Placemarque

Time to walk the talk

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Why walkability is key to enhancing visitor experience

Two of our directors, Sue and Sophie have recently returned from holidays – to North America and Tenerife respectively – and it’s got us thinking about the contrast between the urban form on the two continents. One typically has cities with a close-knit historic street pattern and a walkable urban core. The other is built to accommodate the motorised vehicle.

No prizes for guessing which is which. Or for guessing which urban form we favour.

Happily, our urban planners are now talking the talk in promoting an approach that prioritises people and active travel. But with recent backlashes against the 15-minute neighbourhood concept, and low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) adding pressure, are our political leaders willing to walk the talk?

Why walking is better

Fred Kent, founder and former president of the Project for Public Spaces says:

“If you plan a city for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

He’s right.

For decades we have planned for cars. Our towns and cities across Europe and North America have been built around the mantra that “car is king”. And as a result, our urban areas have congestion, poor air quality and disjointed neighbourhoods.

But the tide is changing.

The 15-minute city is a strategy with people at its heart. As urbanist Carlos Moreno, says:

Why is it that we have to adapt and to degrade our potential quality of life? Why is it not the city that responds to our needs? Why have we left cities to develop on the wrong path for so long?

The 15-minute city goal is to create “human-sized” urban spaces that work for people. And despite the recent rhetoric swirling around LTNs, creating walkable cities is increasingly seen as a crucial element of a sustainable – and successful – urban spaces.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Here are some reasons why walking is better, and the results to prove it.

It makes us healthier

A city that makes walking the easy choice encourages its residents to get active. And it’s not just walking that counts. Active travel includes cycling and, incidentally, other people-powered modes of travel like kayaking!

There is more to active travel than walking and cycling.

Credit: More than walking and cycling: What is ‘active travel’? Simon Cook et al, Transport Policy, Volume 126

We’re yet to plan a new kayak trail, but our work in Swansea has helped to improve the cycling experience for visitors and locals. We upgraded the town’s mapping to highlight existing cycle routes and cycle-safe streets, as well as cycle parking and repair shops.

Swansea’s mapping helps to encourage more people to choose to cycle

It’s better for our planet

By reducing dependence on vehicles, we can lower air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Transforming a once-motorised street into a tree-lined pedestrian route also helps to cool cities, combatting the effect of extreme summer heat.

It’s a better experience for all

This transformation also means more pleasant urban areas. Roads are nicer to walk along and easier to cross, making places open to everyone, including the elderly, children and those without access to a car. An equitable, walkable city promotes social interaction, engenders a stronger sense of community, and, indirectly, a greater sense of security.

LDA Design’s West End Project. Credit: Neil Speakman/Studio Maple for LDA Design

LDA Design’s award-winning West End Project has transformed a stretch of central London. The project, removing traffic by implementing major movement changes, and introducing 11 new green spaces and 2.6km of cycle lanes, was completed in 2023. The scheme also closed a street to become the first new public park in the area in 100 years.

It brings money into an area

Encouraging people to walk or cycle into a town centre is a huge boost to local economies. Businesses thrive in pedestrian-friendly areas due to increased foot traffic and long dwell time.

Over half of our projects are for councils or tourism bodies who are seeking to boost visitor numbers and encourage people to walk a little further and stay a little longer. In Shepton Mallet, our wayfinding interventions are helping to draw people down the high street rather than stick to the edge of centre shopping area.

Our award-winning wayfinding scheme for Shepton Mallet is looking splendid in situ

And our input into the Active Todmorden project, which will improve the strategic infrastructure across the town, forms a key component of wider regeneration proposals for the town.

Are we ready to walk the talk?

It’s clear that improving walkability across our towns and cities is a vital element to improving health, protecting the environment, enhancing visitor experience and boosting local economies.

Yet too often these interventions come up against backlash.

We have had plenty of leaders talk the talk. But to see more of our urban spaces transformed, we need more leaders who are ready to walk the talk.

We need cross-party consensus supporting a people-first approach that withstands controversies and lasts beyond political cycles. As we hurtle towards the first general election in nearly five years, let’s call on leaders to make decisions that are for the common good and support interventions on improving walkability.

The results will speak for themselves.

Let us help you make your place more walkable and encourage more people to walk a little further and stay a little longer. Get in touch to discuss it more, at 0161 241 3174.

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