Have you ever wondered why most of the favorite cities for tourists offer abundant walking space? The answer is plain and simple: walking spaces allow people to explore the city at their own pace. It is believed that there is no better way to explore a city than strolling on foot or wandering in alleys and narrow lanes. If everyone loves walking why have most of our cities neglected the much-needed infrastructure—pedestrian pathways
All of us love to walk. No matter whether you drive a personal vehicle or use public transport, you will be a pedestrian at some point of the day. If our streets will not have well-maintained and encroachment-free sidewalks and intersections with a provision of safe crossings, people will be put off from walking. Take the example of any public space in India or abroad; adequate walking space makes it attractive not adequate parking space.
Whether it is Marine Drive of Mumbai, Connaught Place in Delhi, the Bank of Seine River in Paris or the public spaces in Copenhagen, they all have one thing in common: they are popular among locals and tourists alike because they provide ample walking space to people. Jeff Speck, a renowned urban planner, states in his General Theory of Walkability that a journey on foot should satisfy four main conditions: be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. The aforementioned cities have designed their streets to fulfill these criteria.
Retrofitting walking infrastructure
Imagine scenes in old movies, the scenes of bustling sidewalks with people walking up and down the streets used to recreate cities on the silver screen. With changing development paradigm, the portrayal of cities in cinema has changed. Driving luxurious cars has replaced walking in cinematic representation of cities. Why has it happened? Indian cities, which evolved after the industrial revolution, have not given much space to walking. Pathways do not exist or remain encroached by locals for parking or vending. Even the new cities which evolved in the 80s and 90s ignored walking infrastructure.
Existing city infrastructure needs to carve out space for walking. Smart Cities Mission that is now in the process of creating new hi-tech infrastructure needs to address the issue. American cities are good examples of how car-first approach has ruined many of their cities. However, they have realised their mistake and have started building walking infrastructure and a comfortable environment for walkers.
The number of private vehicles in cities is increasing by the day in Indian cities too. Traffic congestion during peak hours in almost every city of India is reflective of the scale of the problem. People prefer to use personal cars even for short distances because walking in cities, if you are living in a busy business or residential area, is not safe.
Widening of roads is a poor strategy for our urban centres because it makes walking uncomfortable and crossing roads dangerous. Most of our roads even do not have zebra crossings at crucial spots. Cities are widening their roads to accommodate more vehicles and it would increase the time taken to cross a road. Similarly, parking is another requirement in our cities. There is no denying that we do not have enough parking spaces and people end up parking on the road side. This further makes walking uncomfortable because vehicles hog walkways at times. However, creating more parking spaces where facility is available at cheap rates and removing street parking could not be a solution.
City corporations should make parking available at key places and the charges must be increased in due consultation with locals. Parking fee at farther locations from prominent places like markets or other crowded places could be subsidised though. Such efforts would definitely bring in systematic changes in how people perceive walking. Jeff Speck also supports the idea of street parking to make streets safer for walkers because he says, “on-street curb side parking buffers the sidewalk from moving vehicle traffic”.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a new buzz word in development quarters. Its success entirely depends on how walkable our areas are. Walkable neighborhoods near the mass transit stops will help in making TOD a success.
Making walking interesting
Many cities have given freedom to local artists to make murals and graffiti on urban walls and it has turned into graffiti walking tour. This has made walking interesting for locals and tourists alike. The streets in Berlin, Montreal, Bogota, London, and many other European and American cities have made walking interesting by donning graffiti and murals made by international and local artists.
The famous architect Steve Mouzon’s wonderful theory of “walk appeal,” sayshow far people will walk is all about what they encounter along the way. This means walking has to be interesting. This is true if we look inwards in our busiest markets. Whenever you are walking on any street with shops on both sides, you are encouraged to walk. This could be seen in Chandani Chowk, Connaught Place, Sarojini Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Karol Bagh, etc. in the national capital. The lanes connecting these markets within the area are extremely crowded but you can see hoards of people walking even if they are just crossing the market and not there for buying anything.
Walking is going up in the chart of priorities in many cities worldwide. For example, all major candidates forMayor of London in 2016 promised to pedestrianise Oxford Street. According to a report published in a London based newspaper, the street despite being a world-famous retail destination, is one of the most dangerous roads in London in terms of deaths and serious injuries, as well as one of the most polluted streets in Britain. This trend is picking up in cities across the globe.
Apart from lowering GHG emission for cities, walking also ensures well-being of citizens. According to a recent research published in The Lancet medical journal, walking for as little as 30 minutes most days of the week has a substantial health benefit, and higher physical activity is associated with even lower health risks. This is another good reason for creating walking infrastructure and promoting walking in our cities.
Whether it is Marine Drive of Mumbai, Connaught Place in Delhi, the Bank of Seine River in Paris or the public spaces in Copenhagen, they all have one thing in common: they are popular among locals and tourists alike because they provide ample walking space to people. Jeff Speck’s grandly titled General Theory of Walkability states that a journey on foot should satisfy four main conditions: be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. The aforementioned places fulfill all these criteria.