Walkable, bikable and livable cities
Walking, biking, and green sustainable transport are the primary modes of transportation in healthy, smart and livable cities. Walking is the most basic mode of transport—we are all first and foremost, pedestrians. With the need to observe physical distancing during the pandemic, walking and cycling have become ideal and convenient modes to get around, and both are environment-friendly, inclusive, healthier and less costly. The pandemic has exposed that street design has been more car-centric, so cities around the world saw this as an opportunity to replan and redesign more walkable and bikable street infrastructure that will encourage people to rediscover the joys of walking and cycling.
There are numerous benefits we can derive from more walkable and bikable urban environments, including safer and better pedestrian-friendly streets, reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, less traffic congestion, and a good source of exercise, among others.
There are 20 modes of urban transport. Urban mobility should prioritize walking, biking and all kinds of public transport. Private vehicles, the most inefficient mode, should be the last priority, and high-occupancy modes of transport must be the top priority. An indicator of a first-world or progressive country is when leaders in government and business as well as the more affluent members of society also walk, cycle, or use public transport.
Most walkable cities
A report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy identified London, Paris, Bogota and Hong Kong as the “world’s most walkable cities.” Factors considered include: proximity to car-free spaces like parks, squares and pedestrian-friendly streets; closeness to education and health care; and the size of city blocks; among others. According to health experts, adults need to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week or walk 10,000 steps per day to stay healthy. Studies have proven that walkable cities have positive impacts on cognitive health. Moreover, Jane Jacobs, a world-renowned urbanist and journalist, has emphasized that denser, more walkable neighborhoods are safer because there are more “eyes on the street” or better surveillance.
London, which outranked other cities, established its first “Walking Action Plan.” The main objectives include: establishing new pedestrian infrastructure; better signposting and maps; additional pedestrian crossings; promoting more walking routes; implementing timed road closures for vehicles and car-free days; and enabling thousands of children to walk to school; among others. The city invested 2.2 billion pounds in creating better streets for walking and cycling, and improving air quality.
Paris has adopted a “15-minute city,” wherein residents can access stores, schools, transporta tion, and other services within a quarter-hour walk from their home. Since the beginning of the lockdown, the city has added 31 miles of bike lanes, and main streets have been designated for bicycles and scooters only. In 2020, the city also introduced a “car-free” day. By 2024, the city aims to ban all diesel cars and to widely establish electrified rapid transit.
In spite of Hong Kong’s world-class public transit system, walking is still among the most popular ways to get around the city. Their Transport Department even has a “Walk in Hong Kong” initiative to make districts safer and more pedestrian-friendly. The program includes walkability enhancement initiatives, like extending the operating hours of pedestrian-only zones, reducing speed limits in certain areas, reducing road clutter, adding an informative and consistent way-finding system, and establishing bigger zebra crossings and raised crossings, among others.
In the 2019 Copenhagenize Index, European cities dominated the top rankings—Copenhagen was ranked No.1, followed by Amsterdam, Utrecht, Antwerp, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Oslo, Paris, Vienna and Helsinki. Asian cities Tokyo and Taipei were also included in the Top 20. European cities are applauded for being pioneers in environmental consciousness, resulting in green infrastructure, technologies, strategies and programs that aim to reduce emissions.
The Netherlands and Denmark are known for their cycling culture and vast networks of bicycle lanes that translate to stronger carbon management. Their urban plans have deviated from car-centric designs and focused more on people’s safety and well-being as top priorities.
In Copenhagen, 62 percent of residents’ trips to school or work are by bicycle, and they cycle an estimated 1.44 million kilometers each day. The city’s investment for bicycle infrastructure amounts to $45 per capita. Copenhagen has proven time and again that through simple, well-connected and safe infrastructure, cycling can be a first-rate mode of transport for people, regardless of age and ability.
Amsterdam has more than 500 km of bike lanes, and 50 percent of residents’ commutes are through cycling. Even the Netherlands’ Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, cycles to work, along with millions of other bicycle commuters. The Dutch also invented the “fietstraat” —a street where cyclists dominate and cars are just “guests” and motorists should observe a speed limit of 30 km per hour.
Utrecht spends $55 million each year to build and enhance bicycle facilities and infrastructure. It has an average of 125,000 bike trips per day. By 2030, it aims to double its bike-based mobility network. Through this strategy, the city is able to save approximately $300 million in air pollution and health-care costs annually.
If our cities design our streets and road corridors to be more people-centric instead of car-centric and they integrate more vibrant walkable and bikable urban environments, then we will have safer and more inclusive, dynamic and environment-friendly public spaces and communities. It will take a lot of effort from both the public and private sectors, but as Jan Gehl put it, it is by willingly giving people the spaces they need that we can create a truly livable and healthy city.
In the Netherlands, there are more bicycles than residents, and most of the cyclists do not wear helmets because they have invested in street designs and policies that keep cycling safe and inclusive. INQ
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and not the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is chair of the MAP urban development committee, and the founder and principal architect of Palafox Group. Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected]
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