Walking is the world’s most common mode of transportation. Everyone, regardless of how they travel, is also a pedestrian, as most trips begin and end with walking. Walkability, a measure of how friendly a street, neighborhood, or city is to walking – is one of the most reliable indicators of urban equity, resilience, health, air pollution and overall quality of life. The COVID-19 pandemic, in shifting the transportation habits of people the world over, has shown us that walkability is more important than ever.
But even before the pandemic, cities all over the world were seeing a higher prevalence of SUVs on city streets, higher speed limits, and an overall increase in car traffic. In short – and especially in the United States – cities have become increasingly hostile to walking. In the US, 2019 was the deadliest year for pedestrians since 1990. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that 22% of all road traffic fatalities are pedestrians, but in some countries that figure may be as high as 66%. According to the World Health Organization, more than 230,000 pedestrians will be killed in road crashes this year; that’s more than will die from natural disasters, terrorism and poisoning combined. Despite the staggering numbers, this global crisis has never received the attention it deserves. These deaths are not the inevitable consequences of modern life; they are the result of policy choices, and are both predictable and preventable.
In order to better understand walkability through measurements and policy recommendations, ITDP created Pedestrians First. This online tool allows urban planners and city officials to assess the inclusivity of their cities’ transit systems as well as the walkability of their neighborhoods and streets. The guide also includes walkability data for nearly 1,000 metropolitan areas worldwide, which users can explore in an interactive map.
Pedestrians First inckudes data-based policy recommendations that can help local leaders improve their cities’ walkability. These tools enable users to easily compare complex measurements of walkability in any global city or metropolitan area with a population of 500,000 or more.
“Walkable cities don’t happen by accident,” said D. Taylor Reich (they/them pronouns), Research Associate at ITDP and the primary author of the guide.” Policymakers first have to understand the problems that car-oriented planning has caused. Then they can take specific steps: from planning dense, human-scale, mixed-use developments to equipping streets with benches, wide sidewalks, and shade. Pedestrians First gives city planners and officials everything they need to get started.”
Cities, neighborhoods, and streets can only be considered truly walkable if they are accessible to the most vulnerable among us: babies and toddlers. Walkable cities are especially important to small children and their caregivers because they facilitate play, enable access to services, and foster strong connections within neighborhoods. Designing with this group in mind improves access and walkability for everyone.
Everything in Pedestrians First – from the walkability tools and data to the best practice examples and policy recommendations – is meant to support policymakers, local officials and concerned citizens in making their cities safer and more accessible to people on foot. We already know what works, and we have so much to gain. It’s time to get started.
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