Smart pedestrian movement : Improving walkability for Smart Cities

  • By: Vaidehi Rajpat
  • Posted on January,26 2017

by Vaidehi Raipat, Research Associate, Foundation of Indian Cities.

Making the World’s Growing Cities into a pedestrian friendly space is one of the most important needs of the present era. Improved walkability helps in making the city environmentally and socially sustainable. This article discusses the shortcomings in the pedestrian experience of a typical Indian city. How can the pedestrian experience be improved? How can the walkability quotient of a city be increased? Poor infrastructure forces people to abandon walking and cycling. If streets and junctions act as public spaces rather than just traffic routes, they become more convenient. A smart city is one that puts people in its centre and its design goes beyond technology. A smart city cannot be walled and I think our cultural diversities – the soul of India – should not be diluted in the process of making the city technology savvy. Smart city involves smart governance, smart technology, smart mobility, smart planning and smart building. Smart mobility is not just about designing for good connectivity and linkages, but also includes ease of movement, equity, accessibility and security for pedestrians. Vibrant cities can also result in more pedestrians and traffic planning must take that into account. Without effective planning the things that draw pedestrians – active business districts and lively retail stores – also draw cars and the combination of the two can be deadly.

An urban street consists of large variety of activities and different types of users. In Indian cities, streets act as the major public spaces. Most of the shopping activities as well as social activities take place on streets. Streets with shop fronts, eating joints, hawkers as well as food vendors encourage heavy pedestrian movements. But these activities are unsegregated and unorganized that makes the streets inaccessible and unsafe for pedestrians. In most of the cities there is no space specifically assigned for hawkers, improper use of pedestrian paths, poor enforcement of traffic movement or parking laws and lack of green or attractive installations. Such inadequacies make the streets direful for the pedestrian usage. Indian streets are prone to and are experiencing many problems because of the various issues that have manifested due to the urbanization of many town across the country. Some of these issues have been illustrated via the images in the following page.

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Figure 1 illustrates one of the major junctions of Ranchi. It is observed that high-end stores and hawkers coexist here. As seen in the image the motorized vehicles, non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians use the same lane for movement. There is a large space designated for parking of four- wheelers. Off street two-wheeler parking spaces leave no space for pedestrians to move around. No defined crossing zones, pedestrian islands or street furniture have been provided.


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Figure 2 highlights the shortcomings of the oldest silk bazaar of Bangalore, Chickpete Market. The major observations made here are the missing sidewalks making the street unsafe for walking. Clearly, parking and the movement of cars occupy more space than pedestrians yet most of the users of this space come here in their vehicles and complain about lack of parking spaces. The increased numbers of cars and usegregated streets have destroyed the pedestrian culture of this historic location.

Figure 3 illustrates a sky walk of grant road, Mumbai, an endevour by MADHA to releave the pedestrians from the congested vehicle dominated roads and provide them with a safe path for movement. Skywalks solve the problems only for the pedestrians who do not need to access the stores in that area. In the adjacent image more pedestrians can be seen on the road as compared to the skywalk because the variety of stores located on the street. These also work well for highways, where there are no stores along the road.

Walkability of a city depends on the arrangement of its sidewalks, parking, planting, lighting, orientation, shelter, signage, street furniture, way it is overlooked and the routes which pass through it. The following images illustrate some of the Pedestrian friendly communities found across the world.

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Figure 4 illustrates a typical crossroad junction which has been designed with striking and creative zebra crossing for easier and distinguished pedestrian movement. The edges of the footpaths are made like a ramp to provide easier accessibility for the elderly, handicapped and the children.

Figure 5 illustrates one of the main shopping streets of Alexandria. The main feature of this street is its well organized spaces. Shop fronts with a wide sidewalk make it easier of pedestrians to move around and access the shops. Sidewalks are lined with benches, streetlights and planters to make them user friendly and visually appealing.


Learning from the pedestrian friendly communities, main factors that determine walkability quotient of a city; and the ways in which they can be incorporated in an urban setup have been discussed below.

Major factors that determine the Walkability quotient are:

Security: This can be established by incorporating physical traffic calming measures like narrowed roads and speed humps should be an integral part of the design. Reducing vehicular speeds and discouraging traffic volume can also help to make the street safer. The dangerous intersections are where pedestrians and vehicle interact, it is important to increase safety at these intersections. Designated zebra crossings and proper enforcement of traffic light laws can make this possible. Installing overhead crossing signals, regulatory markings and pavement markings, representing crosswalks and other pedestrian movements to warn or remind the road users about the pedestrian movements and the traffic regulatory laws. Shops overlooking streets, public plazas and informal activities on streets increase the safety and liveliness of the street.

Accessibility: The traditional form of high street which allows for safe pedestrian movement, shopping, parking and slow traffic provides an effective way of accommodating local shopping and economic activity. Walking distances should be minimized between major land uses and public transport stops. Way finding signage, local maps and information stands must be placed in the public and pedestrian areas. While designing the sidewalks the clear space required by pedestrians must be kept in mind. This clear space requirement depends on the types of users. Handicaps, elderly, parents with children etc. may require more space as compared to other users. Removal of parking for improved visibility can make the space more accessible for pedestrians. Cars being on the higher side on the safety graph must be allotted spaces on the hind side of the main streets.

Health and wellbeing: Pedestrian friendly streets encourage people to walk rather than drive or take a public transport for short distance. Hence walkable cities comprise of healthier communities. A lot of physical activity that people carry out takes place not as a recreational activity but just as a part of daily living activities. Commuting is one such activity that can provide health benefits if cars and other motorized vehicles are avoided as much as possible.

Affordability and efficiency: Walking is the most affordable method of commuting. People who cannot afford personal vehicles rely on public transport for long distance travel and walking for local movements. If efficiency of pedestrian pathways is increased and personal vehicle restraint measures are applied number of pedestrians can be further increased.

Aesthetic Appeal: Works of art and well-designed street furniture integrated into of public spaces give identity, make the space friendlier for pedestrians and enhance sense of place. Facades can have features like colonnades, windows and other facade details that can generate interests in passers-by. Main entrances should be easily identifiable so that it contributes to the ease of understanding of the space.

Alleviated use: Projections and setbacks from the building line such as bays and entrances add valuable emphasis and can create usable attractive spaces for the pedestrians. Public spaces integrated with pedestrian pathways facilitate social activities and help in making the space socially sustainable. Pedestrian routes should be emphasized using planters or trees. Parklets can be inserted at some places alone the sidewalk where ever there is availability of setback space to make the pedestrian realm socially more active.

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Smart pedestrian movement is one of the major determining factors for designing a smart city. Organization and segregation of activities is the key to achieve a walk able street. Well designed and well maintained details make the space visually appealing and encourage walking. The street section below illustrates an ideal situation where the activities on the street are well segregated with provision of adequate street furniture and shading on sidewalks. Pedestrian priority signage and way finding signage are provided for increased accessibility and security.

By Vaidehi Raipat, Research Associate, Foundation of Indian Cities.


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