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Encouraging Walking Through Enhanced Environmental Design

  Published: 26 November 2017
  Theme: Planning

A friendly walking environment contributes to street and public space vibrancy while reducing space demand for roads. Walking also combines easily with other transport modes to form a more robust inter-model public transport system. However, encouraging people to walk is challenging given our climate, the current nature of Singapore’s urban fabric (i.e. modernist versus historic European maze-like streets), and the present amount of vehicular traffic.

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Today, planning for walkability looks only at infrastructure provision on a map, and usually within a 400m radius of an MRT station or a building. Design attributes such as the layout of sidewalks, noise, and the speed level of traffic are important urban planning considerations that have yet to be included.

Existing walkability indices or analyses have not yet been applied in Singapore’s context; furthermore, weights of attributes in the indices are generally arbitrary and do not reflect independently measured preferences of pedestrians. There is also limited understanding of local pedestrians’ characteristics, walking preferences, and perception, as little has been documented about pedestrian behaviour in Singapore.

Walkability and Pedestrian Route

To address these challenges, URA teamed up with researchers from ETH Future Cities Lab to conduct a study on “Walkability and Pedestrian Activity Areas” from 2014 to 2016, to tie the walkability of the pedestrian network together with the pedestrian experience of the physical environment in the Singapore context.

They explored the following questions:

  • What are the most important factors in the physical environment that affect people’s choice of routes in Singapore?
  • What are the possible strategies to reduce the perceived distance so that people are willing to choose walking over other modes of transport?
  • Where are the key areas for improvement to enhance walkability in the Central Area?

New Method to Assess Walkway Design and Walkability

The team developed a new methodology to systematically assess the physical characteristics and urban design qualities of Singapore’s walkways that can be applied to any area in Singapore.

The methodology takes into consideration both objective and subjective measures, and includes factors such as noise levels, through-block links, traffic volumes, level differences etc.

A pedestrian network audit (Figure 1) was also carried out in Singapore’s city centre area to assess the existing pedestrian infrastructure for a range of physical characteristics and urban design qualities.


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Figure 1: Sample result of a walkway from the Pedestrian Network Audit.

This network audit was accompanied by a comprehensive manual the team developed, which details the different attribute levels and steps to measure these attributes. This pedestrian network audit provides the basis for the analysis of observed behaviour and the application of the findings in a software tool which measures pedestrian accessibility as an indicator of walkability.

Customised Pedestrian Tracking Application

A customised pedestrian tracking application was also developed to track 1,006 pedestrians’ walking patterns to generate insight into pedestrians’ behaviour and preferences (taking into account actual and perceived walking experiences), and variations under different conditions.

This application mapped the routes of randomly selected pedestrians, collecting information such as walking speed and the detailed duration of different stages of a walk. Surveys were also carried out to provide detail on pedestrian characteristics and their perception of time based on the built environment and the weather (Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Customised Pedestrian Tracking Application.

This method will improve the way planners conduct walkability studies so that they can better design elements of walkability to help to make walking a more attractive mobility option in Singapore. The data collected from the pedestrian tracking application was then used to develop statistical models to evaluate respondents’ rating of their walk, relating it to the attributes collected in the network audit, and derive a common set of behavioural parameters for the development of a GIS-based plug-in Pedestrian Accessibility Tool.

Pedestrian Accessibility Tool

The Pedestrian Accessibility Tool allows urban planners to compute a walkability index and evaluate the attractiveness of destinations in relation to pedestrians’ accessibility to them (Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Extract from the Pedestrian Software Tool, a GIS-based plug-in tool.

It also allows them to customise the computation of the walkability index to account for heterogeneous user preferences or different weather conditions. For example, with the tool, planners can determine the impact of a change in walkway width and an enhancement of greenery in the area to pedestrian’s walkability (Figure 4).

This tool will allow urban planners to better plan for, design and assess elements of walkability which respond more accurately to pedestrian behaviour, habits and preferences, and enhance the walkability of an area, town or estate.

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Figure 4: Sample result from scenario planning using the Pedestrian Software Tool.


Findings

The study found that respondents reported higher walking satisfaction when walking on pavements with better surface quality along minor roads (with less and slower traffic), along buildings with active frontages, and where they saw people sojourning and socialising.

A lower walking satisfaction was reported when the route was characterised by obstructions or when pedestrians experienced loud noise, heavy sweating, a wait at the traffic lights or were forced to jaywalk in the absence of a convenient crossing.

Recommendations

The study recommends that:

  • Pedestrian network planning should be a joint effort between multiple stakeholders such as government agencies and property developers.
  • An ideal pedestrian network provides direct, safe and comfortable connections between activity-generating land uses.
  • Pedestrian desire lines (a path worn down in grass or dirt by foot traffic) are a good indication of gaps in the existing pedestrian infrastructure. Instead of limiting pedestrian flows by installing fences or other obstructions, the pedestrian network should be expanded in a way that closes these gaps.
  • A digital inventory that combines information on buildings (e.g. gross floor area, connections to the pedestrian network) with transport supply data (e.g. EZ-Link records, car parking spaces and transactions) can provide the basis for a GIS-tool to predict pedestrian network flows.

Upcoming Plans

Building on this study, URA (in collaboration with LTA and HDB) will apply key principles and findings to continually improve the quality and design of pedestrian walkways. We will also examine how to design more comfortable walkways, for example, to accommodate current and projected volumes of pedestrian usage, through a study that seeks to:

  • Quantify the degree and threshold of pedestrian comfort along these walkways.
  • Understand how people perceive comfort and behave in crowded areas.
  • Produce sizing and urban design guidelines to improve pedestrian flow and comfort.

The project will be commencing soon, so look out for interim updates.

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