Under the leadership of then-Director Jonathan Fielding, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health pioneered a letter-grade system for restaurant sanitation. The program has been a tremendous success, imitated throughout the country and now to Europe. Following the introduction of restaurant letter grades, restaurant hygiene increased dramatically and the incidence of food-borne illness in the County declined by 13%. In the first 3 years of the New York program, the percent of restaurants earning an A grade went from about 50% to over 75%, while those earning a C declined from nearly 15% to almost 0.
The message is clear: if you want a healthier environment, grades are an effective motivator.
So it’s encouraging that David Barboza is proposing a letter-grading schema for pedestrian access to stores. A store with its front door right on the sidewalk gets an “A”, while a place that can be reached on foot only by crossing a wide and perilous parking lot merits an “F”. A “C” goes to stores (like many Trader Joe’s outlets) that are located right on the sidewalk, but whose principal entrance faces a separate parking garage.
Pedestrian access to stores matters a lot of safety and to walkability. One could imagine additional criteria of bike parking near the main entrance, disability access, and effective smoking prohibition. Retail and commercial spaces are an important part of the context of people’s decisions about whether to use a city in healthy or unhealthy ways. It makes sense to grade them on their contributions to public health. This an idea that should be encouraged.