Chances are you have seen the term ‘walkability’ – how friendly an area is to walking – as cities around the world gravitate to active mobility measures such as returning road space to pedestrians and developing more sustainable transportation modes.

The clear benefits of walkability are uncovered in Arup’s report Cities Alive: Towards a walking world. Walkable urban environments can impact economies positively, boost tourism, improve public health and reduce traffic congestion. 

Singapore is no stranger to this concept with its urban design interventions, ‘car-lite’ strategies, campaigns encouraging commuters to walk, cycle and ride, and efforts to understand attributes beyond infrastructure to improve walkability.

Yet there is much more to uncover, such as reasons why people might avoid walking short distances even if heat and humidity levels are tolerable. The weather is one, albeit major, deciding factor to walk to places – but what other factors and design interventions have Arup and the city explored, and what more could we do to make us stretch our legs and get moving?

Paving pleasant and delightful paths

A project that illustrates a successful move away from a traffic-dominated cityscape is the rejuvenation of Empress Place and Esplanade Park. Arup helped to improve pedestrian connectivity and reduce traffic, moving one step closer to realising the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s vision of an arts and culture precinct in Singapore’s historic Civic District.

This project involved calming traffic and creating a shared zone that returned road equity to pedestrians. Arup also did extensive traffic modelling and simulations to assure stakeholders that lane reductions would not deter visitors going to cultural venues in the area or impact traffic elsewhere. Today, Connaught Drive is halved from four lanes to two, while 50% of Fullerton Road at Anderson Bridge has been turned into a footpath.

Enhancing the attractiveness of, and things to do in, the public realm also influences walkability in an area. Arup achieved this by helping to beautify the streetscape and improve green cover. Working with arborists, we designed a system that helped transplant eight 90-tonne heritage trees to shade pathways, while creating unobstructed views at Empress Lawn. This flexible space allows pop-up events to take place – drawing people to activities, not just destinations, and helping to boost the area’s economic viability.

Seamlessly connected, these green spaces, parks and streets in the precinct are now enjoyed for recreational and sport activities.

Go green and get moving

Beyond infrastructure design or measures to reduce private vehicle dependence, Arup is also privileged to work on projects that encourage active mobility, improve accessibility and bring people closer to nature and lush greenery.

Labrador Coastal Walk, completed in 2012, features an ecologically sensitive design so visitors can enjoy mangrove and coastal views.

Rower’s Bay, a node on the Round Island Route at Seletar, was launched this year. When progressively completed by 2035, the Route will feature more dynamic green corridors, connecting visitors by foot to many natural, cultural and historical attractions around Singapore. This 150km interlinking Park Connector Network will also support healthier mobility choices and more active lifestyles.

Communities can look forward to the North-South Corridor, the island’s first integrated active mobility and public transport corridor with dedicated bus, foot and cycling paths. This uninterrupted and pedestrian-first Transit Priority Corridor – a remarkable 21.5km long – will link up northern towns to the city centre, bringing together communities and improving connectivity between different towns. It is due to be completed around 2026.

These projects are complemented with shorter public transport travelling times and improved infrastructure and mobility ecosystems: enhanced last-mile facilities and more end-of-trip facilities in workplaces such as bicycle parking, lockers and shower rooms.

In creating better streets, not roads, Arup hopes to shape a future environment where people are inclined to adopt active mobility choices and have less hesitation getting out and about on foot.

Chintain Raveshia

South East Asia Cities Leader, Arup

Create better streets, not roads

There is more to learn about challenges with climate, traffic and pedestrians’ attitudes in Singapore, but there are positive signs of increasing receptiveness towards walkability. Government campaigns to support a more active Singapore and more suitable infrastructure are encouraging people to walk to places. We also see changing design trends prioritising people over vehicles.

Meanwhile, Arup is building on the ‘Cities Alive’ research, refining indices and parameters to create a more tailored framework for measuring walkability, particularly in tropical environments. Our new urban walkability score uses 30 parameters to measure walkability and uncover remedial and action plans in a chosen area.

Guided by five overarching principles – social, infrastructure, environmental, economic and political – this scoring framework is informed by a qualitative and quantitative mix of open-source data and spatial analytics, benchmarked measurements and questionnaires.

The next phase of our walkability study will involve compiling best practices, formulating guidelines and policy recommendations. We also continue to study pedestrian profiles and define street design elements that are suitable for walking.

In creating better streets, not roads, Arup hopes to shape a future environment where people are inclined to adopt active mobility choices and have less hesitation getting out and about on foot.