Walkable cities

According to BMJ, spending too much time sitting down is linked to around 70,000 deaths per year in the UK. Furthermore, sedentary jobs that don’t involve walking around can lead to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even death.

So, what’s the solution? Walkable cities!

What are walkable cities?

Walkable cities encourage inhabitants to travel on foot. Working, eating, learning, shopping, and relaxing can all be done on foot in a walkable city.  It necessitates a long-term vision and infrastructure that encourage citizens to forego the convenience of their cars.

What is walkability?

What is a walkability score? How can governments can increase it?

What are the pros and cons of living in a walkable city? Is it expensive to buy a house in a city with a walkability score?

Are there any walkable urban developments in the UK?

The need for creating more mixed-use, walkable places is heightened after lifestyle changes due to digitalisation. Increasing city walkability is a potent way to reduce polluting emissions while improving residents’ quality of life. This article explores what walkable cities are, their pros and cons, and how to increase the walkability of a city.

Let’s get started!

What Is Walkability?

Walkability is a new standard for urban cities
Source:https://unsplash.com/

Walkability refers to the ease of safe walking in high-density urban cities with a population of more than 200,000.

The ability to allow a pedestrian-friendly space improves the liveability of a city and supports the physical fitness of the city occupants. With improved social interaction, walkable cities report decreased crime rates markedly.

Walkability does not mean eliminating cars from a city but creating a perfect balance between pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, and private vehicles.

According to the Walkable and Liveable Communities Institute, walkable cities consider people at the heart of the design and infrastructure. The centralisation of the metropolitan population means that educational institutes and employment centres are within a walkable distance.

People aren’t confined to using automobiles to school or work. This makes walkable cities socially, environmentally, and economically vibrant.

The concept of the walkability of a city includes the following characteristics:

  • Useful: the majority of services must be available at close distances and be well-organized
  • Safe: the city streets should be safe for pedestrians and have low accident rates
  • Comfortable: urban streets should be airy and inclusive for all, including the disabled and the elderly
  • Aesthetically pleasant: sidewalks should connect major historical, art, and entertainment centres with attractive facades and vibrant street life

What Is A Walkability Score?

The walkability score of a city is a number between 1 to 100, which indicates how pedestrian-friendly a special amnesty is.

It can be categorised into the following divisions. Research reveals that Google Street View is a popular tool for assessing local city streets and walkable environments.

Cities with essential services available within a 5 minutes walking distance get maximum points. In contrast, cities with fundamental services outside a 30 minutes walk do not get a score.

Walkability Score Category Neighborhood Description
1-24 Car dependent Rural, suburban areas An automobile needed to run simple errands
25-49 Most car dependent Outskirts of metropolitan cities Public Transit stops are at a walkable distance Access to urban amenities will require a car
50-69 Moderately walkable Most residential areas of a city Bar, restaurants, markets, hospitals, work and schools within 10 miles of walking distance Most errands require a bicycle
70-89 Mostly Walkable Homes within a mile of town Most errands can be accomplished on foot
90-100 Walkers paradise Metro areas and mid-sized towns Markets, restaurants, bars, centers of employment, schools, and hospitals are all within walking distance

The Walkability index score is determined after considering the following measurements.

  • Residential density: the measure of residential space in the city
  • Sidewalk presence: the availability of walkable space on either side of the roads. The higher the sidewalk presence, the more likely people are to walk.
  • Sidewalk completeness: the continuity of the sidewalk network along the length of the roads.
  • Retail floor space ratio: the volume of commercial space in an area. It is the ratio of the total floor area of a building and the land area it is built upon. A higher ratio indicates the land is utilised more effectively, and there are a greater number of destinations to walk to.
  • Intersection density: the number of street intersections in an area. Smaller residential units with more number of streets increase the intersection density.

How To Increase Walkability?

Here are some ways governments can increase the walkability of a city:

Introduce Safe Walkways

Cities like Edinburgh and Sheffield have observed a significant increase in walkability after they dedicated walkway space for pedestrians on the edges of the roads. This includes the construction of well-lit, tree-lined walkways and safe pedestrian crossings. Instead of paved sidewalks that side extensions of the road, walkways are clearly defined road spaces for walking purposes only.

Safe Walkways are at least 2.5 meters wide, are continuous, and connect various locations of interest and activity. It is important to keep them accessible for all, including children, seniors, and the disabled.

Reduce Traffic speed & Volume

Surveys show that many people prefer not to walk due to the high speed and traffic volume on the road due to safety concerns. A speed limit can be introduced, with the closure of roads facing schools and hospitals. Encourage walking and cycling in high-traffic neighbourhoods. 

Speed limits cultivate a safer and more comfortable environment. To control vehicle speeds, traffic-calming measures, narrower lanes, and other features can be incorporated into road design. Public awareness of the importance of safe speeds contributes to speed management programs.

Make Public Transit Accessible

Reducing the number of vehicles is only possible when more people travel through public transport to places that aren’t within walking distance. Public transit only attracts residents when it is affordable, accessible, and convenient.

Improving walkability throughout the city is heavily influenced by how well walkable spaces interact with other active or sustainable transportation modes. The public transit system should be well-integrated, connect all major city neighbourhoods, and be safe for travel. The government should introduce the stations strategically to encourage walking towards the stations.

Mixed Land Use

Mixed land use is an area that combines the city’s residential, commercial, and recreational segments in close proximity. Neighbourhoods that have diverse land use have more places for people to walk to.

Residents get the opportunity to live, work, shop, and dine within a walkable distance. It increases the city’s liveability, creates job opportunities, and increases housing markets.

What Are The Pros and Cons of Walkable Cities?

The table sums up the pros and cons of walkable cities; they are also described in detail below:

Pros Cons
Improved economy. Reduced pollution and better quality of life. Increased social interaction. Promoted tourism Road safety Higher rent and purchase costs. High cost of walkable infrastructure. Increased congestion on the roads

Pros

1. Improved Economy

According to a 2009 study, a one-point increase in walk score is worth $3250 in home value. This is because cars are the second largest household expense. Chicago metropolitan agency for planning reveals that 63% of millennials prefer to live in a city where they don’t have to own a car.

Walkable cities attract people of all ages, creating room for increased urban development, and opening employment opportunities. They also encourage interaction, a key component of the economy driving innovation, accessibility, and interaction.

2. Reduced Pollution & Better Quality of Life

The transportation sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United Kingdom, contributing 24% to the total emissions.

Reduced vehicles on the road and increased pedestrianisation reduce pollution and improve the quality of life. Less noise pollution and better air quality as more people prefer to walk or use public transit.

Walkable neighbourhoods enable residents to incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives.

Obesity and diabetes rates are lower in more walkable neighbourhoods. Cities that provide easy access to recreational activities and public transportation promote happiness. They also contribute to building community and overcoming loneliness among residents.

3. Increased Social Interaction

Increased use of public spaces in a walkable environment increases the frequency of information interactions between citizens, strengthening ties among neighbours. Residents of streets with light and slow traffic have approximately three times the number of friends among their neighbours as those who live on busy roads.

More social interaction builds a sense of place and ownership. It can help communities develop a collective memory and a strong cultural identity.

4. Promotes Tourism

Accessibility of cities’ infrastructure within walking distance promotes tourism. Walking is a significant part of the tourist experience and a key component of sustainable mobility. Walkable cities are pleasant; tourists love strolling through the city, discovering local services, shops, and landmarks.

Pedestrian-oriented infrastructure is critical in terms of urban planning and a city’s future in terms of sustainability. A walkable environment tends to support public art and culture. People can socialise while enjoying sidewalk cafes or shopping and admiring local art, architecture and heritage.

5. Better Road Safety

1.35 million people die yearly, and 50 million are seriously injured in road crashes; that’s more than AIDS and malaria combined. Safe cycling lanes and protected walkways can reduce road accidents and prevent 3.6 million deaths and 40 million serious injuries.

Investing in cycling and walking infrastructure will provide easy access to nearby areas on foot, reducing the use of cars. As the number of vehicles on the road decreases, so do the rates of road accidents.

Cons

While Walkability brings exquisite benefits to a city; it has its downsides. Walkable cities report higher rent and house purchase costs and increased road congestion. The cost of building pedestrian-friendly infrastructure is a major barrier to promoting walkable neighbourhoods.

1. Higher Rent & Purchase Costs

Being close to shopping and restaurants can eliminate the need for a car, saving money on parking, gas, and car maintenance.

A house within walking distance of aesthetic attractions and shopping areas will be more expensive. Rental costs in walkable cities will also be higher. For example, a three-bedroom apartment in the centre of Edinburgh costs £1845.00, but a similar apartment costs only £1110.77 outside the city’s centre.

Higher House purchase and rental costs mean you will have to compromise on luxurious accommodation to stay on a budget. Thriving, walkable neighbourhoods can charge as much as 75% higher rents compared to suburban areas.

Contrary to popular belief, walkable cities are linked to favourable social equity indicators when considering transportation, housing, and housing expenses.

2. Costs of Walkable Infrastructure

Establishing safe and pedestrian-friendly road infrastructure requires investment. The government recently funded £200 million to introduce new footways and cycle lanes and improve existing ones. Over the next five years, the UK has dedicated £2 billion to improve pedestrian and cycle infrastructure.

Developing countries struggling to keep up with their current expenses find it difficult to invest huge sums of money in creating new walkable infrastructure.

3. Increased Congestion on The Road

Creating no/low traffic areas diverts the traffic on alternative routes, increasing congestion in areas with no traffic volume restrictions.

Similarly, widening walkways and footpaths result in the narrowing of existing roads. Traffic becomes concentrated on narrow roads, causing more jams and air pollution.

Walkable Cities include highly compact urban neighbourhoods with congested road traffic. People resting within walkable neighbourhoods may not drive much of this traffic, but trendy restaurants, services, and facilities attract people from outside the neighbourhoods.

Walkable Urban Developments In UK

The following table lists 5 walkable urban developments in the UK:

City Walkability Score What makes it walkable?
Edinburgh 99 Compact city, easy to get around on foot. Small enough to go anywhere you want walking. Self-guided walkable routes.Built on 7 hills, each offers a walking track Walks on the coast, along historical landmarks, and in the city centre. Well-integrated public transit system
Sheffield 86 UK’s greenest City.Hilly geography and numerous parks Walkley Millenium Green, Ruskin Park, and Bole Hill Recreation Ground are some nearby parks.Sheffield Walking Festival takes place in September, offers 30+ walking routes.Vibrant outdoor food market with streets vendors. Photomarathon Sheffield event allows tourists to explore urban trails
Hong Kong 88 Raised road crossing trails, encourage drivers to slow down and give way to pedestrians.Level in/out trails for elderly and disabled walkers.Multiple low-speed limit zones.Covered walkways to improve weather protection Widened footpaths
Birmingham 90 Central city, Southside, and Five points side are most walkable neighbourhoods. Walk Run Cycle Birmingham: free to download route guide app for walkers, runners and cyclers. Planned mixed land use
Bradford 88 Traffic removal from parts of city centre. Public green spaces and traffic-free areas.Public transport corridors. Walkable attractions rich in heritage and culture

Final Thoughts

We need to create more cities that offer healthy walking opportunities and connect everyday life, job, and economic activities. While keeping Walkability a priority, significant attention to affordability and inclusivity is also required.

Construction of walkable infrastructure requires prior planning and management. Walkability requires the intersection of transportation planning, engineering, architecture, and urban design to create a safe, memorable, and equitable environment.

PlanRadar is a platform that assists construction managers in evaluating, planning and prioritising effective pedestrian safety measures. Connect with us today to support, enhance, and foster walkable infrastructure in your neighbourhood.