Pedestrians First

Measuring walkability in cities worldwide

Room: Track 1

Sunday, 20:00 UTC
Duration: 20 minutes (plus Q&A)

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  • Taylor Reich

Few modern cities are walkable. Around the globe, cities have been designed for cars rather than pedestrians, resulting in enormous costs to the environment, the economy, and even the social fabric of our communities. In the face of the climate crisis, there is an urgent need to build cities that are sustainable and inclusive. Responding to that need, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has released Pedestrians First, a tool that supports planners and decision-makers by using OSM to measure what matters for walkability in cities.

This talk will describe what makes a city walkable, discuss the experience of using OSM to measure walkability, and explore possibilities for improving that measurement in the future.

Because the experience of walking is so natural, it is easy to assume that planning walkable cities is equally simple. That is far from the case. To be walkable, a city must prioritize pedestrians not only in urban design but also in land use and transportation planning. Some factors, like sidewalk quality, matter at the small scale, the level of the street or the city block. Other factors matter at the level of the neighborhood, such as the proximity of destinations, and still others are at the level of the entire city, like the ability of a public transit system to move pedestrians from one neighborhood to another.

We have found OpenStreetMap an invaluable tool in identifying and measuring the most important elements of walkability. Certain aspects of the OSM data model have been critical to the success of the project, especially its emphasis on representing connectivity, its typology of streets, and its relative uniformity around the world. However, other aspects have been challenging to work with, and prevent us from measuring other important indicators of pedestrian-friendliness. For example, it is still difficult to clearly represent the presence and quality of sidewalks in OSM and assessing the safety of street crossings remains a pressing concern.

There are many opportunities to expand Pedestrians First. We are exploring possibilities that include computer vision to identify street assets, integration of traffic data, and measurement of multimodal access to opportunities. We hope to join conversations about how best to implement such approaches within the OpenStreetMap community.

With offices in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and the United States, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has advocated for sustainable urban transport since 1985. A non-governmental organization striving for inclusive cities, ITDP is dedicated to openness of information and techniques.