Think about your local area or nearest town/city – when you want to get around, could you ditch the car and walk instead? If not, why not? Maybe because the places we live and work in are generally designed around motor vehicles, rather than for walkability. In fact, Australian cities are among the least walkable. Let’s see if we can change that…

What does walkability mean?

‘Walkability’ refers to the ease of accessing city, town, or neighbourhood amenities on foot. For maximum walkability, we need pedestrian-friendly urban environments where shops, schools, parks, public transport, and workplaces are within walking distance.

“Walking is the simplest, most sustainable, and cheapest medium of locomotion.”

(Project Drawdown)

What are walkable cities and towns?

Walkable cities encourage pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, including footpaths, pedestrian crossings, and vehicle-free zones, facilitating walking access and use. The concept of walkability encompasses a range of key aspects, including city density, accessibility to amenities, and proximity to areas where we live, work, and visit.

In a walkable city or urban area, pedestrian safety is prioritised. Amenities like outdoor dining, parks, public art, bicycle lanes, playgrounds, workplaces and shops are a close walk away.

It is vital to have basic infrastructure for walkability that considers the density of homes, workplaces, and public spaces. Other key requirements are safe and direct pedestrian crossings, good public transport access, and wide, well-lit, tree-lined walkways and footpaths.

Shared pathway sign - pedestrians and bike riders

Dedicated walking and active transport infrastructure improve safety and accessibility

What are the benefits of improving walkability?

Walkability contributes to the overall liveability and functionality of urban spaces and the cities, towns, or neighbourhoods we live in. In addition, improving walkability encourages increased pedestrian activity, resulting in a range of health and environmental benefits.

Sense of community

Being part of a walkable city or suburb can improve the sense of community. You can get to know your local area better and are more likely to meet others in your community while walking. People living in walkable cities and towns generally perceive their areas as safe, comfortable, and enjoyable.

Enjoyment

The ability to access local amenities on foot can mean greater freedom, as you can get to most places on your own accord. It is often more enjoyable, as you can pass local services, shops, and landmarks. We tend to notice our surroundings whilst on foot much more than when we speed by in a car, bus or train.

Environmentally Friendly

Planning urban spaces for walkability not only makes walking easier, it supports healthy, low-carbon, creative, productive, and equitable cities and towns. It means that you may not need a car at all or can limit your car usage. There is also greater access to, and use of, public transport.

By 2050, 5% of urban mobility could be provided by foot instead of car, leading to approximately 3 gigatons of CO2 greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Illustration showing walkable city

Personal benefits of walking

Walking supports an active lifestyle and has a great number of health benefits. As well as having obvious physical benefits, walking supports mental health. It reduces anxiety, depression, and loneliness, and improves happiness, self-esteem, and psychological well-being.

What can we do to improve walkability?

Ideally, all urban spaces would be designed for walkability. We should be able to enjoy where we live and exercise and walk freely. However, we may not have the power to make the area we live or work in more walkable. So, what can we do?

As individuals, we don’t have to feel powerless. We can implement small actions to embrace walking in our local area and hopefully encourage greater action to make neighbourhoods and communities more walkable.

By walking more and advocating for walkable towns and cities, we create demand for walking infrastructure.

4 ways to promote walkable towns and cities

1. Explore your local area on foot

Yes, it’s as simple as that! Go for a walk with a friend (or by yourself) around your neighbourhood, workplace or other local areas. It’s amazing to discover what beautiful areas we have right under our noses. Daily dog walkers know this! By exploring on foot, you gain a greater awareness of where you live and the places around you. Even if it’s just 20 minutes, once a week, it’s a great way to connect with your local area and get active.

Tips:

  • If you live somewhere with limited pedestrian access, try going by car or public transport to a park (or a more walkable area) and walking there instead.
  • If you have limited mobility, keep the walk within your capabilities, use a mobility aid/device, or ask a friend to help you.
  • Avoid going out in the heat of the day in summer, or you’ll soon tire yourself out and risk other adverse effects like sunburn!
  • Try using Google Maps to plot walking routes – select the pedestrian icon to see a suggested route and walking time between two places.
Screenshot of google maps showing walking route

Screenshot: An example from Google Maps showing a suggested walking route (note: you can’t assume these are always the safest routes)

 

2. Join a local walking group

There are walking groups for different interest areas such as bushwalking, city culture, evening socialising or active retirees – look for one in your area.

If you live in a retirement village there’s probably a walking group there, but if not, why not start one? Ditto for workplaces – maybe you could start a lunchtime or pre-work walking group. Or if you’re a parent/carer with young children, see if others at your local park or pre-school want to get together for walks.

Tips:

  • Try searching meetup.com for ‘walking’ in your location.
  • Look for groups on social media and community noticeboards too.
  • If there isn’t a local walking group, start your own!

3. Walk where possible, instead of using a motor vehicle

  • Try walking somewhere that you would usually drive to, such as the shops, local library or café (maybe you could cycle or take a bus if it’s too far to walk)
  • If you travel by bus, train or ferry to work, school/uni or leisure outings, get off a stop earlier than usual and walk the rest of the way. You’ll be surprised how a short walk stimulates the mind and body and sets you up for the day.
  • If you have children who go to a local school, see if you can arrange a walking bus led by volunteer parent/s, so local kids can walk to school instead of being dropped off separately in vehicles. It’s more sociable for kids and reduces congestion at school gates.

4. Encourage larger-scale change

  • Contact your local council and ask for more pedestrian accessibility. If your council engages in community consultations or surveys, have your say!
  • Advocate for walkable cities and urban spaces by writing to Government authorities, commenting on planning applications, or contacting your local MP. First, learn about your state government’s Active Transport Strategy: ACT, NSW, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, WA. ‘Active transport’ refers to walking, cycling and personal mobility devices like scooters. See if your local and regional council has a strategy, e.g. City of Moreton Bay Active Transport Strategy
  • If you ride a bicycle, join your local BUG (Bicycle User Group) or State cycling association, as they will be advocating for safer cycleways, pathways and active transport options
  • Initiate conversations with family, friends or colleagues about the benefits of walking and walkability. Encourage them to walk more and advocate for walkable spaces.

Let’s all improve walkability – one step at a time!

Article by Ashley Edgar

 


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