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What is walkability?

Explore some of the key characteristics of walkability.
Ground level view of anonymous legs walking through a busy plaza, with train station and shops in background
© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility

Walkability measures the ease of walking in an area. Walkable areas have more people, are easy to get to and have more shops and services as places to walk to. They are more urban and located in places within cities, or in towns or villages large enough to have a central area.

The essentials of walkability

In technical terms, a walkable area has:

  • a high population density, as a way of measuring the number of people.
  • more destinations including shops and services, that are easy to access by walking, cycling or public transport.

A walkable area is often measured by analysing the configuration of the streets, and the connectivity between the streets, with walking as the main means of transport.

Walkability and local living

Walkable areas encourage local living. They allow people to easily access transport and key destinations such as supermarkets, retail shops, cafes and other services such as going to the doctors or accountants, all in one area without having to rely on driving a car.

This has multiple benefits:

  • reducing car ownership and use
  • saving money for individuals and families
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • improving air quality.

In turn having less vehicles on roads can:

  • improve travel times
  • create safer conditions for other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Walkable areas increase pedestrian activity and can lead to greater economic benefits for shops and services, whilst for individuals, communities, and populations there are health and social benefits.

Image by valeriygoncharukphoto via Envato Elements.

Key features of walkable areas

Walkable areas have high quality infrastructure such as:

  • footpaths or pedestrian walkways to help people move around
  • seating or areas for people to rest and socialise
  • lighting for safety when walking around at night.

There should also be:

  • enough people living in the area to make an area feel safe to walk around in as a form of passive surveillance
  • shade in the form of trees or cover to protect people from the sun and rain
  • green areas to help create a high quality and enjoyable environment.

Together these features help to define an area that is walkable but also lively, encouraging people to visit and participate in community life. In this way, walkable areas help to build a strong and resilient community where people interact and are connected to each other.

Health and sustainability

Having a walkable area and destinations to walk to, can result in higher levels of physical activity, influencing mental and physical health. Walking is a sustainable mode of transport that has no emissions. The more walkable areas can result in improved physical, mental and environmental health in the population in general.

Sustainable development goals

Walkable areas and having easy access to key destinations is a way to support the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, measured by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Creating walkable cities will contribute to achieving:

Image by NewJadsada via Envato Elements.

Your task

Get a ‘walk score’ for your local area by entering the address into this Walkability Calculator. In the comments below, write a short summary of what you learned from your ‘walk score.’

Further resources

If you would like to explore some of the concepts we have covered in more detail, the following resources are optional.

Designing healthy communities: creating evidence on metric for built environment feature associated with walkable neighbourhood activity centres.

Walkability and Its Relationships With Health, Sustainability, and Livability: Elements of Physical Environment and Evaluation Frameworks

Using spatial measures to test a conceptual model of social infrastructure that supports health and wellbeing.

17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility
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Designing Walkability in Cities

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