At a time when all the engineers are touting the benefits of autonomous cars and how they might fix our cities, it is surprising to see one of the world’s great engineering firms, ARUP, making the case for- walking. In a comprehensive report, Cities Alive: Towards a Walking World. They note how the 20th century belonged to cars, and we see the results:
The legacies of the traffic-dominated planning era are still clearly visible in cities worldwide. We can see this in neighbourhoods without sidewalks, in public spaces made redundant by parked vehicles, and in the urban highways that segregate neighbourhoods in order to serve sprawling suburbs.
The negative effects of heavy automotive use on urban everyday life are significant. Motorisation is currently dependent on non-renewable fuels and motorised vehicles are a major contributor to air and noise pollution. Speed is the main cause of premature deaths and injuries in road accidents, and traffic congestion is a huge issue – and cost – for cities. The development of car-centric lifestyles heavily contributes to the decline of physical activity and the rise of obesity, while sprawl may lead to social isolation and disconnection of communities.
They list the effects on peoples’s bodies and health:
Physical activity has dropped 32% in the last 44 years in the United States and 45% in only 18 years in China; rates which are predicted to grow.8 The decline of activity in the urban context relates to the rise of car ownership and ‘passive’ modes of transport. Poor walking infrastructure, lack of recreation facilities, high-density traffic and low air quality are both major causes and effects of this phenomenon.
They note so many benefits.
We need to design physical activity back into our everyday lives by incentivising and facilitating walking as a regular daily mode of transport. In addition to the host of health benefits, there are many economic benefits for developers, employers and retailers when it comes to walking. It is the lowest carbon, least polluting, cheapest and most reliable form of transport, and is also a great social leveller. Having people walking through urban spaces makes the spaces safer for others and, best of all, it makes people happy.
There is so much in here that I cannot do it justice in a post, so this is just a pointer to everyone who cares about cities and walkability to read this; more analysis to follow. Here is a summary with links to the full report.