Wheels Are Out, Feet Are In: How To Make Our Cities More Walkable
Our cities continue to see a rise in the number of cars on the streets, and this is happening, unfortunately, at the cost of pedestrians.
As it becomes increasingly difficult to walk around the city, we look at what the problem is and what can be done to make cities more walkable.
One of the most significant milestones in human evolution was developing the ability to walk upright. The next, probably, was the discovery of the wheel – this technology came about to make our lives easier. Yet today, most of us suffer from health issues because of our sedentary lifestyles and we complain about the increasing vehicular pollution. Our cities have seen the rapid development of road and transport networks and, in the process, a rise in the volume of daily traffic.
But where are our pedestrians? Why is it becoming increasingly difficult to walk (or even cycle) around the city?
The answer lies in our faulty urban planning. Our cities have been designed to be car-friendly and not walk-friendly.
Walkability In Cities
“Walkability” is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking. Urban planners consider walkability to be the cornerstone of efficient movement in cities. No matter what mode of transport we use, walking remains the start and end point of the journey and yet this part is becoming the most arduous to undertake.
Apart from being the cheapest and most inclusive mode of transport, walking has many health and environmental benefits (see figure). Increased walkability has proven to have many other individual and community health benefits, such as opportunities for increased social interaction, an increase in the average number of friends and associates where people live, reduced crime (with more people walking and watching over neighbourhoods, open spaces, and main streets), increased sense of pride, and more volunteerism.
One of most important benefits of walking is the decrease of the carbon footprint in the community. Carbon emissions can be reduced if more people choose to walk rather than drive.
Walkability has also been found to have many economic benefits, including accessibility, cost savings, both to individuals and to the public, increased efficiency of land use, increased livability, economic benefits from improved public health, and economic development, among others.
Walkability is influenced by a number of factors such as the presence or absence and quality of footpaths, sidewalks, and other pedestrian rights-of-way, traffic and road conditions, land use patterns, building accessibility, and safety.
Despite the proven benefits associated with walking and the positive experiences of some cities in this area, Indian cities continue to lack both a culture and suitable infrastructure for walking. Cities like London and Amsterdam have, for instance, in the last few decades made a serious effort though policy and planning to make their streets friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians.
So, how can we make walking attractive to the average citizen? By proper planning and design of cites.
Shyam Khandekar, architect and chairman of the architecture firm BDP, in a recent article titled ‘Smart Walking, The Pedestrian Mobility Revolution’, suggested these 10 golden rules for making cities walkable:
- Make pleasurable and pleasant pedestrian networks a priority.
- Make proximity of amenities to residences a guiding principle.
- Make landscaping of public spaces imperative so that walks in the city are more pleasant.
- Design public spaces for not only movement but also for more citizen interaction. Engagement with the city leads to civic pride.
- Create a safe and easily usable infrastructure to promote cycling. Cycling can be a non-polluting and healthy alternative to go about a city.
- Promote public transport that is pedestrian-friendly. Public transport in fact is a form of mobile public space. Public transport halts too can be designed as to double up as local neighbourhood amenities.
- Enforce urban design guidelines to ensure that footpaths or pedestrian routes along buildings are pedestrian friendly.
- Put cars where they belong – at the periphery of pedestrian areas and subservient to pedestrian movement. Reduce the investment in infrastructure for cars and use that money for developing pedestrian infrastructure instead.
- Create a legal framework wherein when different forms of movement meet, the rights of the pedestrians come first, and those of private cars last. Educate citizens, right from when they are young, to respect pedestrians in traffic.
- Use technology to create disruptive and revolutionary solutions for pedestrian movement in the city.
Every winter, most of our north-Indian cities are covered in a thick layer of smog and the problem is at most dealt with some ad hoc measures by various state governments and departments. It’s high time that our planners and city governments put citizens at the centre of their planning process and make some sustainable and long-term policy changes. Improving city infrastructure and architecture itself can become a strong structural tool in the hands of the government to regulate and positively change the pattern of how people travel.
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