Improving walking infrastructure a good investment for Dublin’s commuters

New research led by Trinity College Dublin suggests that improving walking infrastructure and focusing on the needs of pedestrians may be the wisest investment in encouraging Dublin’s commuters to adopt an active mode of transport. Such changes would reduce harmful emissions from motor vehicles and increase well-being through physical activity.

Much of the recent emphasis in Dublin and other cities has been on improving cycling infrastructure. However, the results of this three-year Environment Protection Agency (EPA)-funded study suggest that increased investment to support walkers may lead to the most significant benefits. The work has recently been published in the Journal of Transport Policy.

Researchers examined how widening and decluttering footpaths, using low speed traffic zones and giving pedestrians more ‘green time’ at traffic lights could encourage more people to walk or cycle for commuting purposes. The researchers surveyed the preferences of commuters from the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), and used these with a large transport model to simulate the probable modal commuting changes.

The model results found that pedestrians, rather than cyclists or other transport mode users, in the GDA were most sensitive to parameter changes made in both Base 2012 (past) and forecast 2035 (predicted future) scenarios. This was particularly evident as walking experienced the largest and – in some cases the only – increase in mode share across all of the modes modelled.

As a result, pedestrian infrastructure should arguably be prioritised over cycling infrastructure initially. And, because the majority of commuters use pedestrian facilities at some point of their journey, any such investments in walking infrastructure will benefit most commuters. The results of the research show that by introducing policies to encourage walking and cycling could result in reducing daily CO2 emissions in the GDA by 10 tonnes.

Brian Caulfield, Associate Professor in Trinity’s School of Engineering, and project coordinator, said:

In Dublin almost as many people walk to work as take the bus on a daily basis. We currently have no walking policy and/or investment plan on how to improve the public realm for walking. This research demonstrates how this neglected mode of transport could increase its share with some small changes and more investment.

Increased promotion of active mode use would reduce the impact of negative externalities associated with motorised transport, namely, harmful emissions and congestion as a result of a potential 2% reduction in the mode share of private cars in the Greater Dublin Area. We need to be ambitious and projects like the College Green Plaza could help realise these results.

Assistant Professor in the School of Civil Engineering at University College Dublin, Paraic Carroll, added: “For a door-to-door journey, the majority of commutes to work or education involve a walk link of some sort. Thus, providing for the public realm by widening footpaths, reducing signal wait times at busy junctions and removing street clutter such as sandwich boards and on-street power distribution boxes are all relatively inexpensive changes that can be made to improve the level of service of pedestrians.”