Making a city pedestrian-friendly is no easy task. You need the policies to back you up, you need a strategy for your city that outlines exactly what you want to achieve and the actions that need to be taken to increase walkability. But what to keep in mind when creating a walking strategy?
Many cities have a SUMP – a sustainable urban mobility plan – stating specific objectives and policies to enhance sustainable means of transport. In many of these, walking is tagged on alongside cycling, rarely mentioned on its own. Why is that a mistake?
Simply put, walking is something we all do. It is the easiest form of sustainable transportation; you don’t need anything except your legs and maybe the help of a mobility aid. Still, narrow footpaths and prioritisation of cars over pedestrians on the streets makes even the simplest form of transport more difficult.
Walking strategies that focus on pedestrians will turn ideas into policies if adapted by your council. And these policies can indeed help to create a walkable environment. Walking strategies ideally incorporate footpaths, green and public spaces, and public transportation, all to guide municipalities, politicians, and councils on how to make their city walkable.
Making a walking strategy is no easy task. We have some advice on how to start and what to keep in mind.
Creating a Walking Strategy
Involve the Community: Collect Data and Feedback
Before you start creating your walking strategy, you need to gather data and feedback from the city’s residents – the people who will be affected by your policies. Look into where people walk, gather, and cross the streets. Ask the people what they want to change. As José Besselink, urban planner and chief editor of Rotterdam’s walking strategy, told us, “involving local communities is very important. Have their expertise linked to your policy and involve as many people as possible to create the importance in the city”.
Working step by step is also crucial. Try out what works and what doesn’t according to citizens’ feedback. This is what the walking strategy team in Trondheim did. As Birgit Hoyland, who is in charge of many walking projects at Miljøpakken (Greener Trondheim), tells us, the creation of the city’s walking strategy “started because we had some pilot projects. It was very eye-opening”.
Don’t Copy – but Cherry Pick What Fits Your City
Every city is different. The way cities have been built and designed differs immensely, and the same goes for their communities and their needs. This is why you can’t just copy another city’s walking strategy. What you can do, though, is take inspiration from them. “It’s always cherry-picking of a few ingredients that you could use for your city. But this is why it’s so interesting to always check on different types of cities and different types of strategies”, José asserts.
Get Expert Advice
For inspiration, feel free to get help from others. As for Rotterdam, hosting the Walk21 conference in 2019 was a chance to “seek for an accelerator from outside of [the] organisation to help.” It doesn’t have to be a full-on conference, though: you can just as well invite an expert to frame the topic scientifically.
For Rotterdam, the conference was not only an accelerator but a chance to create momentum and advertise for the need of a walking strategy: “Walk21 was a tool to plant the seed in our colleagues’ heads and draw from it afterwards.”
Take an Integral Approach
The beauty of walking is at the same time the curse of a walking strategy, or rather the complexity of it. Walking has so many benefits and connects many different issues – all of them need to be reflected in a strategy. As José says: “It must be an integral approach. It cannot be a mobility focus only.” Rotterdam’s walking strategy, for instance, is “focused on both interventions in public space and mobility. But it’s also very much about behaviour and health and sports and accessibility”.
A walking strategy has to connect and intertwine with other existing strategies in order to be useful and actionable. Embed the strategy in other departments and ambitions and connect and collaborate with people from various divisions. Create a working group of people from different backgrounds and departments, from the health and education sectors to the transport and the finance department, etc. You’ll see soon enough how much you can achieve when people with different competencies agree to work together.
It is no surprise that you need support to get your walking strategy adopted into actual policy. For this, it is important to tailor your message to a specific audience.
Your audience can include people within your council, such as traffic engineers, town planners, councillors, politicians, or health-promotion officers.
However, these people might be swayed by different arguments to those outside of your council, such as families, commuters, traders, or elderly people. Bear that in mind when explaining why your city needs a walking strategy.
One challenge will be that people think of walking as a normal, regular activity, rather than a means of transport. Be conscious of this as well when condensing your arguments.
It is important that your walking strategy has clearly stated objectives that reflect your overall vision. Vienna’s 2014 pedestrian strategy, for instance, included the objective to decrease traffic accident victims by 5% annually and to increase the pedestrian share of all trips taken in the city.
These objectives must be accompanied by short and long-term actions that are aligned with the city’s annual budget. Possible actions include infrastructural changes as well as education and awareness measures.
Targets and Evaluation
Lastly, never forget to establish targets against which you will be able to evaluate and review the walking strategy at a later date. It is important for your outcomes to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
When it comes to figuring out which infrastructural changes and solutions to implement, head over here for detailed insights.
While settling for concrete measures to take, always keep in mind that walking blends into every other mode of transport as well: walkability solutions should also consider links to other modes of transport and take a holistic approach.
Besides the most obvious changes (for example widening the footpath or prohibiting cars from parking on it), also think about changes in greenery (providing shade in summer), lightning, and signage.
Consider how changes to other modes of transport influence the pedestrian-friendliness of streets and cities: Slowing down cars, for example, can have an immense effect on pedestrian safety.
How to In a Nutshell…
Overall, creating a walking strategy is no easy task. You need political support and, maybe even more importantly, the involvement and backing of your community. It is helpful to get some expertise from the outside, but do not copy other walking strategies. Your strategy will make the most impact if you consider residents’ wishes and have an integral approach that involves diverse departments and perspectives.
For a step-by-step example of how to set up a walking strategy, check out the Victoria Walks guide.
Lastly, never forget: Without implementation efforts, a walking strategy is just a nice piece of paper! Don’t let it sit on your shelf. Take action!