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15/02/2018

How often do you think about walking?

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Thinking about walkability when planning urban centres can create cleaner, safer, more engaging and more liveable environments, says Susan Claris

As a planning professional working in the built environment it is highly relevant to your working life, but how often do you think about walking?

For many, walking is both a valid mode of transport in its own right, as well as a part of most other journeys, whether by bike, bus, train or car. 

Yet the distance people walk has gone down by about a fifth over the past 15 years – to an average of four miles a week. But averages can be misleading: four out of 10 adults aged 40 to 60 in England walk less than 10 minutes continuously at a brisk pace in a month. And fewer than a third of all car trips are shorter than two miles. There is potential for change. 

What would our towns and cities look like with more people walking and fewer short car trips? Air quality would improve and congestion would fall. Having people walking through urban spaces also makes them safer for others and it’s a great social leveller.

"People on foot make urban centres vibrant and support economic activity"

People on foot make urban centres vibrant and support economic activity. Transport for London found that people who walk to town centres across London spend more a week than those who come by bus, train, tube, bike or car. More walking would improve the physical and mental well-being of individuals, families, communities and the nation – and help reduce the £7.4 billion a year cost of inactivity to the UK.

But it would require transformative change. Many towns and cities suffer from a legacy of being designed for the car. Planners can help to place walkability at the heart of our urban areas.

We need to act to achieve safe and efficient transport systems, such as improving walkable connectivity, pedestrianisation, better integration with public transport, reducing vehicle speeds, improving crossings and signage. 

We need to create more liveable environments, reusing redundant infrastructure, improving street design and furniture, creating pocket parks, improving micro-climates and having active façades. 

We can help to create a sense of place and community through open-street events, public art, street fairs and inclusive design. And we can take actions for smart and responsive cities, creating playful interactive environments, providing wayfinding systems, monitoring the city and using digital evaluation tools.

We can design physical activity back into our everyday lives by facilitating walking as regular daily transport. And as walking boosts thinking and creativity, what better way to do this than by going for a walk?

Susan Claris is an associate director in the Transport Consulting Group at Arup

Image credit | Shutterstock

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