What is a Walkable City?
Walking is the oldest and simplest form of human transportation. Nowadays, walking a few blocks or crossing a street seems inconvenience. Walkability is a new term to describe how friendly a city or a neighborhood is to pedestrian activity. According to the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, walakble communities are defined as: “they consider persons, not their automobiles, at the center of the design scale. When we design communities around the human foot, we create places that are socially, environmentally and economically vibrant”.
Walkability is the key to an urban area’s efficient ground transportation. Walking remains the cheapest form of transport for all people. Thus, the construction of a walkable city provides the most affordable and equitable transportation system, where any community can plan, design, build and maintain. Walkable cities return urban environments to scale, pattern and mix for sustainability of resources (both natural and economic). They lead to addressing many social and economic problems through social interaction, physical fitness, diminishing crime and increasing wellness. Walkable cities are livable built environments which lead to whole happy and healthy lives for the people who live in them. They keep jobs and attract young adults, families and children (www.walkable.org).
Why Cities are Less Walkable?
It is not that we don’t have the desire to walk, but it is more like we can’t. So, it is important to understand that there are several problems affecting walkability in cities. First, the arrival of the automobile and the massive investments in the highway systems made it feasible to live many miles away from work. Unfortunately, most of our cities are designed for automobiles and actually discourage people from walking. A built environment meant for cars may prevent residents from aging in place (Community AGEnda, 2014).
Second, the land outside the city is more affordable and offers a blank slate for development. As a result, decentralization of metropolitan population and centers of employment to suburban locations, increased travel distance to work, school and other daily tasks. Subsequently, people become largely dependent on the automobile (Lehman and Boyle, 2007).
This can be seen in cities across the world which have begun to recognize and address this problem. The solution lies in the benefits of walkability and the key components to become more walkable cities.
Characteristics of Walkable Cities
Jan Gehi stated that: “A good city is like a good party. People don’t want to leave early”. Here comes an important question: What are the general characteristics of walakble cities? To answer this question, a city needs to address the following elements:
It is a clear, understandable and organized sidewalk, street and land use system consistent with the scale and function of the surrounding urban context. The sidewalk and street should link points of interest and activity, provide clean lines of sight and travel and include simple instructive signage.
This means a pattern of design and usage that unifies the pedestrian system.
It is a balance among transportation modes that will accommodate and encourage pedestrian participation in the street.
It encourages pedestrian protection from automobiles and bicycles. Also, it provides adequate time to cross intersections without interference. Moreover, it creates physical separation from fast-moving cars and signalization protection when crossing.
It deals with secure and negotiable paving materials for individual and community interactions. Sidewalks should provide for a variety of uses and activities characteristics of the diverse urban scene.
It is the opportunity for all individuals to utilize the pedestrian environment as fully as possible.
It deals with simplicity and cost-effectiveness in design and function.
It means clean, efficient and well-maintained surroundings, with adjacent storefronts and activities that provide sidewalk interest (Bicycle Federation of America, 1998).
Copenhagen (Denmark) : A City for People
Copenhagen is internationally famous for its unique creation of lively pedestrian streets. Also, it is characterized by its laid back outdoor cafes and its rich cosmopolitan culture. Copenhagen did not randomly sprout buildings, roads and streets in a rushed manner. However, as an example, Stroget is a city located at the nucleus of Copenhagen. It consists of a linear collection of four medieval streets that reaches 3,500 feet long. Winding, relatively narrow streets with old, long streets define this area, producing a mysterious sensation from the tightness and towering buildings. 1962 was a big year for Stroget, since its main shopping streets began to convert into a pedestrian promenade. About 96,000 square meters were designated for pedestrian spaces, where cars were permitted to pass through, only at low speeds.
Many unique qualities allow Stroget to be a pedestrianized center. What makes the street unique to the human eye are the open, stopping squares for formal and informal entertainments and restaurants or coffee shops, along with food stalls and attractions. Also, the street physically provides comfort and protection since the natural anatomy and configuration of buildings act as wind barriers. One of the best things about Stroget is that the street is made for everyone and is for all types of crowds. It brings people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities together on the same street. The presence of people and activity, along with its relaxing, carefree environment and the presence of various historical architecture, are the factors that make people enjoy walking down Stroget.
In addition, the amount of bicyclists is impressive. Half of all people, who work in central Copenhagen, arrive by bicycle in the summer time. About 70% of those bicycling also bike to work during winter months, despite the raining and sometimes the icy weather. Moreover, there is no apparent discrimination of bike riders, it varies from business executives and fashionable women to old people, students and parents with toddlers (Ting, 2010).
Alexandria (Egypt) : Violation of Pavements
On the contrary, there are unwalkable cities such as Alexandria (Egypt). I had this experience due to living and working in it. Mainly, roads and streets are designated for vehicular transportation and pedestrian pathways outline their borders. This makes pedestrians secondary to automobiles. Sometimes, streets do not occupy sidewalks and pavements. Sidewalks neither regulate the movement of pedestrians nor provide them with comfort and ease of movement. In addition, pedestrians are not in the center, or even along the side lines. This is because when new streets are born, most planning priorities focus primarily on vehicular circulation. Roads can be too wide, uncomfortable and dangerous for pedestrians, but appropriately accommodate the needs of the vehicle traffic. This creates a dangerous setting for pedestrians.
I am very sorry to mention that the fact of the sidewalks in Egypt is a violator of everyone without exception. The street is occupied with stalls of various kinds, barriers and obstacles and advertisements in various forms. There are no specifications or standards to respect the pavement or sidewalk display materials, construction and real estate. Unfortunately, this can be seen in areas such as Ramel Station (city downtown), El Manshya, amongst other places. It is worth mentioning that all such violations is due to lack of professionals. There are some violations have the purpose of decoration such as planting trees which hinder movement. Also, some violations obstruct vision like putting obstacles which cut off the sidewalk, for example, to create a distinctive entrance to a mosque. This shows the backwardness visual image and the absence of the slightest public taste and culture for the architectural and urban levels of society.
We can conclude that, walkability is the extent to which the built environment is friendly to the presence of people living, shopping, visiting, enjoying or spending time in the area. It is harder to make the changes we need than it sounds. We have to make it possible for people to walk more, with better, planned suburbs, well-maintained footpaths, and appropriate speed limits, safe road crossings, responsive traffic lights, seats, signs, more “local” shops, all of those important things that often get forgotten when the focus is on getting vehicles to their destinations.
We need to encourage people to make the choice to walk. Walking is a big recreation activity for people. Why not get healthy by walking your children to school, or walking to your public transport stop? Finally, I think we need to make it happen, to give politicians the “courage” to really support walking, livability and a civilized city.
Written by: Riham Nady
Edited by: Aiysha Alsane
– Bicycle Federation of America Campaign to Make America Walkable. (December 1998). “Creating Walkable Communities: A guide for local governments”. Washington D.C. United States.
– Community AGEnda. (September 2014). “Aging Issues in Brief: Walkable Communities”. http://ww.giaging.org/documents/Walkable_Communities_brief.pdf
– Lehman, Megan and Boyle, Michelle. (July 2007). “Healthy & Walkable Communities”. University of Delaware. United States.
– Walkable Communities, Inc. (Unknown). Official website “Walkable Communites”. http://www.walkable.org
– Ting, Hiu. (2010). “Walkable Streets: Analyzing Pedestrian-Friendly Street Design Strategies of Europe and Adapting them into Market Street, San Francisco”. http://ww.lda.ucdavis.edu/people/2010/TLi.pdf