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San Jose Borrows Urban Design Tips from the English Countryside

The city embarks on a new walkability program. 


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In early April, pedestrians in downtown San Jose were surprised to come upon 12-inch-square signs that cheerily announced, “It’s a two-minute walk to play games in St. James Park,” or “It’s a five-minute walk to San Jose City Hall.”

San Jose, of course, has never been known for walkability. To change that, city officials sought the help of Matt Tomasulo, tactical urban designer and founder of the Walk Your City project, who had made headlines by peppering Raleigh, North Carolina, with (illegal) signs that offered walking directions—in minutes rather than distances—to local landmarks. San Jose offered Tomasulo an urban environment in which to legally scale up his experiment. San Jose’s goal is to reduce car travel to 40 percent of all trips by 2040.

To do that, it’s making its downtown look a little like the English countryside (OK, without the stiles and the cows). “People have perceptions of how far it is to go to the grocery store and out for coffee,” says Jessica Zenk, a manager at San Jose’s transportation department. “They don’t appreciate that it’s a walking distance in many cases.”


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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