Period Sept 2016 - April 2017
Client City of Amsterdam – Transport and Public Space department - Verkeer en Openbareruimte [V&OR]
Presented at Joint International Conference ISOCARP-OAPA on “Smart communities”. Portland, USA (October, 2017) by Julia Ubeda
Making cities more walkable has been an arising challenge for many cities. In most of the cases in Amsterdam, it is not a matter of promoting walking, given that 30% of the people walk in the city as their first mean of transport, it is a matter of improving the walking experience of the different users.
This project aimed to investigate the “walkability” concept and adapt it to Amsterdam. The ultimate goal is to visualize on a map the walkability current state in the city to be able to make decisions based on it.
Therefore, the strong focus of this project is placed on designing and testing an adequate methodology that allowed to achieve that goal.
The walkability concept is a complex phenomenon better represented as a function of multiple inputs or variables. The developed methodology is based on calculating walkability indices. The indices’ values are then categorized and visualized in different maps using geographical information Systems (GIS). The resulting maps show a walkability index which is the contraposition of:
1. the available space
2. an estimation of the level of use per sidewalk
The method was presented and discussed with several parties within the City of Amsterdam and, after minor adjustments, it was ready to be scaled-up to the rest city. You can read more about the scaling-up of this project here.
This study would support the first Amsterdam's pedestrian policy (Kader Voetganger), launched in May 2016 and it would help to make more concrete the maps of the "Hoofdnetten en Verkeernetten" (city's traffic networks).
The exploratory phase of this project consisted on:
conducting open interviews with members of the “Pedestrian Knowledge Circle” [kenniskring voetganger];
gathering available (spatial) datasets to be linked to the walking concept;
carrying out extensive research in order to:
find the adequate methods and tools to be applied;
define the walkability concept and adapt it to the city of Amsterdam;
To achieve the last target, an inventory comprising several resources is built:
walkability studies from other cities around the world;
GIS-based walkability studies ;
current Amsterdam policies, guidelines and previous pedestrian studies;
The main conclusions from this exploratory-phase were used to design the methodology and plan of action of this project.
A pilot area is selected to test the method. This specific area is chosen because it attracts different pedestrian profiles; leisurers, inhabitants, workers and tourists. Each user type has different motives to use the public space; Weesperplein is a working area in which sidewalks are mainly used to going to work and transportation trips. De Pijp represents the recreational and residential local area with a higher household density and Museumkwartier is one of the main touristic areas Amsterdam. Therefore, several street profiles are represented in the study area such as:
2. visiting or touristic street;
3. residential street;
4. working street;
5. recreational street.
• perceived crowdedness
• likeable and dislikable walking experiences
Sketching sessions accompanied by semi-structured interviews were organised to validate the GIS-model and to address the subjective aspect involved in the walking experience.
Methodology & data
According to the findings of this research, the walkability in Amsterdam is defined as the comfort to walk along the sidewalks. Comfort is determined by the ease to walk, and therefore, by the available space. The unit of analysis is the sidewalk. The walkability indices are calculated contrasting the available walking space on a sidewalk with the estimated level of use of that sidewalk.
Different variables are used to calculate the available walking space such as sidewalk width or number of parked bikes.
What is the level of use of a sidewalk? It is a calculation to estimate how busy a sidewalk will get based on several variables that are used as proxies or indicators. Some of these variables are: number of students, number of workers, number of inhabitants, number of different non-residential land-uses (sport halls, churches, schools, restaurants, hotels, offices, parks...), SpaceSyntax network analyses (centrality and betweenness) and network analyses from the metro stations to some working locations.
• available space
• estimation of the level of use
These mentioned datasets can be combined differently to get different types of level of use:
For instance, combining the number of workers + number of offices + main routes from the metro stations will provide an overview of the “laboral level of use”.
Making this differentiation is very useful because we can set different "using" time slots per sidewalk depending on the type of use; the sidewalks with a high level of laboral use will be probably more transited during the morning and afternoon peaks, when people go to and out their jobs, whereas streets with a high level of recreational use will be probably busier while the shops and cafes are open.
• estimated levels of use (from left to right): general, laboral, recreational and tourist:
How should the walkability index be interpreted? A low score means less experienced comfort when walking, denoting that the space in that sidewalk is limited. The space limitation can be:
1. due to a limited physical space (narrow sidewalks, many obstacles...);
2. due to a high level of use (busy and crowded sidewalks) if the available space is insufficient.
The maps help policy makers in establishing priorities by targeting specific streets first, such as the streets around train and metro stations or the "Stadsstraten".
Last but not least,The resulting walkability maps are being used as a diagnosis tool of the current situation; they highlight potential conflicting sidewalks and point out the reason why they might be conflicting: is the physical space not enough? or are there many people wanting to make use of that space?
The maps provide hints about which interventions might improve the current situation; for example, would it be more adequate to apply physical interventions, such as re-organising the bicycle parking facilities and terraces or would it be more suitable to experiment with rule-related interventions such as proposing different opening and closing times in shopping streets?