Quite simply, walking-friendly neighbourhoods are important because they encourage people to walk. Neighbourhoods that are walkable are the most liveable. Before we became so dependent on our cars, our streets were for socialising, doing business and just strolling around.
As a society, we don’t walk as often, or as far, as generations before us did. In fact, around 40 per cent of the trips Melbourne people make in cars are less than 2km long. Nearly 80 per cent of children who live within 2km of school are driven both ways, every day. That’s a pity, because regular walking:
Of all groups in the community, our reliance on cars for transport has perhaps had the greatest impact on our children – which is reflected in the rising rates of childhood obesity and respiratory illness. Did you know that you are exposed to more toxins sitting in a car than when walking in the street – even in peak hour?
Some of the greatest benefits from walking flow to children, because it keeps them active and reduces the pollution they breathe, and also because it helps them feel connected with and aware of the community they live in.
Walking is free. Enough said.
Walking is absolutely non-polluting - it’s the most environmentally sustainable form of transport that exists.
Neighbourhoods that people walk around often have a strong sense of ‘community’: they’re more welcoming and inclusive. People who live in walkable neighborhoods are more likely to know their neighbours, participate politically, trust others, and be socially engaged .
This is because walking makes it easy to make and maintain local social connections. It’s much easier to say hello to a neighbour or stop for a chat if you’re walking, than it is if you’re driving.
When lots of people walk, it also creates a stronger sense of safety and security in an area. More people walking means more ‘eyes’ on the street, which deters crimes against people and property. And it’s a positive cycle: as people see others walking, they feel safer about walking themselves, and over time, more and more people take to the streets on foot.
Walking can also reduce traffic, because it gets people out of their cars and onto the footpaths.
One obvious place this can make an immediate impact is outside schools at pick-up and drop-off times. As well as the incredible benefits walking can have on children’s health, walking greatly reduces traffic congestion around schools at peak times, which helps protect children’s safety. (See our story on the Walking School Bus for ideas).
But opportunities to change traffic go well beyond the school run: there is evidence to suggest that cars actually slow down when they see people walking or chatting near a road, which can significantly reduce accidents and improve the sense of wellbeing of walkers.
Local businesses benefit enormously when people walk around their neighbourhoods – and successful local businesses contribute to the vibrancy of communities. That’s because people who walk:
In fact, some research in England in the 1990’s clearly revealed that the vacancy rates of commercial premises rise as the amount of traffic increases . Many other studies have found that customers who walk spend more than those who drive to local shops.