Mobility Walking Making Cities Pedestrian-Friendly: How to Get Started

Making Cities Pedestrian-Friendly: How to Get Started

Metka Novak

Nature lover who finds excitement in exploring new cities, discovering new things, and writing about sustainability. Also in eating ice-cream — ice-cream's good.

In my free time I enjoy travelling, running, and walking in nature.

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So, you would like your city to be more pedestrian-friendly? You see the potential of your city but don’t exactly know where or how to start? You’ve come to the right place! Here you’ll find all the pointers, tricks, and secrets for creating the change you envisioned.

Let’s get one thing straight: implementing change is never simple. Nor is it easy to start. That’s why we’ve created a quick guideline cheat sheet to help make this venture easier for you.

First Steps: Preparation Is Everything

Even if your city might still be at the very early stages of becoming a walkable city, that’s ok – think of it as a blank canvas for many possibilities you will have a say in. Here’s how to start:

1. Do Your Research & Focus

Start off with getting the facts and figures right – they are the much-needed basis for knowing what does and doesn’t work in your city, what would and wouldn’t work, and what needs to be changed. Gather data and feedback from residents to see what infrastructure is already there, how many people walk daily, etc.

You have to know what’s already been done and where you’re starting your journey from. Once you’ve got that mastered, move onto the benefits of having a walkable city to keep you motivated, with your eyes focused on the prize. After getting an overview of what can be done: focus and prioritise! You can’t do it all at once. Go for some quick wins and set up a timeline of milestones to start the process.

To acquire the necessary expert knowledge on making your city pedestrian-friendly, see here for a detailed list of selected useful guides and tools.

2. Possible Challenges

No task is without a challenge or an obstacle. Implementing great changes is no exception. When it comes to walking, you might be faced with difficulties, such as overlooking pedestrians, poor path maintenance, size of cities, etc. For more of the common challenges, you might meet on the way, read here.

As is usually the case with challenges, you are not the first person to be confronted with them. Dare to ask for help and ask people in other cities how they did it and how they dealt with similar challenges. It is always good to learn from the mistakes of others!

3. Money, Money

Let’s face it – implementing changes is not only hard but expensive as well. One way to go about conquering this obstacle is through EU financing. CORDIS, TRIMIS, KEEP.EU and CIVITAS may be a great source for financing your project(s). See here for projects that were financed in the past and successfully pulled off their set goals.

Gaining stakeholders and politicians on board can be lucrative as well. The first-hand experience of walkable cities is a good way to show off the potential; create a sample walkable street, maybe organise a car-free event. Find arguments that work for politicians – it’s no secret that if they sense a possible rise in their support by implementing your ideas, they’re more likely to do it and stand behind your project. But that’s unfortunately not going to be without expenses, so finding local companies to sponsor you could turn out to be of great help.

Almost There: Communication Is Key

4. Cooperate

Cooperation is key – both with those working at the municipality (in different departments) and those that are affected by the changes you plan: the community. Collaborate, engage, and experiment. This is how Rotterdam managed to fully implement on policy-level their own walking strategy. But just how to properly collaborate? Plan, provide a platform, collaborate – read here, how.

pedestrian-friendly city
Image credit: Unsplash / Sasha Gorin

5. Give Voice to the Community

In the early stages of designing a walkable infrastructure, the inclusion of all voices from all groups of residents is crucial. Warren Logan, Policy Director of Mobility and Interagency Relations in the city of Oakland, is known for genuinely caring about civic engagement. Some of his principles are to be emphatic, humble and curious, to find common ground and to care about representation. Find out more about his advice on how to make citizen engagement work here.

Power lies in numbers, especially when it’s about people from the same districts coming together. Listen to the community. For more guidelines on how to get the community on board and about the importance of inclusion, read here.

6. Consider Opinions

Once you’ve gathered all of the opinions and recommendations from the residents, don’t turn your head from them. Take criticism as a good thing, learn from it, grow from it, and create positive changes evolving from them. See here on how Portland realised the importance of this and how they made it a key factor in their walking strategy.

7. Include the Youngest Residents

Sometimes starting with the youngest residents is the way to go. Start with children, include them in the process from the beginning and work your way up – to their parents, teachers etc. Read about why their opinions matter here.

8. Create a Walking Strategy

It’s important to have a set goal in mind when tackling infrastructural changes. A strategy can therefore be a major part of successfully realising the plan. Read here about how to create a walking strategy.

Take Action

9. Advocacy and Communication Campaigns

The first thing you will need to do to successfully take action is to appoint a walking coordinator. Appoint a commissioner, someone responsible in the city – every group needs a leader. Next, advocate and promote walking and its benefits in city-wide campaigns. Organize workshops, meetings, fundraisers. To find out exactly how to advocate for changes in your city, see this seven-step guide.

10. Infrastructural Changes

Successful promotion of walkability can’t be achieved without the proper infrastructure. Read here to find out what are the main things to consider. This includes the width of sidewalks, signage, and accessibility measures.

The last and key thing to keep in mind when changing the infrastructure is providing safety measures and enhancing the quality of the walking experience for pedestrians. Read here on how to make your city safe for pedestrians, and here about an innovative technological approach on making streets safer for female residents.

11. Incentivise People to Walk

Encourage people to walk with a fun initiative. It can be with the help of innovative walking apps, through a game or even through friendly competition. Everyone loves a little challenge. Read about a very successful case of creating walkable change through a game played among schoolchildren here.

And while you’re at it, try something new. For example, everyone loves a shortcut – metaphorically and literally. Especially pedestrians. You can boost walkability with something as simple as providing residents with possible walking shortcuts. One of the cities that successfully implemented them in their infrastructure is Trondheim. Read about the triumphant case and how they did it here.

Finishing Touches

12. Don’t Get Discouraged

Unpredictable things might happen. But even then, remember, it’s all a part of the learning process. Even from the worst of times, great changes can be born. Read here about how Dublin managed to pull something positive out of a very bad situation by using the COVID-19 pandemic to boost walkability.

13. Evaluate

Evaluate if your measures are successful and are going as planned. Reflect on your initial goal: are you still on the right path? Keep your eyes on the prize and celebrate hitting your milestones (no matter how small they may seem).

Image credit: Unsplash / Daniel Bernard

Congratulations, You’ve Made It!

Now that you have all the facts and theories in check, people who support you, motivation to keep you boosted and the will to do it, there are only a few things left: put on your most comfortable pair of shoes, gather like-minded people, and get to work.

Each case and each city is different, but with proper research and following the guidelines provided here, you have nothing to fear. Figure out what you want to change first to implement pedestrian-friendly infrastructure in your city and make it a priority. Before you know it, you will have created a more walkable city; and who knows, even influence someone else to do the same in their municipality.

You’ve Got This!

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