Concern for the environment may be one of the earliest and most straightforward drivers for increased walking and active mobility.
From climate change to air pollution, loss of biodiversity to green infrastructure, walking provides an active means for people to mitigate and address local and global environmental concerns.1
Robert Steuteville, editor of Public Square (a CNU Journal), has been publishing a series of articles based on the 2016 Cities Alive: Towards a walking world report, which shows the benefits of walkable cities – social, economic, environmental and political – and sets out measures for improving walkability.
This post itemizes the list from Steuteville’s article (link embedded in heading below), and includes additional details from the report.
Ten environmental benefits of walkable places
- Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
Fewer cars, fewer emissions.
- Improves urban microclimates
The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, where denser urban areas are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas, is a major issue facing cities today. Increased urban vegetation and mature tree canopies contribute to the mitigation of the urban heat island effect by reducing the air temperature and provide pleasant strolling temperatures.
- Optimises land use
Soil is not a renewable resource and is essential to nurture plants and animals. In addition, it is vulnerable to impacts from vehicular traffic, industry and construction. Walkability improvements can help reduce the amount of land required for transport facilities (roads and parking), encouraging denser land use patterns.
- Reduces air pollution
When walkable environments incorporate more trees and vegetation, they will inherently clean the air: 17 trees can absorb enough CO2 annually to offest nearly 42,000 km of driving.
- Improves water management
Reallocating investment from motor vehicle infrastructure into parks and pedestrian environments improves the overall health of city ecosystems and help divert millions of litres of stormwater runoff.
- Promotes alternative transportation
Public transit users are pedestrians or a combination of pedestrian/cyclist. Purposeful investment in walking and active transportation networks encourages increased pedestrian and cycling activity.
- Makes cities more beautiful
Streets that offer a robust, attractive experience can accommodate a variety of diverse uses such as outdoor dining, seating and gathering areas. Additionally, beautification through landscaping, public art, and wayfinding becomes an important feature.
- Increases active use of space
Pedestrian improvements can provide people with more pleasant spaces to stay, and lead to an increase in the active use of public space and the facilities it contains, such as benches, playgrounds, water bubblers, public gyms and skate areas.
- Cuts ambient noise
Plant leaves have been shown to tone down noise by reflecting, diverting and absorbing acoustic energy. Trees with abundant foliage are especially effective at minimizing noise levels.
- It makes better use of space
Street designs that restructure the street network better serve pedestrians and cyclists, often repurposing space reclaimed from vehicle travel lanes and on-street parking to accommodate cycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
1 Excerpts from Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, a report published by Arup in 2016.