Authors: Jaison Jose, Subhrajit Chowdhury, Sidharth Ganesh, Srija Gadamsetti
Gated communities create impermeable precincts by disallowing trespassing, which impacts the walkability of everyone living around the precinct. Research shows that women and children are likely to feel less safe walking besides long blank walls.
The world is seeing a massive shift in the wake of the global pandemic – from the way we work to how we socialize and move. As public transport was halted across major cities in the country, there was a noticeable uptake in non-motorized transport (such as walking or cycling). The benefits of walking and cycling are vast, be it environmental or personal (through positive correlations between active mobility and mental, physical well-being as well as the longevity of life).
However, even as the public has explored interesting ways of adapting to a new normal, there’s no denying the fact that the transit radius for most of us has been significantly reduced. Some cities have been quick to recognize these challenges and propose solutions towards addressing them. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, in March 2020, announced the vision of a 15-minute Paris, with the aim to convert Paris into a city where all public amenities would be accessible within a 15-minute travel distance.
Designing such hyper-proximate cities requires the prioritization of walkability along with a uniform density of amenities throughout the city, multimodal transport and citizen-centric design as opposed to automobile-centric design. But where do Indian cities stand as far as pedestrian accessibility is concerned? This article evaluates the current state of walkability in Bengaluru to understand the complexities surrounding it.
Walkability is a measure of the extent to which the built environment of an area is friendly for pedestrians. Walkable areas provide quick access to various amenities, while also providing a comfortable and safe space to walk. Walkability can be categorized as a function of pedestrian accessibility and human comfort. While human comfort relates to the availability of shade, infrastructure and other aspects that make walking enjoyable and safe, pedestrian accessibility refers to the street network that allows for short walkable routes in an area.
Walkability, by virtue of its subjective nature, is difficult to measure, whereas pedestrian accessibility is a more quantitative score. Pedestrian accessibility can be defined as the distance a resident will have to walk for his/ her daily requirements, such as grocery stores, banks, restaurants and most importantly, public transit. By measuring pedestrian accessibility in various areas of Bengaluru, we can understand how the city’s design lends itself to the concept of a walkable city, and a ‘15-minute city’.
We break-down pedestrian accessibility into three factors – (1) the permeability of the area, reflecting the density of the street network (2) the availability of amenities catering to diverse requirements as seen in the diversity of land-uses in the area and (3) the accessibility to public transit hubs, i.e. proximity to bus stop and metro stations.
To determine the pedestrian accessibility of Bengaluru, we have utilized data from Open Street Maps (OSM). We were able to obtain data on over 6,000 amenities in Bengaluru, such as healthcare (hospitals, pharmacies), leisure (restaurants, bars), and necessities (schools, office spaces, markets). Data on bus-stops in Bengaluru was obtained from the World Resources Institute. We then utilized a python-based open-source library called ‘Pandanas’ to measure the accessibility scores of different areas and visualized it using ‘Kepler’, an open-source spatial visualization tool by Uber.
Our analysis of the pedestrian accessibility of Bangalore suggests that the median walking distance to daily amenities in Bengaluru varies from 250 m to 2,750 m. This translates to a 4 min – 40 min walk and places a large portion of the city outside of a “15-minute” walk criterion, particularly when we factor in difficult walking environments .
Our analysis indicates that large private residential gated communities, both villas and apartments, have very low accessibility scores; these communities are 1.5 – 2 times less walkable than a non-gated neighbourhood in an area of equal affluence. We observe that while gated communities may have comfortable environments for walking within their boundaries, they are located in car-dependent areas with low accessibility scores.
Moreover, gated communities create impermeable precincts by disallowing trespassing, which impacts the walkability of everyone living around the precinct, by requiring them to go around the long walls that form the perimeter of the residential block. Research has shown that women and children are likely to feel less safe walking besides long blank walls – with people walking only 200 metres along a blank facade.  Commercial business parks create the same kind of distortions innaccessibility and sense of safety, like that of gated communities.
Commerce and store-fronts improve walkability by providing human surveillance, creating an increased sense of safety. Shoppers are willing to walk three times as far along lively streets lined with small shops than they would through large parking lots. Similarly, neighbourhoods which are far from public transit hubs, encourage use of automobiles unless they are situated in a mixed land-use area.
There is also an economic case for opening up large residential and commercial properties, especially to connect streets on either side of the property. The foot-traffic will cause an increase in commercial viability for amenities, allowing for free markets to provide higher land value to the developer. Such a move will also likely improve the diversity in amenities, further improving pedestrian accessibility.
The low pedestrian accessibility scores in gated communities suggest a correlation between affluence and pedestrian-inaccessible urban form, which has wider implications for citizen lifestyle. In India, people from low-income communities are more likely to walk. Studies also confirm that residents of high-income communities have higher BMIs and more sedentary lifestyles despite participating in physical activities for leisure. People living in walkable neighbourhoods walk 50-70 minutes more per week than their counterparts in car-dependent neighbourhoods.
In addition to hindering walkability, gated communities also impact citizens by fostering societal divisions through spatial societal fragmentation.
As Bengaluru transformed from the ‘Garden City’ to the ‘Silicon Valley of India’, so did its urban landscape. To make it the walkable and accessible city that a small but significant population still fondly remembers, there is a need to take a closer look at the urban forms that are increasingly characterizing Bengaluru’s landscape. The right incentives and penalties should be put in place to offset the distortions imposed by gated communities and tech parks. Developers should adhere to guidelines and norms, and provide adequate compensation for their impact on the city’s accessibility. A best practice that we could refer to in this context is the precinct-specific planning briefs that developers are requested to adhere to in Singapore.
Traffic Impact Assessments should also include higher weightages for pedestrian accessibility. By setting limits on parking, several cities force the developer to work along with the Government to ensure the availability of public transit. NMT policies, such as the one implemented by Chennai, mandate that for every 100 m of street frontage, the average number of shop and building entrances should be at least five.
Finally, to improve overall walkability, the idea of human comfort also needs an overhaul. Research in Delhi found that women were less likely to use underpasses, while seniors were less able to walk on an overpass, highlighting the need for safe and accessible pedestrian infrastructure. Effective wayfinding tools are important because they help residents feel a sense of agency in navigating their surroundings. When people, and especially women, struggle with wayfinding, they feel anxious and unsafe.
Through the right tools for the government, nudges for developers and awareness for citizens, moving towards a ‘15-minute’ Bengaluru could as well be a walk in the park!
The authors are Mobility Champions for the #BengaluruMoving campaign with Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). The #BengaluruMoving campaign aims to help reduce vehicular emissions and congestion in Bengaluru. The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own.
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