New Zealand’s Pukekohe City announced its plan to trial a people-friendly town center. According to the Auckland Council news, the town’s main thoroughfare, King Street, will be made one way to “create more places to gather, eat and shop by bringing food and businesses on the to the street.”
However, some businesses and shop owners along King Street expressed some doubts, particularly how this might affect their business given the recent impact of the Covid-19 restrictions.
The mayor is quick to assure them and the public that this change is merely a trial and can be adjusted based on their feedback.
Learning from the MIT walkability study
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology News article, “Counting pedestrians to make pedestrians count” presents MIT Associate Professor Andres Sevtsuk’s study, “Estimating Pedestrian Flows on Street Networks.”
Prof Sevtsuk observed pedestrian movement near the MIT campus and around Kendall Square, East Cambridge. The study measured the number of pedestrians on the streets.
They tracked their journeys from the point of origin and destination in two separate periods: the midday period between 12 to 2 PM and the afternoon rush hours between 4 to 8 PM.
His observations revealed many pedestrians during these hours, from more than 800 pedestrians moving around in the mid-morning hours to about 1700 in the afternoon rush hours. They also measured approximately 11 thousand pedestrian trips between the 60 street segments in Kendall square.
Based on his observations, Sevtsuk finds that pedestrians will walk around all kinds of neighborhoods given the right street conditions.
The model that he used in the study could also be applied to almost any urban setting and help urban planning create cities that would benefit both pedestrians and businesses.
For instance, the model can estimate pedestrian flows to help with zoning decisions and positioning businesses at locations with high pedestrian flow.
Sevtsuk’s study also points to the past urban planning that benefits automobile traffic more than pedestrians. City plans have more data on vehicular networks but minimal on sidewalks or pedestrian infrastructure networks.
He says that new developments typically require a traffic impact assessment (TIA) estimating automobile traffic that it will create, but there is no equivalent for that with pedestrians. He hopes his model can fill this gap.
Walking is the most common form of transport
According to the UK’s most recent National Travel Survey, 22% of all trips are done on foot and walking remains the second most important form of transport just after a car or a van. For travels of less than a mile, 78% of travel is done by walking.
If walking is such an important form of travel, then it should be reflected more in terms of policy documents and infrastructure investments or at least equal attention to cycling, according to the MIT News article.
Cities that are easiest to navigate by foot
The study, Pedestrian’s First has quantified the most accessible cities to navigate by foot. Paris is at the top of the list.
The study used the following criteria to measure walkability:
- Proximity to services – the proportion of the urban population living within a kilometer from healthcare and education facilities,
- Car-free spaces – cities with green spaces to enjoy without your car.
- Block density – areas with smaller city blocks are easier for people to walk to their destinations.
The report says that for cities to achieve the same goal of walkability, there is more work to be done. Some cities by design are still hostile to pedestrians.
Although the US has the four most walkable cities, most of their cities are not.
Car-oriented planning is the root of the problem, according to the report, but cities can still improve their walkability by doing the following:
- improving pedestrian accessibility,
- constructing wide sidewalks and shades,
- equipping streets with benches, and
- increasing public transport.
The Yes Magazine says that the idea of “pedestrian-centered planning” is the heart of the New Urbanism concept and a shift to America’s and other industrialized economies car-centric development in the 20th century.
The Covid-19 restrictions have pushed New York restaurants, and café’s to adapt for their business to survive. To comply with restrictions, they used car parking spaces as outdoor dining areas for their customers.
These changes had created a new city landscape that customers have grown accustomed to and would like to keep permanently. It has also helped businesses survive and improved the city’s walkability and pedestrian access.
As shown in New York City, the positive outcomes from the transformation are why cities are starting to embrace the new urbanism concept.
Creating walkable cities and urban centers has many benefits: less pollution and emissions, health and well-being benefits due to increased physical activities and social interaction among residents—reasons why it should get more attention in terms of policy and infrastructure investment.
Walkability in New Zealand context
This projected change is at the heart of infrastructure future demand analysis as it presents a major change from existing planning scenarios.
New Zealand has a good challenge ahead implementing the best international planning research as they transition from car-oriented planning spaces. This transition attempts to intensify urban areas’ intensification for living and achieving their national zero-carbon goals.
Achieving the culture and behavior changes required to implement this shift will take time, careful planning and good communication.
Compared to major international cities, New Zealand’s relatively low population densities add to the challenge.
New Zealand’s favor in attempting these changes is that the country is relatively young, innovative, adaptive, and with high social values and communication.