Walk21 in Sydney
Walk21 in Sydney
Here, many speakers from all over the world are testifying to the value of making cities walkable. For example, Jacqueline Kennedy, in a talk called ‘Walking… the forgotten face of transport‘, discussed the WALK Friendly Ontario programme that encourages municipalities to create and improve the conditions for walking by awarding Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum designations.
In Santa Maria, a Brazilian city of nearly 270.000, Zones for Pedestrian Preference have been introduced to design an urban environment where walking is enhanced while keeping the commercial and economic activity of the city on the go.
The truth is that many metropolitan areas around the world are facing urgent problems associated with the increasing worldwide trend in car ownership and congestion. To address economic growth and the employment value of cities without addressing the need to supply alternatives to car ownership is actually economic suicide.
“The health benefits and subsequent economic benefits of creating walkable urban areas measurable,” Annie Matan told the conference, but the problem is that they are not factored into decision-making, because the people who manage the budgets for health are not the same people as manage the budgets for transport and planning – usually.
There is therefore an urgent need for city leaders – mayors and senior administrators – to be made fully aware of the need to factor in these benefits. As Lucy Saunders told the conference, “walking can be overlooked in city-level transport planning”. “The health benefits of more walking in the city go beyond the substantial physical activity benefits, including reduced harms from noise and road traffic collisions and greater social cohesion,” she said.
She argued that in London, the organisation Transport for London “have 10 new ways of working to ensure that health benefits are considered across all strategic transport planning in the city from option appraisal through business case development to evaluation”, and this is contained in the first Health Action Plan (right).
The framework for this new approach is ‘Healthy Streets’ which highlights the 10 indicators of a healthy street. These evidence-based and intuitive indicators can be used to assess how ‘healthy’ a street is and identify what needs to change to make it healthier. Pedestrians are at the centre of this with ‘Pedestrians from all walks of life’ at the top of the list.
But walking isn’t everything, even cycling won’t be for everybody. The Centre for Cities report argues that while low skilled workers tend to travel the least distance to work, skilled workers are more likely to travel longer distances, especially if following good job opportunities. If we don’t want them to use cars we have to provide reliable, frequent, networked and synchronised public transport. Getting this right will benefit the skilled workers who generate more wealth.
It follows that low skilled workers should be able to live everywhere, rather than herded into zones, because all sectors of the economy need such workers in order to function. But we also know that graduates who are the skilled workers of tomorrow, are already gravitating towards city areas where they can walk and cycle, because often they don’t need or own cars, and enjoy living there. In the centre of London and other cities, a car is a liability. And the centre of cities is where the skilled jobs are.
In 2001, the average commuter that lived outside of London travelled 64 km to get into central London for their job. In Manchester, in comparison, it was 36 km, according to Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook 2012. This is actually an argument not (as Centre for Cities argues) for improved transport around cities but for high rise and increased density.
The rise of ‘life hubs’
But if we do want to use public transport, and we do, which mode should be the preferred option? David Mepham argued at the Sydney conference that park-and-ride and light rail are more pedestrian friendly than bus rapid transit, based on Australian experience. But whatever modes are chosen, Sonia Lavadinho believes that “placing walking at the core of the multimodal system” is vital, and is “a paradigm shift for public transit operators that are called upon to manage an ever growing multimodal offer”, calling these “life hubs“.
Life hubs are a way to “both optimize the geometry of the transit network and reinforce the degree of attractiveness of the major multimodal hubs”, she said, illustrating it with the diagram below.
This is already being tried out by Transdev-Semitag, the public transport operator of the French city of Grenoble, where the transit network has been substantially modified to include new tramway and BRT lines, accompanied by a new philosophy that puts walking at the core of the multimodal system. The concept for this experiment was designed by Bfluid.
The first life hub was inaugurated at Echirolles in the Grenoble area on September 5, 2014; in Grenoble ‘Life Hubs’ are known as “Carrefours de Mobilité’, or ‘Crossroads of mobility’.
Designed as a living laboratory in partnership with residents by Transdev Group-Semitag to meet the growing challenge of multimodality in the Grenoble area, its objective is to value all mobility solutions (tram, bus, train, bicycle and car sharing) by “repositioning the pedestrian at the heart of concerns and providing a comfortable experience and intuitive journey”.
Yann Mongaburu, chairman of SMTC (Joint Association of Public Transport) emphasizes the particularity of this innovative approach “that inverts the place of entry for solving transport issues, starting from the user”. The YouTube video about it below, though in French, uses diagrams understandable in any language to explain the concept:
Unusually for a conference, the Sydney event is hosting ‘walkshops‘ which take people out of the conference hall to see for themselves what walking and using public transport in the city is like. Yesterday’s ‘Denser and Healthy Cities Walkshop involved using heavy rail, light rail and walking and took around three hours.
Perhaps the authors of the Centre for Cities report, not to mention many other transit and urban planning theorists, need to actually take this approach, and get outside to find out what really works on the ground and explore the complexities of creating a healthy, workable and walkable built environment that supports a growing economy.