Fair share for walking

Are pedestrians getting a fair share for walking and wheeling on our streets? Or are they forced to drive because footpaths are either not present or poorly maintained? Lack of seating, shade, and too few pedestrian crossings all add to a preference to take the car. More significantly, poor pedestrian infrastructure prevents people with disability and older people from making the journey at all.

Most people value walkability, yet most communities underinvest in pedestrian facilities. We need more investment in footpaths and pedestrian crossings to better serve community.

A black car is approaching a pedestrian crossing. The pedestrian and background are blurred to give the appearance of speed.

Todd Litman summarises the key points in a research paper from the US, which looked at walking rates among countries. The graph below shows Australia and the US at the bottom of the list.

Graph showing Australia and USA at the bottom of the walking list with 
 European countries doing much better, led by UK.

The percentage of total trips made by walking by country

People who cannot drive or own a car are most disadvantaged because they have little choice but to walk or wheel. If the infrastructure is unsupportive or feels unsafe, many will avoid an area or just not make the journey. Consequently the prevalence of disability is invisible to planners.

Assumptions about older people all living in aged care also makes invisible the 95% of older people living in the community. However, plans or designs recommended as suited to aged care locations can, and should, be applied throughout the community.

Why people don’t walk

A graph from Litman shows the reasons people don’t walk by age group. The graph supports statistics of prevalence of health issues in the community. While it is expected that older age groups would cite health as a reason for not walking more, 25-30% of younger age groups also cite health.

Graph showing the reasons different generations don't walk more than they do. Older people cite their health in greater numbers than other generations, but younger cohorts are in the 25% to 305 range of health condition too.

Not feeling safe due to traffic is another factor with an average of 40% saying this is an issue. The lower statistical count on this question for older people is likely due to only making journeys where they feel safe as they are more risk averse.

Walkability solutions

The solutions rest on a connected network of footpaths and to services such as shops, cafes, and medical centres within walking distance. These footpaths need to clearly separate pedestrians from cyclists and motor vehicles. Shared paths are particularly problematic for older people, people with dogs, and people with vision and hearing impairments.

The title of the Todd Litman article is Fair share for walking. He mentions universal design standards for footpaths that are smooth and wide. They also need kerb ramps compliant to standards for all pedestrians. Cost arguments need to be met with counter arguments of the human and environmental cost of not creating pedestrian environments that encourage walking and wheeling.

The research paper mentioned in the Litman article is titled Overview of Walking Rates, Walking Safety and Government Policies to Encourage More and Safer Walking in Europe and North America. European countries have shown the way on how to encourage walking and wheeling.

From the abstract

This paper documents variation in walking rates among countries, cities in the same country, and in different parts of the same city.

Our international analysis shows that walking rates are highest for short trips, higher for women than for men, decline with increasing income, and remain constant as age increases. Walking fatality rates are much higher in the USA compared with the other countries we examined, both per capita and per km walked.

Government policies for increasing walking rates and improving pedestrian safety include: integrated networks of

  • safe and convenient walking infrastructure;
  • roadways and intersections designed for the needs of pedestrians;
  • land-use regulations that encourage mixed uses and short trip distances;
  • lower city-wide speed limits and traffic calming in residential neighborhoods;
  • reduced supply and increased price of parking;
  • traffic laws that give priority to pedestrians;
  • improved traffic education for motorists and non-motorists;
  • tax surcharges on large personal vehicles; and
  • strict enforcement of laws against drink and distracted driving.

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