Overview of walking policies in Europe and North America

Walking is the most sustainable means of daily travel for short trip distances and is a key component of the overall urban transport system. A recent scientific paper documents variations in walking rates among countries, cities in the same country, and in different parts of the same city.

The international analysis of official government statistics shows that walking rates are highest for short trips, higher for women than for men, decline with increasing income, and remain constant as age increases. Walking fatality rates are much higher in the USA than in other countries (both per capita and per km walked).

Government policies that would increase walking rates while improving pedestrian safety include:

  • The design of roadways and intersections is sensitive to the needs of pedestrians, with special provisions such as safety islands at intersection corners and medians of roadway crossings, as well as well-lit, well-marked crosswalks indicating pedestrian priority.
  • Housing and commercial developments are explicitly designed to take pedestrians into account, not only through the provision of walking facilities but also through local government regulations encouraging mixed uses, multiple commercial subcenters, pedestrian-friendly street design, and pedestrian cut-thrus to shorten walking distances and increase safety.
  • Speed limits have been reduced city-wide on most streets, but especially in commercial districts and residential neighborhoods. Lower speed limits are strictly enforced by the police, speed cameras, and roadway infrastructure modifications that force motor vehicles to slow down and discourage thru traffic.
  • The overall supply of on-road parking has been reduced, combined with restrictions on parking duration, increased hourly rates, and resident-only parking in some neighborhoods.
  • Traffic laws have been revised to prioritize pedestrians in most instances, requiring motorists to yield, and making motorists liable for pedestrian injuries in most crashes. The legal priority of pedestrians requires motorists to take special care to avoid endangering pedestrians. Police and courts strictly enforce these laws and laws regarding speed, dangerous driving, and distracted driving.
  • Traffic education for both motorists and non-motorists is extensive and strict, starting in schools and then in motorist training programs and testing to obtain a driver’s license.
  • Taxes on petrol, motor vehicle purchase, and ownership have been increased to discourage large fuel-inefficient vehicles, with vehicle taxes based on vehicle size and power, not simply price. Regulations (such as in London) also include requirements for large vehicles to be equipped with cameras alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Although laws in many countries, states, and cities already prohibit drink driving and distracting driving, those laws should be much more strictly enforced, especially in the USA, where enforcement of traffic laws is so lax that they are often ignored by motorists, leading to speeding, reckless driving, drink driving, and distracted driving (e.g., mobile phone use).

Source: Buehler, R., & Pucher, J. (2023). Overview of Walking Rates, Walking Safety, and Government Policies to Encourage More and Safer Walking in Europe and North America. Sustainability, 15(7), 5719. https://doi.org/10.3390/su15075719

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Walther Ploos van Amstel  

Passie in logistiek & supply chain management