Abley Stephen once defined a pedestrian-friendly environment as “the extent to which the built environment is friendly to the presence of people living, shopping, visiting, working, enjoying or spending time in the area.”
Our communities are designed for people to enjoy the experience of the environment. The ambience, beauty, serenity, scenery, character, and the soul of the environment all enhance individual experiences and they go a long way in making people embrace and take ownership of their space. This affects the wellness and total wellbeing of the individual.
A pedestrian-friendly environment should naturally consider the comfort, safety and convenience of pedestrians, cyclists and people using non-motorized means of transport.
Walking has become a very important transport alternative for short trips between zero and five kilometers. The walkability index focuses on physical activity and health that creates a pedestrian walking experience. The following factors are deemed to affect the experience of a pedestrian:
- Street Geometry. This includes the street size, the sidewalk size, the size of buildings and their look and feel.
- Walking Impedance. This includes the type of crosswalk, the quality of the sidewalk, the traffic light, the trees, the seats and signage that may be in the way of the pedestrian.
- Traffic Characterization. The various types of traffic – low traffic, medium traffic, high traffic; traffic segregation.
- Built Environment and Network Layout. Land use density, presence of open spaces, parks, trails and recreation centres.
These factors are necessary ingredients that shape the ‘friendliness” of the environment to the pedestrian. Our Street Geometry is a function of our level of infrastructure, which is in deficit and needs to be ramped up. The open-drain concept has been a limiting factor to achieving a pedestrian-friendly environment.
Of equal importance is the size of these sidewalks relative to the location and busyness of the areas. Hardly do we provide seats and trees for the pedestrians, and traffic lights for pedestrians are usually non-existent. The surfaces of the pavements and drainage of the paths should be of little impediment.
With traffic segregation, pedestrians and cyclists can feel safe if, on high traffic routes, separate lanes are provided for pedestrians and cyclists.
Our current disposition to planning and the built environment layout need to be retweaked to take into consideration the present-day reality that the pedestrian, not the motorist, is king. The sidewalk must be a conscious part of our layout and the conflict between the driveways and the sidewalks, particularly in residential neighbourhoods, must be resolved. In busy commercial centres, the sizes and relationship of the walkways to the business activities areas should be one that is welcoming and the people should take the pride of place before vehicles.
For a Pedestrian Experience Satisfaction, seats, shades, trees, water bodies, wall murals, lighting and shaded pathways should be provided. The Pedestrian Experience Satisfaction index is lowest in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean; it is highest in Europe and North America.
A pedestrian-friendly environment has a lot of advantages, among them are:
- Health benefits. Your health gains when you form the habit of walking. That is why experts would recommend walking as a prevention or solution to some health issues.
- Increased social interaction. In the course of people walking around regularly, they meet with neighbours and build acquaintances.
- Reduced crime rate. Walking around makes people see and know one another. Since people are then no longer faceless, there is a great tendency for reduction in crime.
- Increased humanity and volunteerism. It allows us to be closer to nature, to appreciate things around us and, when there is a general call for neighbourhood activities, residents are quite willing to volunteer and participate in such activities.
- Decrease in carbon emissions. This means of transport reduces significantly the carbon footprint and helps mitigate climate change and global warming.
- Cost effective. Walking and cycling are obviously cheaper than driving. There is therefore a significant reduction in cost of moving around.
In conclusion, the major factor militating against the provision of pedestrian-friendly environment is largely due to our poor infrastructure. Most Nigerian cities are still fixated with the open drainage systems which take up the space suitable for the sidewalks.
Also the lack of coordination, enforcement and approval of layouts at all levels of development at the federal, state and local government levels has been a major factor in the quality of our built environment.
Standards must be maintained and enforced all over the country, and care and welfare of pedestrians must be a priority, particularly in high-density city centres, whilst neighbourhoods with markets, churches, schools and places with high pedestrian traffic should be regulated to provide maximum comfort and convenience for the pedestrians. This, indirectly, will go a long way in improving the socio-economic wellbeing of the people.
–Onabanjo is the founder of GO-FORTE FOUNDATION, an organisation dedicated to the restoration of the environment.