Why and How Cities Must Take Pedestrians More Seriously

Andrea Weninger
Sustainable Cities Collective
July 13, 2015

Vienna is a case study and part of Harvard University’s Transforming Urban Transportation project. Ralph Buehler, Associate Professor in Urban Affairs & Planning and a Faculty Fellow with the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria Center, has visited the city. An interview by Andrea Weninger, Walk21 Program Director.

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What was your first impression of Vienna?

The initial experience was that the city is relatively dense, many streets are narrow, at least compared to the United States. And motorists are generally well behaved. And of course, Vienna has a very good public transport network. Public transport trips typically include walking as an access mode.

What do you think about the public transport system?

Vienna has a dense network with many stations. This makes it easy to reach most places in the city with easy transfers from one public transport line to the other. Very often I have the tendency to want to have a one seat ride: you get in at the origin and you exit public transport only once. But here in Vienna it is quite possible to make many easy, well connected switches and changes within the public transport network.

What surprises you most about the city?

Most surprising was the feeling of density. There are buildings 5 or 6 storeys high on both sides of the street. That gives you a nice feeling of enclosure as a pedestrian. Many city blocks are short and you can see your destination. Moreover, it is easy and interesting to walk, you can look left and right and look in shop windows which is quite pleasant.

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Walking in Vienna. Image: Florian Gerlich | PlanSinn.

Vienna’s mode share of walking is 27 %. Do you think measures can be taken to raise the share of walking?

It is quite normal in most western cities, for the walk share to be flat or even decreasing. I believe it does not have to be that way. Most cities have focused on promoting driving for several decades. Some cities have also tried to promote public transport or bicycling. Walking has been neglected as a mode of transport and a goal for planning. There have been the big projects, like downtown pedestrian zones. But cities have not really thought about pedestrian networks and pedestrian accessibility outside the city centre. I think cities have to take pedestrians more seriously.

Can it be effective to advertise walking?

It is a very good idea to promote walking, but I don’t think you can just tell people to walk. I believe you can make it interesting and attractive, with the support of marketing programs. But in order to implement such programs, you also need the infrastructure, so that the people who walk, actually have a good experience. The attempt to make walking stylish always has to go in hand with infrastructure improvement.

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