Walk21- XX: Rotterdam, The Netherlands
7 - 10 October 2019
Putting Pedestrians First: Smart, Healthy and for Everyone!
20th International Conference on Walking and Liveable Communities
7 - 10 October 2019
The City of Rotterdam hosted the 20th International Conference on Walking and Liveable Communities in partnership with Walk21 in 2019.
Over the last ten years the City has transformed the centre into a City Lounge - encouraging people to meet, stay and enjoy Rotterdam - by reallocating road and parking space, slowing traffic speeds and investing in quality public space at an impressive scale. The results are transformative, well worth seeing, and have delivered measurable increases in footfall, dwell time, happiness and health. They are an inspiration to anyone aspiring to similar benefits.
As the city continues to grow, public space is coming under increasing pressure, creating both an opportunity and a sense of urgency to translate the ambition of a walkable neighbourhood network. Challenging traditional car mobility, repurposing existing infrastructure and integrating walking with cycling and public transport is helping translate the vision into citywide gains.
Rotterdam’s vision, supported by a new National Walking Agenda, and the parallel achievements in other Dutch cities make a compelling package for politicians and professionals from around the world to experience the practical and visionary ways walking can be used as an accelerator for more equitable, healthy and smarter places.
1 Putting Pedestrians First delivers a city for everyone
Everybody is a pedestrian! Creating safe and attractive streets for children, women and elderly people first, deliver a public benefit for everyone. We are looking forward to receiving examples of plans, designs and schemes that have embraced diversity, engaged communities and supported the creation of walkable cities.
Key words: inclusivity, social cohesion, accessible, diversity, gender, ethnicity, all ages, happiness, sustainable safety, vision zero, civic engagement.
2 Putting Pedestrians First delivers a healthy city
There is a changing focus on active mobility (including access to public transport) and outdoor spaces that are inviting to walk or exercise in, which can improve people’s health and well-being. ‘Clean air, dry feet and lower energy bills’ are Climate Change promises at the centre of a pact between politicians and citizens in Rotterdam. We are looking forward to examples of integrated, people focused approaches that have embraced climate change, improved health and well-being, reduced carbon or changed behaviour by putting pedestrians first.
Key words: exercise, sports, recreation, green, nature, physical well-being, mental well-being, active mobility, cycling, public transport, sustainability, climate adaptation, clean air, resilience.
3 Putting Pedestrians First delivers a smart city on a human scale
The future city needs to be able to adapt to transitions with smart urban design and new mobility solutions. Measuring walking and walkability and integrating walking into traffic /transport management tools (e.g. modelling) and decision making, can assure a smart city will always be designed on a human level. We are looking forward to examples of evidence, tools, measures and systems that have delivered more walking or better walkability.
Key words: smart, human, data, data driven urban design, measuring walking, future, mobility lab, business case for walking, traffic management, modelling, urban mobility indicators
Nearly 600 people from 50 countries attended the Rotterdam Walk21 International Conference on Walking and Liveable Communities. It was agreed that this was a great indicator that Walk21 and the message of the walking movement remains popular and relevant 20 years after the conference series first started.
A number of conclusions were presented to progress the walking agenda at various levels:
1. At a local level, it was recognised that the City of Rotterdam had invested consistently for ten years in improvements to infrastructure that highlighted the priority being given to walkers. The policy had focused on an invitation to people to use their public space and encouraging them to stay and enjoy it as long as possible. Measuring dwell time was the initial success measure but increasingly there was a demand to activate communities to walk more in their public space too.
At the heart of the City’s approach was giving permission to change through the redesign and re-imagination of streets and spaces. Inside the City, staff had crafted a clear and consistent message and felt empowered by their managers to join up with other enthusiastic team members to develop creative ideas that challenged ‘business as usual’. Communities were given equal rights to change their streets and spaces too, however radical. Politicians and businesses are now being invited to be part of the mission to change and improve more places for people as well. What are you waiting for permission to do? Perhaps you already have the power invested in you to get on with it now ?
2. At a national level, credit is given to the Dutch Government for launching a new national framework commitment during the conference. After well deserved international recognition and praise for their comprehensive approach to cycling policy and practice, it is encouraging to see a new team dedicating themselves to a similar level of ambition for walking. The new framework involves two ministries; 4 exemplar cities (Rotterdam and 3 others at different scales); 30 participative organisations with a remit and interest in walking issues; and an independent Board with representatives from government, health, infrastructure and knowledge; chaired by a retired politician - a well respected former city Mayor.
Exactly how the national framework is empowered, through supportive processes and actions, is still to be agreed but there is a committed bureaux inside the Transport Ministry keen to maintain momentum and deliver visible and meaningful policy and projects. If successful, it is likely that Austria, Germany, and perhaps other countries in Europe, will also pickup the framework approach. As more countries develop their commitments to walking the challenge is to make sure their visions and policy commitments get reflected into measurable beneficial actions.
3. A recurring theme of this year’s event focused on the need for data. In an agenda which was set to discuss health, safety and inclusion it was recognised that it was important to focus on the relevant variables that give the best insight into walkability and the reasons why people choose to walk. The smart walking practitioners need to be efficient and agree on the ones that matter most. A tiered system for measuring was agreed, with headline indicators that were a balance of objective, perceptive and qualitative measures. Several presenters suggested, for too long, we have been focused on measuring traffic and parking rather than attractive and welcoming walkable environments; activity and spend rather than stress/joy and boredom/relaxed emotional responses. It was agreed that data needs to ‘enhance the why' and help set priorities for new interventions. Are you collecting data that enhances understanding of why walking?
4. Mind change as well as mode share change was promoted as a new priority for enabling greater investment in walking issues too. Psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists concurred that walking can be so habitual (or not) that we need help to reset our cognitive processes and proactively decide to recognise its value.
Furthermore, several sessions spoke about the rise of ‘hipster mobility’ and the increasing competition for space on our streets. We can conclude that local authorities are increasingly space managers who can not afford to take public space for granted. Rather there is a need to set clear policy priorities and to agree the mobility mix that enables the system to work most efficiently. We can learn from the tempting offers from previous mobility promises, that have resulted in a system that is out of balance and which are often costly to repair, that we must not be bullied or tempted by shallow or quick profit propositions that end up giving us a cost that our longer term societies and environments can not afford to pay.
For the avoidance of doubt, it was agreed that we should pamper pedestrians first and make sure people are integrated with a seamless public transport system before attempting to fill any gaps. As we learnt from Lisbon, perhaps we implement the system within the view of the traffic director’s window first? -Whose view would matter most, if we worked collaboratively to improve it, as an example of what a more walkable city looks like?
5. The final conclusion, in response to several questions from delegates wondering how to deliver a walkable city at scale - is the advice to improve the 500m around public transport interchanges first. We repeatedly heard how walking falls between the cracks of responsibility in the complexity of divided responsibilities in the public realm. Train station managers for instance, transport operators, the private owners of the estate, surrounding businesses, residents and traders as well as local authorities need to work collectively as stakeholders if the walkability quality is to be enhanced.
The Rotterdam programme of ‘sneaky fitness’ that aims to ‘seduce people to move’ is equally applicable to a reorganisation in a forward direction of those with a stake in public transport accessibility. We heard, louder than ever, that the streets around stations are full of ‘canaries’ - women, children, the poor, those with disabilities, the elderly etc - our job is not to wait for them to ‘fall off their perch' before realising we haven't done a good enough job - rather we must be confident of their survival and encourage them to fill the air with song and be heard by those with responsibility for supporting all their needs and delivering a walkable system.