Needless to say, walking is the most sustainable form of mobility. However, not all cities are pedestrian-friendly. The majority of urban areas, in fact, have been designed around cars rather than around citizens and their (often varied) travel needs. Just think of sprawling cities like Los Angeles and Auckland, where busy streets cut through the landscape and condemn visitors and residents to spend much of their time in their cars. Despite efforts to increase carriageway capacity, traffic congestion has never improved.
No wonder the average weekly commute has increased by an hour in just five years in many American cities. In England, around 60% of journeys of 1.6 – 3.2 km are made by car. In New Zealand, one-third of all car journeys cover distances of less than 2km. Therefore, even to travel very short distances, there is always a tendency to use the car. The implications, in addition to the environment, are also reflected in the health of those who spend time inside and outside the vehicle. And that is why many cities like Paris and Amsterdam are working hard to encourage people to leave their cars at home, by adopting public policies, smart urban design and by promoting alternative means of transport.
By building better neighborhoods, we could turn many of today’s car journeys into active modes and reduce time spent driving. This, in turn, would reduce traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and noise pollution. How? It’s not just about providing more transportation options. There must also be a change in mentality and behavior. In low-density cities, a solution could be developing demand management strategies. This could include increasing the cost of parking and reducing parking availability.
Unfortunately, the problem of cities built around cars also affects smaller urban centers. Here, it often happens that on the outskirts of cities new housing complexes arise without services, forcing the inhabitants to have to use their car every time they have to go shopping, for example. We should embrace the idea that the most sophisticated cities we can create are cities that can be traveled on foot or by using public transport, cycling paths, as in many cities in Europe. They are more like small village clusters, with individual, overlapping neighborhoods where many services are located within 15 to 20 minutes. There are shops, the post office, a park and so on. You can have everything you need for your everyday life and it is all accessible without using your car.
Walkable neighborhoods are what make cities more liveable and healthier for their inhabitants. To do this, for example, it is necessary to measure how connected the road networks are, to verify whether people have access to the main destinations and the levels of density. Therefore, for new developments, it is really about optimizing the level of density which will ensure that we have enough people to provide high quality, well connected and frequent public transport, also to support local shops and services. There is also a need for connected road networks that allow citizens to easily choose different routes.
In other words, we can conclude that the determining factors for making cities pedestrian-friendly are: a fair distribution of land occupation, the management of mobility demand, the design of networks suitable for pedestrians and cyclists, the land-use diversity, residential density, reduction of distance from public transport and accessibility of mobility services.