Walking & SDGs

Walking contributes to The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development because it underpins all the Sustainable Development Goals in many different ways. Walk21 use this global agenda as a framework in order to maximise the scope that walking can be used to create a more sustainable future.

However walking plays a larger role in the SDGs that are specific to achieving Sustainable Cities (11) and improving Health and Well-being (3).

SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities

e.g. SDG target 11.2 refers to providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all. Its indicator is the proportion of population that has convenient access to public transport which can be achieved through having more transport links in walking proximity for more of the population.

For example the ‘School Streets’ campaign run by the FIA Foundation where they closed roads around schools during pick-up time enabling children to walk to and from school more easily. This contribution to the changing environments, making the environment around schools more appropriate to the needs of young people accessing services.

SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing

e.g. The WHO Global Action Plan for Physical Activity Forum supports people to walk. It created policy actions that increase physical activity such as walking because it is a recommended daily activity that improves health and well-being. The UN proclaimed the period 2021 to 2032 as the Second Decade of Action for Road Safety with the aim of reducing the worldwide road deaths by one half therefore improving health and wellbeing. WHO’s Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety produced the Stockholm Declaration in 2020 that outlined a set of 9 recommendations to help reach the aim. Walking is key to the fifth recommendation which proposes a modal shift in transport: moving from personal motor vehicles toward safer and more active forms of mobility.

Section 3.6 of SDG 3 aims to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020. 

e.g. Walk21 worked on a project in Medellin, Columbia that demonstrates the capacity that walking has to contribute to the global agenda. In 2017 there were 3,887 pedestrians injured in road traffic incidents and tragically 113 died. A third of these people were under 30 years old and we wanted to help reduce that to zero if at all possible. Walk21 worked with school children in Columbia to collect data to represent where they felt safe walking and where it is good to walk. The outcome of this project was the government invested in all 19 ‘red zones’ where children felt at risk when walking, making these zones primarily safer for pedestrians but also an enjoyable, pleasant experience.

The other ways that walking contributes to the SDGs and a more sustainable future.

SDG 1 – No Poverty

e.g. Walking enables people of all incomes to have access to public transport when applied under proper land use planning. INTALInC (International Network for Transport and Accessibility in Low Income Countries) promotes urban travel systems that can meet the needs of low income city populations and excluded communities. Walking plays a key role making the transport network accessible for the whole population.

SDG 5 – Gender Equality

e.g. The EU CiViTAS Women Walking Policy Note highlights the specific needs of genders within mobility because women travel differently than men. It showed that women are walking more than men so walking is an opportunity to improve the gender gap in cities. Women Mobilize Women is the first conference to empower women in transport where they consider all aspects of their journey, including walking, in order to fully understand their needs.

SDG 13 – Climate Action

e.g. Walking is a zero carbon mode and helps make shared public transport accessible. We work with the Sustainable Low Carbon Transport Partnership, Sustainable Urban Mobility For All (SUM4All) Partnership, Decarbonising Transport Workshops, COP Transport Days and the International Transport Forum where walking contributes to a lower carbon future for transport.

Ten reasons to act

Here are ten reasons to act today to support walkers and invest in more walkability:

Walking is humanity’s primary and only truly zero carbon mode of transport with substantial co-benefits for individuals, society and international ambitions for a healthy and efficient urban future.It is the singular most accessible and vital mode for society and underpins the efficacy, efficiency and financial viability of all our transport systems.

The carbon reduction potential of walking is not extensively researched (part of the problem), but one study estimates that increases in the mode share of walking in Bogota, Colombia from 20% to 25% of travel could reduce transport emissions by 6.9% at a cost of USD $ 17/tCO2.In addition, a package of walkways, cycleways and bus rapid transit could reduce emissions by 25% at a cost of USD $ 30/ tonneCO2 (Wright L, Fulton L. Climate change mitigation and transport in developing nations. Transport Reviews, 2005, 25(6):691–717).

Walking in its own right or packaged with public transport systems can enhance the carbon reduction potential of both modes and of the transport system as a whole.  The full potential for transport decarbonisation cannot be realised without more walking.

Walking continues to be poorly measured, undervalued and disregarded in policy and technical approaches for designing and delivering transport systems for cities.How we measure travel behaviour and how we report it has a strong bearing on how we then respond to that information.For example, ‘a comparison between historic data in the three case cities, and the 2010 collected mode share data, reveals that non motorised transport modes are underestimated, due to a traditional focus on commuter travel.’ (Mitullah, Winnie V. Non-Motorised Transport Integration into Urban Transport Planning in Africa. Routledge, 2017 07 04. VitalBook file)

Walking is very space efficient and sidewalks very cost effective when compared with motorised traffic lanes.A sidewalk can carry 8-9,000 people/hour at a build cost of approx USD $0.1M/km compared to 600-1,600 private motor vehicles in a traffic lane at a build cost of approx USD $2M/km – walking infrastructure is 100 times more cost effective.(Litman, T, Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II, VTPI.org/tca/tca0506.pdf) Duncan, S., Global Street Design Guide, Island Press 2016

Walking is very space efficient and sidewalks very cost effective when compared with motorised traffic lanes.A sidewalk can carry 8-9,000 people/hour at a build cost of approx USD $0.1M/km compared to 600-1,600 private motor vehicles in a traffic lane at a build cost of approx USD $2M/km – walking infrastructure is 100 times more cost effective.(Litman, T, Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II, VTPI.org/tca/tca0506.pdf) Duncan, S., Global Street Design Guide, Island Press 2016

For households, and particularly the poor, more effective public transport and safer walking/cycling routes can yield significant savings in travel time and expense as well as preventing disease and promoting better health.’ More walkable cities enable greater equity in physical activity levels, across all ages, genders and health profiles. (Health in the green economy: health co-benefits of climate change mitigation – transport sector. WHO 2011)

In the USA, 89 percent of high income neighbourhoods have sidewalks while only 49 percent of low-income neighbourhoods do. Where more than 20 percent of households have incomes below the Federal poverty line, the pedestrian fatality rate is more than 80 percent higher than the national average. (US Strategy for Walking 2015).

Large-scale physical activity data reveal worldwide activity inequality. (Althoff, T. et,al. NATURE Vol 1.2017)

Walkable communities that provide safe, secure and direct access to public transport are more important for women as, globally, they are more likely to walk than men and women are also more dependent on public transport than men, especially when they are lower-income. Women make more and more complex trips than men, stemming from the different cultural and economic roles of men and women. Women are more concerned about personal safety, harassment, commuting times and sustainability. (Mainstreaming gender in road transport: operational guidance for World Bank staff, The World Bank, 2010)

280,000 pedestrians are killed every year (22% of all road deaths) and many more are injured, costing between 1-3% of a country’s GDP.The vast majority of these deaths are in low-and middle income countries where lack of safe pedestrian infrastructure is a key risk factor.(WHO, Pedestrian Safety: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners, 2013)

3 million people die prematurely every year because they are not active enough to benefit their health, costing $67billion USD in 2013. Residents of neighbourhoods with sidewalks, transit stops and shops are known to be more likely to walk and therefore tend to have lower levels of cardiovascular disease, obesity and other health issues related to sedentary lifestyles. (Sallis, J, et al, Neighbourhood Environments and Physical Activity Among Adults)

More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits. While all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted. ( (WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, 2016)

While walking and biking are slower and more suited for shorter trips of 3–10 km or less, they are inexpensive to provide, available to even the lowest income users, and are efficient in their use of surface transportation right-of-way. They provide high flexibility, equal to or greater than for private motorized transportation. (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport Projects, July 2010)

In Barcelona, only 20% of trips made are in a car or motorbike, but 60 % of public space is dedicated to carriageways. Infrastructure costs of better networks for walking and cycling, or of positioning schools nearer to residential areas, are very modest compared with the costs of developing new vehicle technologies. Clean fuel, autonomous vehicles still occupy a disproportionate share of public space, public budgets and contribute to poor road safety outcomes. (Michell, N., How Barcelona is reducing daily car journeys, Cities Today, 3 July 2017)

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