3 organizations that are making our cities walkable

“Any town that doesn’t have sidewalks, doesn’t love its children” – Margaret Mead, anthropologist

So, how do we ensure the walkability in our cities? The new cities being built have much more scope of embedding walkability into them since they are built from ground-up – regardless of their DNA – they can be made walkable.

The challenge however lies in the old existing dense cities where pedestrian traffic is a snarl. Although many cities like Delhi have side paths for walkers (owing to its sheer land size), those side walks are not used for the intended purpose. So, here it comes – the big idea!

Clean up the sidewalks!

If we did just that and nothing else, Delhi would free up ample space to provide for its walkers. Although an important component, walkability doesn’t mean just that.

Walkablity of a city is way to a more sustainable living, more social living and more natural way of living – very unlike to the way we are used to living in our cars.

The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities Center with support from the Asian Development Bank and the Fredkorpset has recently come up with a study benchmarking the pedestrian infrastructure of 6 Indian cities – Bhubaneshwar, Chennai, Indore, Pune, Rajkot and Surat. This study was an extension of the walkability surveys conducted in other Asian cities of  Cebu, Colombo, Davao, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Karachi, Kathmandu, Kota, Lanzhou, Metro Manila, and Ulaanbaatar.

As per the CAI website:

“The survey used a methodology based on the “Global Walkability Index” developed by the World Bank, which includes a field walkability survey, pedestrian preference survey and a government policy and institutional survey. The survey provides an overview of the current pedestrian infrastructure and policies in selected cities and will be used to develop and propose pedestrian focused solutions for Asian cities. The “walkability index” can help raise awareness and generate interest among policy makers and city officials and help them improve walking in their cities”.

CAI has come up with some key ingredients by way of their surveys for making our cities walkable:

  • Policy Development
  • Development of Walkability Toolkit for Indian Cities
  • Advocacy, Dialogue and Implementation
  • Developing mandatory complete street design guidelines
  • Conducting annual pedestrian benchmarks
  • Making allies across various municipal departments

EMBARQ, a WRI (World Resources Institute) initiative on Sustainable Transport is another organization that has also done a lot of work in making our cities more sustainable – and walkability is a major part of it. EMBARQ focuses on four practice areas:

  • Integrated Transport Solutions
  • Air Quality and Climate Change
  • Road Safety and Public Health
  • Land Use and Urban Design

Ahmedabad launched South Asia’s first complete BRT in October 2009. Janmarg, which means “the people’s way” in Gujarati, focuses the city’s massive growth into sustainable, high-capacity bus corridors.

UNCRD (United Nations Center for Regional Development) and Japanese government is the third organization that has done a lot of work in building Environmentally Sustainable Transport systems for Asian cities – and they also walk the talk. Some of the most walker-friendly cities are found in Japan.

Who’s done it

Latin American cities like Bogota and Curitiba have done much to demonstrate the effectiveness of BRT systems, along with good walkability in the city. Needless to say,  walkability is not a silo – it happens when other forms of sustainable transport are put in place.

Having lived in Japan my self for several years, I miss the side walks and my long walks with the family to the downtown of the city. The walk was an experience – much satisfying than the end destination itself.

Each year, World Car Free Day is held on Sept 22 and some parts of many Japanese cities are closed to cars on the weekends to facilitate family outings/walks in the central area.

I would walk if I had a place to do so. Who wouldn’t? We all know the benefits of walking and walkable cities (as discussed in previous post). The idea is to bring about that culture change favourable to walking and make walking not to be looked down upon.

I know that in US and UK and my experience of living in Japan, pedestrians are treated as GOD – that is with the utmost respect, that you would give to God. They come first, then cyclists, then 2 wheeled motorists and so on. If I saw a person just stepping of the curb to cross the road, I would automatically bring my car to a halt – but if Ido that here in Delhi, I’ll be honked at like crazy and people around will think that I am a novice driver!

Making our cities more walkable is up to each one of us – especially the motorists. If we change our behaviour (I know it takes ages) but if we do that, we’ll have a lot more walkable, sustainable, friendlier, cleaner, and efficient urban cities.

What do you feel about walkability as a part of our urban lifestyle?

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