As New York’s one-time Deputy Mayor for Transport Jeanette Sadik-Khan explains, “the cities that have safe streets, that are easy to get around, are the ones that will grow and thrive in the 21st century. You have to design your streets for everyone.” Smart city leaders are taking the best ideas from around the world to create a mosaic of streetscapes that move people, goods and services.
Sadik-Khan admits that the concept of separating cycle lanes from traffic with parked cars came from Copenhagen and that a bike hire scheme was made feasible only by learning from London and Paris. In truth, New York tested out numerous ideas, adapting, learning and trying something else until it worked. Turning under-used streets into pedestrian plazas, removing cars and replacing them with art installations, cafes and entertainment. New York made more space for walking, and consequentially actually unclogged the notorious traffic.
Forward-thinking city leaders know they need to attract people from around the world because modern employers increasingly demand to locate in healthier, less polluted cities offering world-class public transport and public spaces. Walking is an integral part of a successful public transport system. There is a healthy competition around the globe – walking cities mean better, more prosperous cities for everyone.
Like New York, many of the world’s top cities are making a conspicuous shift towards incentivising walking and reducing the pollution and congestion of motor vehicles. Putting people at the heart of city design is making a difference. It is no coincidence the top-ranking liveable city of Melbourne has designed a network of neighbourhoods which offers access to social, leisure and retail facilities within a 20-minute walk of people’s homes.
Walking is also key to better health in an ageing society. Serious illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer, can be reduced through regular physical activity such as walking 20 minutes a day.
London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, appointed a Walking and Cycling Commissioner and a ‘healthy streets’ approach incentivises Londoners to use cars less and walk, cycle and use public transport more. Removing cars from Bank junction and pedestrianising Oxford Street are bold decisions that aim to break our ‘dysfunctional, dangerous and dirty’ habits and transform the heart of the city into a modern, clean and safe place to be.
Greater Manchester recently announced that Chris Boardman, their new Walking and Cycling Commissioner, would lead a transformation towards sustainable modes of travel across the region. While he is better known for his career in cycling, Boardman recognises that walking is at the top of the hierarchy of transport priorities if you are going to shift sedentary behaviour and car-reliance. Manchester is also one of many local authorities working with Living Streets to encourage children and their parents to walk to school.
In Scotland, Edinburgh is rolling out a 20mph default speed limit and the Scottish Government has recently doubled its spending on walking and cycling.
Walking is our most universal mode of travel, but it has in the past been neglected. Metro Mayors and city leaders recognise that walking has the power to transform our cities, the nation’s health and our economic prosperity. Living Streets will push for more of our town and city leaders to recognise this opportunity. The new Metro Mayors can play a leading part in modernising their cities because a good walking environment is part of a smarter future.