October 15, 2020

World’s Most Walkable Cities? You May Be Surprised.

As it becomes clearer that we simply can’t drive our way out of congestion, some cities like Paris are planning on keeping walking and cycling as the main way to get around within busy downtown areas. I have already written about the City of London England which sees the continuation of wider sidewalks with more amenities and the placement of more protected bike lanes as Covid infrastructure that will stay.

These are not new trends, but simply the acceleration of trends that were already in place, to have cities and places that were designed for people to live in place and walk, roll or cycle to schools, shops and services in a two kilometer area.

Fiona Harvey of The Guardian writes about  health innovations . It was researchers at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)  that have developed a scale to assess “walkable cities”~those places that ” improve health, cut climate-heating transport emissions and build stronger local communities and economies.”

Surprise! Cities in the United States rank pretty low on those parameters as they are dominated by vehicles and vehicular infrastructure which makes an easy walk to and from a commercial area pretty impossible.

The following criteria were used: the number of people living within one hundred meters of parks, streets for walking only, and squares;  the number of people that are living within a kilometer of healthcare and education; and the average size of city blocks (smaller is better for walkers and means less detouring).

Of course those walkable places also have lower air pollution, a less obese population, “more children’s play time, fewer road deaths and better performing local businesses, as well as reduced inequality. Walkable places are safer too.

Bogota Colombia was the top walkable city within those guidelines, with Hong Kong, Moscow, Paris and London following.  And in a time where the pandemic is compelling people to private car use it is time to “shift” space from vehicles to people.

There are other factors that are needed to reinforce walkability and that was touched on in Stephen Quinn’s radio interview on walkable outdoor space on CBC Radio this week. We don’t have a city of public washrooms or covered outdoor spaces during inclement weather. While Vancouver does have design guidelines which requires the placement of pedestrian weather protection along commercial streets, there has never been a plan for roofed shelters in parks, or benches well placed for people to use the outdoor space twelve months of the year.

While walking is a basic and easy skill to use in cities like London, it has been an afterthought elsewhere especially in the United States. Mary Creagh of Britain’s Living Streets says it best  by describing this new data tool that can evaluate walkable cities  as tackling “the twin epidemic of obesity and loneliness, and creating  a cleaner future for pedestrians and our planet.”

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