just up the street. A neighborhood pool was only a mile's walk. For distances greater than a mile, we rode bicycles."

And now? Her kids are "delivered by SUV to sports practices, even if those practices are only a mile away. They are chauffeured home from after-school activities. . . . Our family has one bicycle, kept mainly out of guilt; nobody rides it."

Could her kids walk to the store? "Not from where we live. Our tiny subdivision is an isolated cluster of homes with no sidewalk connecting us to any of the other nearby neighborhoods. Walking to the grocery store now would involve crossing an interstate overpass and dodging traffic down a narrow two-lane road."

"So, sure, let's call for a walkable community," Truman concludes. "But let's put some development regulation behind that, and some effort into connecting subdivisions that now exist only as suburban dots in the traffic stream."

June 16, 2004

Revitalization Plans Focus on Pedestrians

A planned $265 million revitalization project in Flushing, N.Y. includes "ways to make the area more pedestrian friendly," the Web site Globe St. reports. "Some improvements will begin this summer to create a distinctive image for the Downtown streetscape and lay the foundation for future enhancements to the pedestrian environment."

That includes turning some streets into one-way thoroughfares and widening sidewalks, not streets.

Flushing is in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City.

And, planners in Temple Terrace, near Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, are working on a plan to redevelop 230 acres to make the area more appealing both to residents and businesses. They're starting with an old strip mall on 30 acres.

"They're seas of asphalt in front and they're not attractive. There's no greenery, no trees. It's just ho-hum, and businesses are reluctant go into an area like that," Temple Terrace Mayor Fran Barford told St. Petersburg Times columnist Ernest Hooper.

Writes Hooper: "The city has hired Torti Gallas, a urban planning firm based in the Washington, D.C., area. Although the vision is still being formed, it's likely to be a pedestrian-friendly design with parking in the back, a mix of retail and residential, lots of greenery and wide sidewalks. . . .

"We should all hope for success, because many of us live near similar strip malls that cry out for the kind of redevelopment Temple Terrace is embracing."

June 15, 2004

Nobscot: Not So Walkable

"The closing of a Nobscot grocery store and the area's lack of sidewalks makes a planned 150-unit, low-income building for senior citizens less appealing, a Zoning Board member said last night," the MetroWest Daily News reports.

"Countryfare Star closed last week and town officials may be called in to help secure land for a sidewalk, making Shillman House a tougher sell for older folks than originally planned, said ZBA member Susan Craighead."

" 'Without sidewalks, things are not within walking distance,' she said. 'It was tough for me to walk (from the planned location to the area shops).' "

I know the ZBA meeting was focused on the JCHE's proposed 150 units of affordable housing, but there's something painfully obvious here that needs to be pointed out: There are already apartments and elderly housing units in Nobscot. The area desperately needs sidewalks, withor without the JCHE units.

Whatever store ends up going in to replace Countryfare Star, that shopping center also could really use a design that makes it more pedestrian-appealing and less for-cars-only.

The same goes for the Pinefield shopping center, by the way, where there is a sidewalk on one side of the street, but to get from the sidewalk to the stores means going through what feels like a mile of asphalt. Why isn't there a halfway appealing walkway from the sidewalk to the shops? There may be a chance to fix this, if a new library building really gets built across the street from the existing McAuliffe branch.

June 13, 2004

What Does A Smart Growth Suburb Look Like?

Smart Suburbs: A California Community Freed from Car Dependence

"California's booming Silicon Valley is infamous for time spent behind the wheel, but the town of Mountain View decided to make a change. Working with an architect who understood what the community needed, the city and a builder named TPG Development launched The Crossings, a cluster of 300 homes built around a new commuter train station and located within walking distance of shops, offices, and open space," the Natural Resources Defense Council explains.

"The Crossings incorporates two smart-growth elements that free people from their cars: access to public transportation and high-density design. The typical suburban formula of one house per acre stretches the outer limits of towns and adds to residents' commuting time. In contrast, The Crossings has 22 units per acre. Thanks to careful planning, residents say this density does not feel confining, because it is so easy for them to walk to shops, nearby offices, or the train station. They note that the parks, wide sidewalks, lush landscaping, parks, and pleasant streets create a feeling of spaciousness."

Note that every suburb in Silicon Valley isn't going to look like this; there's still plenty of more traditional single-family housing available -- as there should be. But suburbs from Mountain View to Framingham have more densely built areas and more spread-out areas. This offers an alternative for the morse densely zoned areas that doesn't require an auto for a decent quality of life. And it's a big plus for those in more traditional single-family housing who might be within walking distance of that neighborhood's amenities.

You can see images of The Crossings on the Calthorpe Associates Web site.

June 12, 2004

Paris May Ban SUVs

""We have no interest in having SUVs in the city. They're dangerous to others and take up too much space," Deputy Mayor Denis Baupin told Reuters this week.

Whatever one might say in support of SUVs (although nothing comes to *my* mind), it's hard to imagine how they do an older city center much good -- they generate more pollution, take up more scarce parking space and require wider street lanes -- something that make a less pleasing pedestrian environment.

"Baupin, who often cycles around Paris to promote more environmentally friendly transport, called SUVs a caricature of a car and said they were not adapted for use in a city," Reuters reports.

Update: Pedestrians hit by SUVs or light trucks are 3.7 times more likely to be killed, and have a three times higher risk of severe injuries, than those hit by passenger cars, according to a study in the June issue of Injury Prevention, KING in Seattle notes. That's of course in addition to the greater risk of injury and death to auto passengers hit by SUVs.

June 11, 2004

MetroWest’s Top Transportation Nightmare: No Public Transit

"Public transportation -- or the lack of it -- topped a list of the region's top 10 traffic nightmares compiled by the 495 Corridor Partnership, much to [Lynn] Sand's surprise," according to an article in today's MetroWest Daily News. " 'I was very surprised,' said Sand, CEO of the Partnership. 'We were amazed, because the culture seems to be, out here, you hop in your car.' "

But many residents apparently drive so much because they HAVE to, not because they always WANT to.

I bet they'd also happily walk some places if given appealing pedestrian environments.

Meanwhile, the article notes, without some action, the roadway situation here is only going to get worse.

"Although it sees its share of traffic tie-ups, the intersection of Rte. 9 and I-495 today functions fairly well for an interchange that sees more than 140,000 cars daily, according to Robert Nagi, a project manager with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., and one of the main presenters of the top 10 today. But few commuters may know of the 3 million square feet of office space waiting in the wings, Nagi said this week."

Yet simply building more or wider roads is unlikely to deal with the mess. The book Suburban Nation points out that "building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, it actually increases traffic. This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse.

“The phenomenon has been well documented … increased traffic capacity causes people to drive more – a lot more.” (Sound unbelievable? Please see my more detailed post for the book's evidence (or even better, read the book. It's great.)

June 9, 2004

Framingham Tomorrow Master Plan

After about two years of community meetings and work by town and regional planners, tonight was the Final Community Development Plan meeting to unveil the results. I was thrilled to see "develop a plan and identify funding sources for streetscape improvements to enhance pedestrian corridors" as part of the downtown revitalization recommendations!

OK, so traffic and housing were mentioned quite a bit more frequently; and the pedestrian-friendly issue only came up that once. Still, it's progress. AND, I got to make a statement after the 2 hours of presentations, where I got to bring up two of my pet points: "pedestrian-friendly" means more than the existance of sidewalks, and Saxonville desperately needs some additional pedestrian-friendly ambience because right now it's a patchwork of great pedestrian blocks (such as the one with the Artana gallery and renovated Victorians just north of the mill) and pedestrian-hostile blocks (such as the next block south, with the mill and its metal guardrail squeezing walkers followed by the never-pedestrian-appealing self-storage). I even floated my dream of a pedestrian walkway along the Sudbury River on Water Street to replace the chain-link fence and guard rails.

But getting back to what IS in the plan....

‘Automobility is a fraud’

"For 50 years, we've been saying if we just had the right amount of money, we could create automobility, but we can't. Automobility is just a fraud," planning consultant and author E.M. Risse tells the Richmond Post-Dispatch. "The cause of traffic congestion is the pattern of development, not the size of the road."

Studies indicate that public-transit systems operate best when they have at least 6.5 residents per acre, a density only the most heavily populated Virginia localities reach, and communities that put most services within reach of a pedestrian or bicyclist need at least 10 residents an acre.

Creating those kinds of communities means changing habits Americans have had for the best part of a century, Risse said.

That's a rather long-term proposition. However, more immediately, we can at least create communities where SOME services are within walking distance of more residents; and commercial areas where walking BETWEEN shops and restaurants is an appealing activity once you've arrived there (instead of having to to drive from strip mall to strip mall that are half a mile away or less). That's more than just installing sidewalks nobody would want to use (see Speen Street between Rtes. 9 and 30). I've said it before, but it needs repeating: This means creating an attractive streetscape for walkers.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the book Suburban Nation points out that "building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, it actually increases traffic. This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse.

“The phenomenon has been well documented … increased traffic capacity causes people to drive more – a lot more.”

Don't believe that? Please do see the earlier post for the book's evidence (or even better, read the book. It's great.)

June 8, 2004

NARROWING Mass Ave Helped Rejuvenate Central Square

Very interesting "Cityscapes" in the Boston Globe magazine recently, about Central Square in Cambridge.

"The quality of a neighborhood depends on public action," write Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker . "As recently as the 1980s, Central Square was seen as a place in the doldrums.

"Working with residents' groups, the city narrowed Mass. Ave. by one traffic lane. That added 5 feet to the width of both sidewalks, permitting a second row of street trees. Sidewalks were repaved in brick. They were reshaped to neck out at intersections, making the street crossing shorter and less intimidating. Monster cobra-head street lights, which cast a scary glare, were replaced by softer lights at a pedestrian scale. Where there was previously no place to sit, there are now 80 benches.

"The result is a Central Square that retains a rich mix of people and activities and has grown more humane, without becoming chichi -- not yet, anyway."

I hope those seeking to revitalize downtown Framingham take notice. What helped bring economic vitality back to Central Square was NOT widening streets but actually NARROWING the street -- making a more appealing pedestrian environment. Which is more than installing sidewalks -- it's making attractive, inviting sidewalks buffered against traffic.

Walking as Transportation

"In Philadelphia, 9.1 percent of workers walk to their jobs; in Washington, 11.8 percent; and in Boston, 13 percent," notes this Baltimore Sun article. "Baltimore's walking commuters far outnumber those who bike to work, making up just over 7 percent of the city's nearly quarter-million workers age 16 and older, or about three times the statewide percentage."

"I get gas once every three months, but I don't tell people that. That's like salt in the wounds," one walking commuter told the Sun.

Most suburbanites don't have that option. But there ARE some people who, say, both live and work in Framingham. Or live close to a store, post office or library. However, even those here who do live close to work or shopping are unlikely to walk, because the pedestrian streetscape is so unappealing -- narrow sidewalks, no buffer between sidewalk and traffic whizzing by, unscreened massive parking lots or self-storage warehouses.... Most people take their cars from strip mall to strip mall along Rtes. 9 and 30, even for half a mile, or from the hotels on Speen Street to nearby stores and restaurants, because the walking environment is so hostile.

Planners know that it takes more than simply installing sidewalks to get people with the option of driving or walking out of their cars.

Case Study: How Sprawl Hurt Buffalo AND Its Inner Suburbs

One indicator of sprawl: New housing goes up faster than new households.

"In Providence, Newark and Ann Arbor, new housing goes up every day as more and more families move into the region," notes an article in the Buffalo News. "Buffalo also builds a lot of new housing, but with a difference: Here, the number of new houses outpaces the number of new households by nearly 4-to-1. ...

"[r]esearchers believe the impact of that sprawl hit hardest in Buffalo and its first-ring suburbs. They see it in the exodus of people from the city and the decline in both property values and tax base."

Declining housing prices is certainly NOT a problem we've got here in the Boston area at the moment. But it's worth keeping in mind that exurban sprawl (i.e. in the 495 region and beyond) impacts both a region's major city AND its closer-in suburbs. When once-rural town build nothing but developments of large houses, without enough commercial activity to support it, where do you think all that traffic goes when people need to get to work or go shopping?

June 7, 2004

Retirees Enjoy ‘Smart Growth’ Communities

"It is the closest we could get to what we left behind," says John Hopton about retiring in a traditional neighborhood development, or TND, in Lynchburg, Va.

TNDs are a modern interpretation of an old idea: the self-contained neighborhood or small town with mixed housing types and diverse populations - much like a Norman Rockwell painting brought to life. They are characterized by high- density building; small lot sizes; and a walkable, compact size. They also feature commercial and civic components, so residents can buy what they need and take part in community activities without leaving the neighborhood.

So starts this Christian Science Monitor article, which talks about how appealing walkable communities are for older residents, as opposed to gated senior ghettos where motorized transportation is needed for every conceivable errand.

"The compact, walkable settlement pattern, with a mix of uses and a variety of housing types, is ideal for older households," Todd Zimmerman of Zimmerman/Volk Associates told the Monitor. His firm analyzed more than 200 traditional neighborhoods and urban residential neighborhoods in 42 states.

June 5, 2004

Drive More? Weigh More!

"Spending more time behind the wheel -- and less time on two feet -- is adding inches to waistlines and contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic, a new study concludes," AP reports.

"The survey of 10,500 Atlanta residents found that for every extra 30 minutes commuters drove each day, they had a 3 percent greater chance of being obese than their peers who drove less.

"The survey also found that people who lived within walking distance of shops -- less than a half mile -- were 7 percent less likely to be obese than their counterparts who had to drive."

At a U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services-sponsored conference, “Obesity and the Built Environment,” Secretary Tommy Thompson urged public health advocates “to convince city planners to provide safe streets for children to bicycle on and safe streets for people to walk on," according to an HHS statement. "Every road being built — you should be able to walk on it or ride a bike on it.”

Couldn't agree more, except to add: It should be built so that you'd want to walk or bike on it, not merely that it's technically possible (once again, think of the sidewalks on Speen Street between Rtes. 30 and 9, or along Rte. 9. Have the urge to stroll there lately?)

June 1, 2004

Framingham Tomorrow Meeting

There will be a public meeting on the town's community development plan, Wednesday, June 9, 7 p.m. at Town Hall's Public Hearing Room.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council will outline results of several meetings over the past year where residents talked about housing, transportation, the environment and economic development; MAPC will present draft recommendations and solicit comments.

I attended several of these meetings, in an effort to put more attention on the issue of pedestrian friendly development -- and the fact that if you build housing downtown in places like the old Dennison complex, but then don't make an appealing walkable environment, it's not going to do much good for downtown. People will just get in their cars and drive off elsewhere for their shopping.

Reminder: We've got an MBTA train station downtown, and how much good is that doing local businesses in the area? I suspect not much, because it's an extraordinarily unappealing walking environment around there. People drive in and drive out. The mere presence of sidewalks is not enough.