According to my expat friend working for the US government, Chennai is awarded as the least walkable city in the world. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but sounds believable. Road conditions, traffic rules, temperature and humidity – none of them are pedestrian friendly in Chennai. Walking on a narrow two-way road near my apartment seems walking on the shoulder of an 6-lane Interstate with a full of traffic at 100 mph.

So, what kind of factors determines the ‘walkability’ of a city? Here are my thoughts.

Walkable Infrastructure

The infrastructure of the street came first in my mind as the primary determiner of the walkability. A broken sidewalks, a manhole without a rid, a pile of garbage on the way, and an half-cut electric wire above your head. All of these obstacles make walking difficult and dangerous.

On the other hand, Nashville suburb has a perfect infrastructure. The road is wide enough to separate pedestrians from the traffic. Most intersection has a pedestrian crossing and own traffic light. The surface is even and the slope gradual, making jogging and cycling easy. However, there is no one walking on the street.

Walkable City Design

I’m currently back to Nashville for a short business trip and staying in a nicely developed suburban area. On Sunday afternoon, I ran for half an hour near the hotel and I only met three people – one old guy with a dog and a couple. It was a beautiful Sunday perfect for outside walk and I was running in a nice residential area.

The fact is, most suburban towns in the US are not designed for walkers – but for drivers. The distance between two buildings is too far and the size of the residential block seems too big for walkers. It is not a problem when you drive, but everything on the road is too stretched from the walkers’ unit of measurement. So, city design is another factor for the walkability.

Walkable Society

Nashville Downtown is a very touristic place where dozens of honky tonk bars row on Broadway and 2nd Avenue, making the Music City popular. You can hop from one bar to another and enjoy high-quality live music without a cover charge. Unlike the suburb that I’m staying, Nashville Downtown is very walkable. This is because many downtowns in the US was built before the mortorization. The area was designed for walkers.

That being said, it is not recommended to walk around Downtown after late. Crimes are reported and some are fatal. The same is true in Chennai. Walking in the city in the late hours is not advised, according to the police office who stopped me at 1 a.m. near my apartment. I thought it is very peaceful neighbourhood, but it may not be like that. In the Tokyo, on the other hand, you will have no problem walking around after midnight (and completely drunk.)

Today’s Lesson

I googled a lot but was not able to find the “least walkable city” award that my friend was talking about. Should we start one?

6 Replies to “Walkability”

  1. If Nashville doesn’t feel safe or draw enough foot traffic for restaurants and shopping in evening, it doesn’t sound like a real walkable area –yet.

    I could go on about this topic because I’ve lived in Toronto (20 yrs.) and Vancouver (nearly 9 yrs.). These 2 cities do have some decent walkable areas. Calgary is trying to get there.. the city does have some vague plans which will take several more years to get better.

    So I’ll answer this question later when I have time. Several interconnected factors. But for certain, walkable also means bikeable. The 2 actually go together along with good public transit. If an area is walkable day and night, is usually is also bikeable in a safe way for cyclists also.

    1. Jean,

      Yes, Toronto! I was there for five months living near Eglinton Sta. and enjoyed walking on Yonge St. as far as to Lake Shore. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a bike, but rented one sometimes and toured around the city. I agree Toronto is one of the best walkable/bikable cities.

      As you said, having a good public transit seems to be another factor (as I was too tired to walk back home from Lake Shore.) From the bikability standpoint, bike access to the public transportation is a key. I had little problem on that in Canada or US, but it is not easy in Japan, where you are not allowed to bring your bike on the train/bus.

      – Shinobu

  2. Wow you did alot of walking. That’s probably at least 8-10 km. straight south to Lake Ontario. Did you know that there is a bike route away from alot of traffic? One would have to connect 1-2 paths together by going through the Sunnybrook Park bike path, Don River Valley bike path, to join up with Waterfront Trail.

    My partner went to Seoul. This area has been refurbished and more walkable/cycleable.

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