Many cities are experimenting with new technologies and infrastructure projects to improve their walkability scores and quality of life for residents. Walkability is growing in importance as the Millennial generation of young professionals are actively seeking to live in in cities that offer multimodal transportation options for navigation.
Helping the Blind
One important aspect of a municipality’s walkability score is how safe it is for pedestrians and cyclists to maneuver around without a personal vehicle. This means cities that take the extra time and effort to design sidewalks, trails and other pathways to safely accommodate non-vehicular navigation jump high in walkability rankings, and become more appealing to younger generations.
On innovation that is making it easier for specific pedestrians to move around cities is a Microsoft headset designed to aid blind people. The headset works by talking to visually impaired pedestrians as they walk around the city, providing customizable routes to get users to urban destinations.
The headsets not only describe how best to walk from one spot to another, but also incorporate public transit options and schedules so visually impaired users can leverage bus, trains and taxis into their trips.
The goal of the headsets is to help visually impaired individuals feel more comfortable and secure when they leave their homes. Many people living with sight loss avoid taking trips through the community due to the significant number of challenges preventing safe, easy travel. There is also a cyclist version of the headsets available that drown out traffic and environmental noise so the users can focus on cycling.
When equipped with the headsets, visually impaired individuals will be more aware of their surroundings as well as transit options available to them, which will significantly improve their quality of life.
Just as people with sight loss want to be informed of their surroundings, so too do visually able pedestrians. According to a study from the University of Utah, the geometry of urban settings can greatly impact walkability and land use.
The research analyzed the impact of street connectivity on the number of pedestrians walking around Buffalo, New York, which has geometric variation in its street grid design. The study looked at how the physical connectivity of each roadway may affect pedestrian volumes, as well as the visual connectivity of the urban design, and found both were vital to walkability.
While it is imperative for roads to connect to main destinations throughout a community, the researchers also found it is important for pedestrians to be able to see where the roads lead to feel comfortable walking around. When streets were angled and visual connectivity was limited, there were lower pedestrian volumes reported. Pedestrians want to feel that the route to their destination is relatively direct, and they will not be easily lost taking several turns to get from point A to point B.
Based on the findings of the report, the research recommend urban planners consider both physical and visual connectivity when mapping out new infrastructure projects designed to accommodate a more multimodal population base.