Opinion – Claudio Bernardes: Factors that can attract and make life easier for pedestrians

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As the urbanization process advances, the concept of smart and sustainable cities gains strength. Walking is an essential sustainable mode of transport. Encouraging the increased participation of walking in the matrix of urban displacements can bring, in addition to environmental benefits for cities, very relevant social and economic effects for society.

But which aspects would positively influence this transformation? To encourage pedestrian movement, it is essential to increase their satisfaction when walking around the city. Therefore, in order to design structures and establish a policy for pedestrians, it is necessary, first of all, to identify the factors that affect this satisfaction, which can be translated into the security offered, convenience and comfort in displacement.

In a first assessment, without a doubt, the streets and sidewalks and what is built around them should influence, in a very significant way, this transformation. Korean researchers published a study on a survey aimed at examining factors that affect pedestrian satisfaction according to land use (commercial or residential areas) and street type (isolated or non-isolated sidewalks from streets). This survey was conducted in the city of Changwon, South Korea, which has a population of one million people.

Two residential and two commercial areas were selected in order to examine the factors that affect pedestrian satisfaction according to land use and available walking space. Then, satisfaction surveys were carried out with hikes in the four chosen locations, through citizen opinion polls and investigation of the quantitative factors of the hiking environment. Finally, based on the research results, a model was developed to identify the factors that affect pedestrian satisfaction, and to verify the differences in different areas, with diversity of land use and quality of space for walking.

Modeling results for different land uses show that physical environment variables, such as installing sidewalks isolated from roads, can improve pedestrian satisfaction. Therefore, it is recommended to protect a sidewalk by isolating it from the space intended for vehicles when planning a new commercial or residential district. The study also makes it clear that variables such as safety against traffic accidents and sufficient green spaces must be considered for residential areas.

In commercial areas, the installation of infrastructure for pedestrian guidance and cleaning should be prioritized. In particular, the commercial area model included most of the factors, mainly because a number of people visit and engage in a range of activities in these areas. For commercial areas, therefore, it is necessary to guarantee and expand walking spaces and green areas, and not only improve safety and convenience for pedestrians, but also make the city more attractive for walking.

Indian researchers, in a similar study, identified five main factors related to pedestrian satisfaction: infrastructure; localization; environment and habitability; security and protection; and mobility.

These main factors can be detailed in other aspects, on which the attention of planners should be focused on the effective width of the sidewalk, surface condition (material/texture and its state of conservation), curb height, access ramps for pedestrians and the slope of the walking areas.

The bus stops, urban furniture (seats, information kiosks), the rain shelter, the existence of public restrooms, crossing facilities, and guardrails for separating vehicle lanes should also be analyzed.

Maintenance and cleaning, shading and tree canopy, air quality, space for street vendors, garbage receptacles, etc. complete the list of factors to be analyzed and planned, considering the effective count of pedestrians and the respective age groups that use these places and their relationship with population density and employment density.

Given the increasing importance of pedestrian circulation in cities, it is necessary to develop tools and methodologies for decision making in prioritizing the improvement of pedestrian facilities in the urban area, defining the most significant factors for the creation of an atmosphere friendly to those who walk.

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