Shifting Gears II – Walking
Rodney Tolley at UBC Robson Square, Monday June 8, 2009
Rodney Tolley is the Director of WALK 21 and Honorary Research Fellow, Staffordshire University, UK, who was at the end of a cross Canada program of workshops – “masterclasses” – looking at the benefits and barriers of walking, and the challenges of making Canadina cities more walkable. The workshops were organised in partnership with Green Communities Canada and canadawalks.ca. Each was designed to stimulate local walking action planning and from all of the workshops it is intended to document both best practices and case studies.
The International Charter for Walking shows how to create a culture where people choose to walk it identifies the needs of people on foot and provides a common framework to help authorities refocus their existing policies, activities and relationships to create a culture where people choose to walk.
8 principles – “motherhood and apple pie” no-one can be against any of them
1. Increased inclusive mobility
2. Well designed and managed spaces and places for people
3. Improved integration of networks
4. Supportive land-use and spatial planning
5. Reduced road danger
6. Less crime and fear of crime
7. More supportive authorities
8. A culture of walking
The methodology is to benchmark communities against each of the the principles to determine where each needs to concentrate its efforts. This both informs practitioners and provides a structure for how to make things happen.
He said that his talk would be personal reflections on his recent experience in Canada since it was too early for the organisations involved to have reached formal conclusions. In every city traffic was seen as a problem – and the first step to tackling this is breaking perceived link between economic growth and traffic growth and for most places making downtown a destination again. While it is common to talk about “closing streets” he prefers the idea of “opening streets to people”. Many communities have tried to grow health by building facilities ignoring incidental benefit to health of walking as daily activity [this turns opportunity to exercise into a business which can make money rather than a civic responsibility]
In every place they build on the energy of the community. Much of this has to do with reallocating spacefrom vehicles – improving the legibility of walking (even if there are paths it is not usually made clear where they go) and the biggest challenge is making suburban communities walkable. Overall there is a universal desire to future proof communities from auto dependance.
Walking as an effective antidote especially by replacing short distance car trips – there is huge potential in most Canadian cities. The fuel price rise in 2008 had an immediate effect on reducing car trips: when prices fell there appeared to have been a one way shift in travel patterns. There is now a much greater commitment to strengthening local communities and improving local urban environments.
Walking is a key ingredient of new green policies. It is driven by concerns for health. This is the most important benefit and there is no need to buy anything or join anything. It provides cardio vascular disease protection at little cost.
The chart below is taken from another presentation by Harry Rutter called “Transport and Health” – but it is the table that Dr Tolley used
But people will often say “walking is dangerous”. In Canada there are 375 pedestrian deaths per year – but 21,000 deaths due to a sedentary lifestyle 1:56 ratio. Walking
supports inclusive mobility
is not a special interest (unlike cycling – which is often strident and from a dedicated minority)
encourages community cohesion
increases personal security
freedom for children
underpins public transport – every trip starts and ends with a walk – quality of walking and waiting environment
In fact we can reduce danger by increasing walking and cycling
traffic arrangements will be made to accommodate the increase
car drivers do adapt their behaviour
Countries with higher levels of walking and cycling have lower collision rates.
Walking is a precondition for an economically healthy city – “the slower we travel the more we spend” (this seems to be true but has yet to be demonstrated by empirical research). There is a demonstrable direct economic benefit from improving retail environments.
He then went on an entertaining excursion of illustrations which showed that current practice is based in the principle of “planning cities as if people don’t matter”. [In fact it is observable nearly everywhere that cities have been largely retrofitted or sometimes entirely designed solely for vehicles.]
Obesity and overweight are associated with the environment: there is a positive disincentive to walk. This is because of the “invisibility of walking” – we do not have the governance or capacity to encourage walking because we don’t bother to collect the information.
A 2006 worldwide survey showed that
we want to walk more
- need to be helped to walk more
- scared to walk more
- prevented from walking more
In general experience to date shows that the health message works but the economic message (save money by walking) didn’t work – or at least prior to the current recession it didn’t. We need to examine the contextual environments for walking – it is not a bolt on extra to more traffic but walking as part of a new way.
Walk21 Conference Series – the next one is in New York on the theme of “more footprints, less carbon”
c??? [sorry I did not type quickly enough to catch this one – any offers?]
Planners have to put pedestrians at the top of the trip hierarchy. And it is not just about hardware (paths, surfaces, removing fances) but software too i.e. information. As many cities have found people do change, often you just have to provide better advice (e.g. Travel$mart individualised marketing).
- safe routes to school
- dieting main roads
- complete street solutions
Walkability = shared space – segregation doesn’t work: “naked streets” rebalance need for traffic and activity. He showed slides of Kensington High Street in West London where there was a 47% reduction in accidents when the city took away the railings that had penned in pedestrians and encouraged faster traffic speeds.
“Shared use is not shared space” shared use is about movement – shared space is about destination. For much of the hard design elements are shared surfaces – undefined area – remove the curb
He then went on to show some recent succesful interventions which have produced much better urban places where walkign is encouraged
Hans Monderman’s Zentralplatz Biel Switzerland
The Bendigo experiment – which first took over the space in front of town hall, on a major arterial wheer through traffic is still allowed but speeds fell – the walk bendigo project is now expanding to cover the rest of the city
Gehl and Gemzoe’s typology (Gehl, J. and Gemzoe, L. (2001) New City Spaces. Copenhagen: Arkitektens Forlag.)
New York – where Broadway at Times Square and Herald Square have both been closed to traffic
Birmingham – Britain’s second largest city which in the sixties had built a huge inner ring road with multiple pedestrian subways that essentially killed the City centre as a shopping area: the area has now been almost completely overhauled with the removal of both ring road and subways. As a result it has moved from 13th to 3rd place in the national hierarchy of retail destinations.
Placing pedestrians at the head of the transport hierarchy had had the following results
- the stunning renaissance of city centres
- positive impact on nearly every parameter
- the creation of a new urban environment
Sustainability is the key and will become the new paradigm for development – and we will create places where people can survive without cars
My reaction to this lecture was that I had heard nearly everything in it before. This is not a criticism of Dr Tolley but rather of Vancouver. We know all of this – we have heard it many times – but we seem not to be able to grasp the key principles. For instance, during the question and answer session – which was discursive and unfocussed, Ray Spaxman got up and praised Vancouver as a “walkable city” with “great places” – of which he thought the best example was Granville Island. I almost cheered when Dr Tolley politely demurred: “But it is full of cars.”
I rather wished that Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Association had been required to attend and listen and then made to explain his implacable opposition to all that this lecture represents. There is in fact not a single space in the City of Vancouver that has been changed to put pedestrians first – even though the City Transportation Plan has long said that is supposed to be the priority. Equally there is almost nowhere in the whole of the region that qualifies. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the world: I even started a flickr group “Places without Cars” so I could collect images of places where putting people first has worked. The range and variety of places is stunning.
After the lecture, the organisers invited people who live in Vancouver and want to see a pedestrian transformation here to leave contact information. This is because they are meeting with the Mayor (on Wednesday) and hope to get a local action group set up. Here’s my very best wish for their success. And maybe those of us who live in the suburbs will start organising similar pressure groups in our municipalities.
Perhaps one of the opportunities might be Richmond’s review of parking in Steveston which at least acknowledges the issue of “safer access for pedestrians from parking lots to the waterfront”. They might even think about the recently much increased population’s need to walk to the shops, park and library!
By the way one thing that did come out of the Q & A was the recommendation that full pedestrianization of shopping streets may not be the best solution unless there is some other activity to keep the place lively after the shops close. After hours, when there are no shoppers about, some pedestrian streets become quite forbidding and unsafe. I think it is very instructive that the one section of Granville in downtown that is open to car traffic has to be closed on busy evenings as a safety measure, mainly due to the concentration of licensed drinking places along that section.