LYNN — Jeff Speck said downtown Lynn has the urbanism and city vitality that everyone wants, but it cannot be considered a walkable city just yet.
The city planner and internationally known expert on walkable cities said Lynn’s housing is underrepresented, more street trees are needed, and many of the roads need infrastructuring. In his book, “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time,” Speck says a more walkable downtown can improve the experience for people who work, live, or visit the area.
“Lynn looks pretty good on Google,” said Speck. “Then I come here and it’s a community that feels like it’s on the verge of something good.”
Speck said safety, comfortability, and human interest are the biggest steps toward a more walkable downtown. Cars are the main factor in the lack of walking in the country, according to him. He said in order for a city to thrive, the downtown area has to provide a walk that is as good as the drive.
Manhattan is technically the most walkable place in America, according to Speck. He said transit is what makes walking the most useful and the Big Apple has train stations on almost every block.
“The idea that you can park to take an elevator to walk on a treadmill in a gym really says something about the society we live in,” he said.
The best selling author said when housing is thriving, then retail, dining, schools, and recreation thrive, too. He mentioned the vastly underused parking garage at the train station in downtown Lynn and said it is “money in the bank” that could easily float housing. He suggested assigning spaces in the garage to current, and future, housing units in walking distance of it.
“You want a nice mix of market rate and non-market rate housing,” he said.
Downtown Lynn’s “medieval network” of small blocks is great for walkability, according to Speck. He also said widening streets to get less traffic congestion never works because it brings more people on the road and causes them to drive faster. Wide streets have more potential uses than just for driving.
He placed Google Map photos of North Common Street, South Common Street, and Neptune Boulevard on a projector and said they each have extra asphalt that can be put to better use. Speck also said Broad Street is an area that could be better reconfigured with the removal of its median.
“Don’t rebuild the roads,” said Speck. “Restripe them and you get more use with less investment.”
Lynn does really well with space for parallel parking, said Speck, but it needs to work on getting more street trees along the sidewalks. He said they slow cars down and it’s worth the high investment given trees absorb stormwater, increase the air quality, and decrease the urban heat island effect.
Speck said the biggest use for extra asphalt is to join in on the bicycling revolution that is currently underway across the country. He said adding protected bike paths is beneficial for Lynn in a variety of ways, given many of the city’s residents travel by bike due to its low costs.
Signs of human activity that make it interesting for people to keep walking play a huge role in developing a more walkable downtown area, according to him. Speck said Lynn’s vibrantly colored murals that cover many of its walls are the biggest step in the right direction.
He said it’s not just about making places more artful but getting people out of their cars to enjoy it. While applauding the city’s efforts in the public art renaissance, Speck said there are still a lot of blank walls that could use some human interest. He noted Munroe Street and Central Square as the areas closest to being part of a more walkable downtown.
“There’s a lot of missing teeth in your downtown,” said Speck. “Fill those missing teeth and you’ll have an outdoor living room you want to inhabit.