Sandy James – key organizer of the Walk21 conference in Vancouver in 2011 – is attending the current conference in Sydney Australia.  Here’s her report:

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Keynotes
Paul Tranter’s talk was on the “hurry virus.”  He presented a compelling argument for walking to be considered in the same vein as the slow food movement, as a measurement of scale and of activity.
Daniel Sauter from Switzerland was back with the metrics he is reviewing in establishing the best way to measure and survey walking.
Adrian Baumann described how 150 minutes a week of walking can cure human and city ills. While some populations like China do a lot of walking, the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that pedometers do assist people in understanding how many steps are in 10,000 steps, the level they should be accomplishing daily, and how to figure out that distance. Things like light rail transport and  grouping retail and businesses around transit centres encourage people to walk more.
Peter Newman also presented, showing the lessening of the use of the car in Australia and in North America, and strengthening the argument for a stronger form of higher density. Dr. Newman favoured the highrise as the urban form.
The best presentation for me and the one that gave me the “aha” moment was by Dr. Ben Rossiter from Victoria, Australia.  Dr. Rossiter was looking at how to increase and enhance  seniors’ walking. In interviewing over 1,000 seniors and examining over 300 city walking/biking plans, he found that seniors are tremendously marginalized.
Seniors want separated walking and biking facilities. With older seniors, a fall on the street equates statistically  to death within six months. Dr. Rossiter also noted that most transportation plans do NOT separate walking and biking, and instead lump the two uses together. Seniors who are older use walking for their groceries and for their business purposes, and walking is their prime way of transport.

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Observations on Sydney

The State of New South Wales has control of the road speeds and design in the City of Sydney. Road speeds are fast. Speeds are posted at 50 kmh, but are normally higher. George Street, the high street now has a limit of 40 kmh after an appalling record this year of over 12 people being killed by cars in the central business area. However, there is no enforcement of car speeds, and the car is king. Parking is stripped off George Street and cars come right up to the curb(the curb bib is flush with the street)  in rushing down the street. The pedestrians are also penalized by very short walk signals, which actually add double the time to their walking journey.

Sydney is a sprawling place that is approaching six million people. There is no greenbelt and developers have built with little regard for anything accept their own building siting. There is a new area on the waterfront called Barangaroo which is under control of the State government.  The proposed development is marked by two exceedingly high towers, with little urban fabric or thoughtfulness on the ground level. Jan Gehl was originally the planner on the project, but resigned in frustration when the State made it clear it was not going to accept a modified design.

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Takeaway

The big message was the importance of fostering pedestrian advocacy, and involving seniors, with their experience and  their needs for  walking as transport in the equation.

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There is no clearing house for information on walkability in Canada. A place where references and resources can be found in one place is needed, as well as contacts for information on best practices.

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Next Conference
The 2015 conference will be in Vienna, with the 2016 being in the Middle East. The 2017 conference will be in Calgary, with Dr. Peter Sargious, a member of the 2011 conference steering committee, chairing.

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