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Making walking a pillar of the transition to greener and more desirable lifestyles

Ongoing research
Begin: January 2023
End: April 2023

Although almost a quarter of all journeys under 80 km are done on foot, walking is invisible in statistics and is often forgotten in sustainable mobility policies. Indeed, such policies treat it essentially as a recreational activity worth encouraging occasionally, in pedestrian areas and for a typical pedestrian. In contrast to these approaches, the workshop’s goal is to think about the development of networks that allow walking to become a real mode of transport in all territories and among all categories of the population, whatever their age, their constraints or their physical abilities. In this scenario, walking would become one component of an alternative system to the car.

Research participants

 

Contact : Anne Fuzier

The research is conducted by a group of students in the master’s and magister degree in urban planning and development at the University of Paris 1, under the direction of Jean Debrie.

The context

The car dominates our mobility system. It has imposed its infrastructure, its norms and its speed on cities and territories that have been shaped for it. Most of the public space (roads, parking spaces, car parks, etc.) has been dedicated to it while other modes (walking, cycling, etc.) and uses (games, strolling, etc.) have been relegated to a small portion of streets. In many areas, walking has become difficult, uncomfortable and even dangerous, especially for the most vulnerable members of society (children, the elderly, disabled people, etc.). Yet walking is at the heart of our daily mobility practices. It is the most common mode of urban travel in the world and is the primary mode used for almost a quarter of all trips under 80 km.

The Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020/2021 provided an opportunity to rediscover active modes, especially with people enjoying strolls close to their homes. During the spring 2020 lockdown, walking became the only mode of transport for many people who were restricted to moving within a one-kilometre radius. However, political actors largely responded to this new situation by favouring cycling, creating new corona cycleways (‘coronalanes’). Yet the expansion of cycling is made possible by reallocating spaces that were previously dedicated to walking, thereby competing with it.

Walking is very often forgotten by institutional and political actors – and even by citizen organisations. Although practised on a daily basis, it is often overlooked in the statistics of major mobility surveys and is rarely the subject of policies aiming to systematically promote it beyond city centres or outside of ambiguous pedestrianisation policies. And yet, walking has many benefits, both in terms of public health (combating sedentary lifestyles) and in terms of ecology, practicality and pleasure. It allows a sensitive and sensory approach to space and provides an experience of immediate contact with the environment, in contrast to cars which isolate the driver in a bubble. It can also promote sociability and togetherness. Walking helps to slow down the pace of life, thus responding to the aspirations of over 80% of French people, and it can also be a means for supporting low-carbon travel, through inter-modality between walking and public transport. Not to mention the fact that walking is free for users and requires little investment from public authorities to support it. It can therefore play a central role in the transition to more desirable and sustainable lifestyles.

Similarly, while there is some research on walking, it is mostly based on engineering approaches and focuses on measuring the 'walkability' of places, i.e. their potential in terms of walking practices, according to criteria such as spatial planning, connectivity and links to other modes of transport, etc. However, there is little research in social sciences on individual perceptions of a place’s walkability. Existing works tend to consider the pedestrian as a single, healthy individual, without any responsibilities such as accompanying others, and as walking recreationally.

The goals of the research

The workshop therefore aims to move away from normative approaches that only consider one category of pedestrians, to explore how we can develop walking outside of city centres, in all types of spaces - metropolitan (by coordinating central and peri-urban spaces), peri-urban, rural -, and to make it one of the pillars of the paradigm shift towards more ecological and desirable lifestyles for all categories of the population - men, women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women, single people, people who are walking with others, etc.

Walking should be seen as a real mode of travel and not just as a recreational activity. This implies thinking about walking networks - as opposed to one-off developments such as pedestrian zones - and their sizing, taking into account the territory’s specificities as well as the constraints of different categories of the population. These walking networks would become part of an alternative system to cars, that includes walking, cycling, public transport, etc., and which would allow users to connect all the spaces that are used in daily life.

The research will be conducted in four stages:

  • Firstly, the students will review how walking is accounted for in public policy. The aim is to identify how the different groups mentioned above are considered in these policies and how walking is addressed outside of city centres. We hypothesise that walking is seen as a recreational activity, in city centres, with a standardised vision of the pedestrian, and that there is no real policy aimed at promoting it as a fully-fledged mode of transport beyond city centres, for all categories of the population and that profoundly questions the place of cars.
  • Secondly, the students will draw up a statistical chart of walking practices in France and of their evolution in relation to the pandemic. To do this, they will rely in particular on existing surveys.
  • Thirdly, they will strive to gain a more nuanced understanding of the diversity of pedestrian practices and experiences, in order to identify the obstacles and reasons for walking according to individuals, their capacities, their constraints, and the territories in which they live. To do this, the students will carry out a qualitative survey of people with varied profiles living in different areas, outside of city centres.
  • Finally, the students will draw up recommendations to encourage the implementation of walking networks, sized according to the requirements and territories, and supporting the development of an alternative system to cars which includes walking, public transport, cycling, light vehicles, etc.

Results are expected in April 2023.

Mobility

For the Mobile Lives Forum, mobility is understood as the process of how individuals travel across distances in order to deploy through time and space the activities that make up their lifestyles. These travel practices are embedded in socio-technical systems, produced by transport and communication industries and techniques, and by normative discourses on these practices, with considerable social, environmental and spatial impacts.

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Lockdown

The lockdown measures implemented throughout 2020 in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, while varying from one country to the next, implied a major restriction on people’s freedom of movement for a given period. Presented as a solution to the spread of the virus, the lockdown impacted local, interregional and international travel. By transforming the spatial and temporal dimensions of people’s lifestyles, the lockdown accelerated a whole series of pre-existing trends, such as the rise of teleworking and teleshopping and the increase in walking and cycling, while also interrupting of long-distance mobility. The ambivalent experiences of the lockdown pave the way for a possible transformation of lifestyles in the future.

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To cite this publication :

Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and Development at Université Paris 1 (2022-2023) et Jean Debrie (11 January 2023), « Making walking a pillar of the transition to greener and more desirable lifestyles », Préparer la transition mobilitaire. Consulté le 04 February 2023, URL: https://forumviesmobiles.org/en/project/15744/making-walking-pillar-transition-greener-and-more-desirable-lifestyles


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