Suburban areas hostile to pedestrians need ‘retrofit’ design to promote walking
The average person will not walk much more than 800 metres to the local shop for a pint of milk, about 900 metres to school and just over one kilometre to work. It’s not only the distance of the journey that affects a person’s choice of whether to go by shanks’ mare or to hop in the car – it’s also about the quality of the walk, how safe and secure it is and how pleasing the environment.
However, as urban planner William Hogan points out, the vast majority of the population of Ireland is living in suburban residential areas built over the past 20 years or so which do not encourage – in fact, discourage – walking as a mode of transport because of physical barriers to walking and the poor quality of the pedestrian facilities.
A key challenge for those working to increase the levels of physical activity in the community is to understand how to increase the walkability of our urban environment.
A seminar held in Cork recently – which was hosted jointly by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH), the Centre of Excellence for Public Health (Queen’s University Belfast) and the HRB Centre for Health and Diet Research (UCC) – explored how recent research in the North and South of Ireland could support national policy and local government planning to increase the walkability of our towns and cities.
Hogan, who is a lecturer in planning and sustainable development at UCC, explains: “Walkability is a health issue, it’s also an environmental, social and economic issue. It’s not just about walking as a recreational or leisure activity, it’s about building walking into everyday life. It’s easy to persuade people who are interested in walking for recreational purposes to walk to work or the shops.
“We need to target those people who don’t want to or can’t walk as part of their everyday life and to get them walking to the local shops, work, schools, public transport, and so on.”
Using the Cork Metropolitan Area suburban towns of Carrigaline and Ballincolig as an example, Brady points out that only 3 per cent of the population in some of these suburban areas walk or cycle to work or school.
One of the major reasons for this, he says, is because of the poor design of pedestrian routes and the distances people have to travel to get to basic amenities such as schools, parks, shops, bus stops and work.
Not surprisingly people rely overwhelmingly on passive forms of travel – principally cars.
While Brady welcomes recently published guidelines on the design of streets and new residential areas, he says they will influence only the design and development of new urban and suburban areas and, given the state of the economy, the amount of “new build” is going to be very limited over the next few years.