Study reveals world’s most walkable cities

Damian Carrington

By  Environment editor - @dpcarrington

The world’s most walkable cities include London, Paris, Bogotá and Hong Kong, according to a report. The UK capital outranks almost 1,000 cities around the world on citizens’ proximity to car-free spaces, schools and healthcare, and the overall shortness of journeys.

Researchers at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) said making cities walkable was vital to improve health, cut climate-heating transport emissions and build stronger local communities and economies. However, they said very few cities overall gave pedestrians priority and were dominated by cars. The report found US cities ranked particularly low for walkability due to urban sprawl.

Among cities with more than 5 million inhabitants, only Bogotá in Colombia was in the top five for all three measures. The first measure assessed the proportion of people living within 100m of a car-free place, such as parks, pedestrianised streets and squares. These enhance health, boost community connections and increase pedestrian safety, the researchers said. Hong Kong took the top spot with 85% within 100m, with Moscow, Paris and London completing the top five.

Top five major cities by closeness to car-free places (within 100 km)

  1. Hong Kong, China
  2. Moscow, Russia
  3. Paris, France
  4. Bogota, Colombia
  5. London, UK

The second measure looked at the proportion of people living within a kilometre of both healthcare and education. In Paris, 85% of people lived within this distance, giving it top spot, followed by Lima in Peru, London, Santiago in Chile and Bogotá.

Top five major cities by closeness to healthcare and education (within 1km)

  1. Paris, France
  2. Lima, Peru
  3. London, UK
  4. Santiago, Chile
  5. Bogota, Colombia

The average size of city blocks was the third measure, as smaller blocks make it easier for people to walk directly to their destinations without detours around large buildings. Here, Khartoum in Sudan scored highest, followed by Bogotá, Lima, Karachi in Pakistan and Tokyo in Japan.

Top five major cities by small size of city blocks

  1. Khartoum, Sudan
  2. Bogota, Colombia
  3. Lima, Peru
  4. Karachi, Pakistan
  5. Tokyo, Japan

The report includes evidence that places where walking is easier and safer have lower air pollution, less obesity, more children’s play time, fewer road deaths and better performing local businesses, as well as reduced inequality. It notes that nearly 230,000 pedestrians around the world are expected to be killed in road crashes this year.

“In order to provide safe and inviting walking conditions, it is essential to shift the balance of space in our cities away from cars,” said Heather Thompson, the head of ITDP, which is based in New York. The IDTP said the need was particularly urgent as the coronavirus pandemic was driving people away from walking and public transport and into private cars.

“Our city streets across the planet are already full of cars,” said Taylor Reich, an ITDP researcher. “If you really want to see the worst for walkability, it is the really sprawling cities of the US. They might have great sidewalks, but everything is so far apart that it’s impossible to practically walk to the grocery store or the school.”

Indianapolis was the lowest-ranked US city, with just 4% of people close to education and healthcare and 9% next to a car-free area. Reich said policymakers everywhere needed to plan dense mixes of housing, shops and businesses and equip streets with benches, wide pavements and shade.