Step Towards a Sustainable Future: The Power of Walkable Cities

Step Towards a Sustainable Future: The Power of Walkable Cities

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In simple words, walkability is the degree to which a built environment facilitates walking and motivates people to walk in the first place. A walkable city is could be the key to a longer life for us and the planet. According to studies walking every day is likely to report better physical health and better mental health. Not only is a walkable community likely to be healthier but it is probably wealthier. According to research pedestrians (a person who is walking in the street) spends more at local retailers than drivers do. Now despite a mind-boggling array of benefits like these. Walkable cities are still the minority. 

Most cities are built for cars. Cars snaking around roads that make no sense. Those highways create stark divisions between neighborhoods and thousands of cars idling for hours results in heavy air pollution. And those streets are nearly impossible for people on foot to navigate. All of those things contribute to a city that is not an easy or healthy place to live. By 2050, Two third of the global population will live in cities.

As concentrated areas of human activity, cities contribute upwards of 70 percent of global emissions. If we can encourage more people to engage in walking that frees up street space currently for car parking then there will be more scope to redesign streets that do not prioritize traffic needs over pedestrian needs. So with all these potential benefits to be derived why don’t we make our streets more walkable?

What are the reasons for cities not being walkable

  1. City Planning

Cities that prioritize cars over pedestrians can be challenging and even unsafe for people to walk around. When cities are planned and designed with wide roads and highways, pedestrians may be left with limited space to walk, bike, or cross the street safely.

  1. Lack of Sidewalks 

A lack of sidewalks or poorly maintained ones can make walking uncomfortable and even hazardous for pedestrians. Broken, uneven, or obstructed sidewalks can cause injuries and discourage people from walking in that area.

  1. Unsafe Crossings

Many cities lack safe and accessible pedestrian crossings and traffic signals, making it difficult for people to cross busy streets. This is especially dangerous for children, older people, and people with disabilities.

  1. Decentralization

Urban sprawl and the decentralization of cities can make it challenging for people to walk to their destinations. When businesses and residential areas are spread out, it can be too far for pedestrians to walk, requiring them to cross busy roads or highways.

  1. Lack of Funding 

A lack of political will and funding for walkability projects can lead to a lack of investment in pedestrian infrastructure, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes, as well as programs that promote walking as a healthy and sustainable mode of transportation.

What are Ways to Make a City More Walkable

  1. Short Blocks and dense intersections 

The shorter the block and the more frequent the stop signs, the less likely drivers are to speed from intersection to intersection. Short blocks and dense intersections mean creating more streets in a neighborhood or city. This makes it easier to walk and bike reduces distances between places, and encourages public transportation.

  1. Buildings have to address the street 

Which means they are easy and inviting for pedestrians to interact with. Good buildings improve the street by using quality materials, designing attractive entrances and windows, and including shops or activities on the ground floor. This makes the area more lively and pedestrian-friendly, encourages social interaction, and creates a welcoming neighborhood.

  1. Biophilic Design 

It is about bringing nature into the built environment, using elements like plants, water, and natural light. It can make spaces more relaxing, and inspiring.

  1. Make streets social gathering places

The idea of making streets social gathering places means transforming them from car-centric spaces to people-centric spaces. This includes designing wider sidewalks, adding benches, and creating public areas for people to gather and socialize.

Are Walkable Cities Improving the Environment

When people can walk to their destinations, they are less likely to use cars, which reduces traffic congestion and air pollution. Plus, walking is eco-friendly and sustainable because it doesn’t require any fuel or produce harmful emissions. Walkable cities also tend to have more green spaces and parks, which can help improve air quality and provide natural habitats for wildlife. 

They can also encourage a sense of community and promote social interaction, which can have positive effects on mental health and well-being. When cities invest in pedestrian infrastructure, it can lead to improved public transportation systems, which make it easier for people to get around without having to rely on cars.

Economic Benefits of Walkable Cities

Walkable cities have economic benefits that can positively impact businesses, the local tourism industry, and the overall economy. When people can easily walk to their destinations, it can increase foot traffic for businesses and boost the local economy. It also attracts more investment and higher property values in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.

Tourists are more likely to visit and spend money in walkable cities since they can easily explore the area on foot. This can lead to more revenue for local businesses and boost the tourism industry. Walkable cities can save individuals and businesses money on transportation costs, as they don’t need to rely on expensive modes of transportation like cars.

Health Benefits of Walkable Cities

Walkable cities can have significant health benefits for residents. When people walk more and rely less on cars, they can improve their physical health by getting more exercise and reducing their risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity.

Walking is also a low-impact form of exercise that can be easier on joints than other high-impact activities like running. This makes it an ideal form of exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels. walkable cities often have more opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as parks and trails, which can further encourage physical activity and improve overall health. walking can also have positive impacts on mental health. Studies have shown that walking can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and cognitive function, and even alleviate symptoms of depression.

Social Benefits of Walkable Cities

Walkable cities have many social benefits, such as increased community engagement and social interactions. When people can walk to their destinations, they are more likely to meet and interact with others in public spaces like parks and sidewalks, which can create a sense of belonging and promote social cohesion.

walkable neighborhoods often have more amenities, like cafes, restaurants, and shops, where people can gather and socialize with others in their community. This can lead to increased social connections and cooperation within the community.

Successful examples of walkable cities

  1. Copenhagen, Denmark 

Copenhagen is often cited as one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world, with wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and numerous parks and public spaces. The city’s commitment to walkability has helped to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution while promoting physical activity and community engagement.

  1. Bogotá, Colombia 

Bogotá has a really cool program called Ciclovía, where they close down major roads on Sundays and holidays for people to walk and bike on. It’s been so successful that other cities around the world have started implementing similar programs. By promoting physical activity and community engagement, they’ve also helped reduce air pollution.

  1. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has an extensive network of pedestrian streets and plazas that create a vibrant and lively public space. They’ve also implemented a program called “superblocks” that limits traffic in certain areas, making it easier and safer for pedestrians and cyclists to get around. By prioritizing walkability, Barcelona has created a city that is not only beautiful but also healthier and more community-oriented.

How Can India Have Walkable Cities

To make our cities more walkable, we need a solid policy framework that guides investments and the implementation of planning and design guidelines. But we can’t stop there! To make this vision a reality, we need to take action at different levels and intervene where necessary.

Urban transport is a State-level matter in India, which means that the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) needs to be adopted at the State or city level. Some cities like Chennai, Pune, and Coimbatore have attempted this, but unfortunately, the policy framework and revised standards aren’t mandated by law. This means that the impact of the NMT (non-motorized transport) policy hasn’t been achieved as much as we’d like.

To address this, it’s important to have a mandatory State-level policy that guides all cities in the State towards achieving pedestrian-friendly (sustainable urban transport compliant) roads. Without this, it’s hard to scale up the small pilot projects of pedestrian-friendly streets that are currently underway.

Now, in the last decade, a lot of street design guidelines have become available to help guide city engineers in making better roads. The Indian Roads Congress has even revised the Urban Street Design Guidelines! However, city engineers and planners often need guidelines that are specific to their own cities. To create these guidelines, civil engineers and architects need to work closely together. Compliance with current street design guidelines should also be made mandatory by law. Traffic enforcement agencies also need to be trained to ensure pedestrian safety and compliance with pedestrian requirements over motorized traffic.

There are some specific interventions that can be implemented immediately to improve walkability, such as restricting free left turns at signalized intersections and better enforcement of speed compliance on arterial roads. Installing speed tables at all intersections on non-arterial roads to enforce the 30km/h speed limit is also an immediately possible intervention. In small-town intersections, well-designed small roundabouts can be constructed to ensure speed compliance and smooth traffic flow. 

It’s important to have a monitoring mechanism to evaluate the progress of implementing walkability guidelines. This can be done by setting up administrative units whose responsibility is to evaluate various indicators of walkability and monitor the progress of pedestrian-compliant infrastructure implementation.

Frequently Asked QuesQuestions

Which cities in India are pedestrian friendly?

Cities in India that are considered pedestrian-friendly include Pondicherry, Chandigarh, and Ahmedabad.

What are the most walkable cities in Europe?

Some of the most walkable cities in Europe include Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Barcelona.

What are some of the least walkable cities in the world?

Some of the least walkable cities in the world include Houston, Los Angeles, and Dallas in the United States, as well as Jakarta in Indonesia and Nairobi in Kenya.

What are the most walkable cities in Indonesia?

Some of the most walkable cities in Indonesia include Yogyakarta, Bandung, and Surabaya.

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