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News & opinion

23 APR 2018

How often do you think about walking?

It is something you do every day. As a professional working in the built environment, it is highly relevant to your working life. But how often do you really think about walking? Asks Susan Claris, Associate Director of Transport Consulting at Arup.

For many, walking is just something that happens when we put one foot in front of another. However, it is both a valid mode of transport in its own right, as well as a part of virtually all other journeys, whether by bike, bus, train or car. It brings great benefits – for individuals, for business, for cities.

A backwards step?

Yet we are walking less than we used to. The distance people walk has gone down by about a fifth over the last fifteen years. People walk an average of four miles per week. But averages can be misleading: four out of ten adults aged 40 to 60 in England walk less than 10 minutes continuously at a brisk pace in a month.

What’s more, nearly a third of all car trips are shorter than two miles. There is potential for change.

The many benefits

What would our towns and cities look like with more people walking and fewer short car trips? Air quality would improve and congestion would reduce. Having people walking through urban spaces also makes them safer for others and it’s a great social leveller.

It is people on foot who make urban centres vibrant and they support economic activity. Transport for London found that people who walk to town centres across London spend more per week than those who come by bus, train, tube, bike or car. More walking would improve the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and the nation. It could help reduce the estimated £7.4 billion a year cost of inactivity to the UK.

What would our towns and cities look like with more people walking and fewer short car trips? Air quality would improve and congestion would reduce.

Best foot forward

But moving towards a walking world requires transformative change in our towns and cities, many suffering from a legacy of being designed around the car. As planners we can help, by placing walkability at the heart of our urban areas.

We need to act to achieve safe and efficient transport systems, such as improving walkable connectivity, pedestrianisation, better integration with public transport, reducing vehicle speeds, improving crossings and signage.

We need to create more liveable environments, re-using redundant infrastructure, improving street design and furniture, creating pocket parks, improving micro-climates and having active facades.

We can help to create a sense of place and community through open-street events, public art, street fairs and inclusive design. And we can take actions for smart and responsive cities, creating playful interactive environments, providing wayfinding systems, monitoring the city and using digital evaluation tools.

We can design physical activity back into our everyday lives by facilitating walking as regular daily transport. So, let’s all think more about walking – and as walking boosts creativity, what better way to do this than by going for a walk?