In recent years, COWI has contributed to work involving a walking strategy in Oslo. As a part of this undertaking, COWI developed an analytical method that can encompass an entire city. Based on this, a ‘walkability score’ can be calculated and used to identify problems and areas of investment for more detailed studies.
Ultimately, it is about developing more sustainable cities that people want to spend time in. It is similar in this regard to public transportation planning, where infrastructure also comes into the picture as a lever for social development, such as by creating tramway stations in certain areas. Rasmus Guldborg says:
“In fact, we know that good public transportation planning plays a role when it comes to transforming a somewhat gloomy area into a more accessible and popular place. In Copenhagen, we have seen this in Ydre Nørrebro and in Sydhavnen. The same applies for Odense Tramway, which stops in the vulnerable neighbourhood of Vollsmose. Establishment of good walking routes to stations and stops can serve as the finishing touch.”
One of the challenges of the research project is that walking is a relatively diffuse form of transportation. No two people walk in exactly the same way, at the same pace or in the same pattern. We have different purposes for moving through urban space. Is it purely transport, or could someone be there for a particular experience or because of a specific need? And to what extent is there a difference in walking as a means of transport in various cities?
‘In that sense it is much more difficult to predict and control than motor vehicle traffic, for example. But we also know that urban design can actually affect whether people have a positive experience and directly influence more people to walk to and from work and school as a part of their routine,’ continues Guldborg.
‘That’s precisely why we have put such a high level of focus on how behaviour-regulating design can affect experience. For example, over-density of tourists in Nyhavn is an increasing problem that Copenhagen residents have started to complain about. Minor concrete adjustments can potentially be made here, such as placing benches in a specific location or in a specific manner. Or by dividing the street and providing information in a manner that more effectively guides tourists towards behaviour that locals find less bothersome.’
Preliminary data in Copenhagen has been gathered on Istedgade and at its intersection with Enghave Plads. This area was selected because Istedgade is situated in central Copenhagen and is heavily trafficked by cars, bicycles and pedestrians who are both visitors and locals going to the street’s many shops and cafes, among other things.
There is also local bicycle and foot traffic to schools and childcare centres in this district. Finally, Enghave Plads offers the possibility to stop and rest, and it has a relatively new metro station. Copenhagen Municipality has worked on improvements to Istedgade and hopes to continue this work and to find out how the accessibility works for the new metro station.
In the summer of 2020, an extensive series of qualitative street interviews were conducted, along with experiments involving various types of observation, photos and video recordings. These are, among other things, quantitatively processed through “Data from Sky”. One observation is that cyclists move at walking speed on Enghave Plads, but at a normal bicycle speed on the dedicated bicycle paths at the edge of the square.
There are extensive assumptions and knowledge behind the development of urban design, but there is still a need for more knowledge on the concrete effects of different local solutions and what characterises walking as a form of mobility. The project will help meet this need. The project uses a detailed interdisciplinary analysis method with collection and use of both quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate new design solutions. Patterns of movement and behaviour are recorded using smart video recordings and other tools.
Combined with qualitative data collection and ongoing interaction with pedestrians, a Street Living Lab is established, with new knowledge of the various design solutions that are predominantly based on empirical data. For each new city and each new case, the empirical evidence becomes stronger and can support a completely new method to analyse and identify solutions that can make our cities more walker-friendly.
Walking is analysed through an interdisciplinary approach, where both synergistic quantitative and qualitative methods are used. The first analyses were carried out in Copenhagen employing the interdisciplinary approach. The exciting interdisciplinary results include knowledge on the interaction between pedestrians and cyclists on Enghave Plads. The qualitative observations showed no signs of conflicts, and none of those interviewed expressed having experienced any insecurity or other problems with cyclists crossing the square. This is despite the fact that video recordings showed a considerable number of them. Smart video processing showed a probable cause: namely that cyclists on the square moved at a pedestrian pace or rode slowly, while those in the bicycle lane at the edge of the square rode at a normal bicycling speed.
The project adopts a ‘Street Living Lab’ approach, which it continuously builds on from city to city. The term encompasses a method that actively involves local actors and users of the street, tests prototype solutions and evaluates the results. The objective is to develop a platform for analysis, testing and evaluation that can also be used in other city areas. The platform can be both a physical workstation and digital solutions with analytical tools and results. The hope is that this platform can then also be used to share experience and thereby boost its relevance.