Walkable, liveable Aarhus

On10 March 2021, Aarhus City Council approved the city’s first Pedestrian Strategy, building on 2019’s Working Programme on Accessibility. Simon Wind and Gustav Friis ponder how to balance the walkability strategy between the past, present, and future

Walking with us in Aarhus, ©  City of Aarhus

We are all pedestrians - and, as pedestrians, we move in the city in different ways, depending on who we are, what we are doing and when we are doing it. For mobility planners, it is thus essential to provide the conditions for a more liveable and walkable city – one that, indeed, caters to pedestrians.

In a municipality, planning practices are frequently built on engineering and focus on how efficiently the flow of traffic can be optimised so that road users can get from A to B as quick as possible. Pedestrians, however, rate mobility with other parameters, too, and are not necessarily – nor exclusively – looking for an efficient mobility system.

For this reason, a more holistic approach is needed.

A well-rounded Strategy

The Pedestrian Strategy of Aarhus consists of 23 actions within 4 areas of interest that should be incorporated in (any) city management and planning, ©  City of Aarhus

The newly adopted Pedestrian Strategy for Aarhus is focusing on four main areas that need to be addressed to accommodate pedestrian mobility and to ensure attractive conditions for pedestrians – accessibility, viability, safety and security, and rest and experiences. According to the Strategy, pedestrians must be able to reach their destination as seamlessly as possible. This requires both accessibility and viability of routes, thus increasing the inclusion targets within pedestrian spaces and minimising road obstacles and barriers (people with mobility impairments must be able to access them, too!). In addition, pedestrians are possibly the most well-known category of vulnerable road users. Thereby, the Strategy highlights how increased walkability calls for increased safety and security, too. For this purpose, improving and maintaining the urban infrastructure, making sure that lighting is sufficient and wayfinding is easy to understand, and considering the different perception of and reaction to road danger and crimes by gender and age, seem all imperative steps towards the right direction. Furthermore, the Strategy takes into consideration how pedestrians live the urban environment in a slower, more personal way than other road users. As speed decreases, all their senses are exposed and need to be considered to ensure a pleasant, attractive and why not, invigorating experience.

The Strategy takes into consideration how pedestrians live the urban environment in a slower, more personal way than other road users

A walk along the port in Aarhus, looking towards the city. At the right is Bestseller's HQ, © Steffen Muldbjerg

An ageing population – a fitting mobility solution

Besides that, there is nothing more personal than moving through space with one’s body – as walking is considered by many as the quintessential active and healthy transport mode, it is vital to ensure everyone who is able, especially those who live sedentary lives, as well as all those who have mobility disabilities, to access safe and inclusive pedestrian spaces – and, consequently, an healthier lifestyle.

On the road to implementation, there is a need for structure

The implementation of actions concerning pedestrians in Aarhus is organised as a small working programme, led by a Programme Committee and a Coordination Group. The Pedestrian Strategy has been approved by the City Council based on the city’s Health Policy and its Strategy for Physical Planning and will follow the City Compass – the political vision for how the city should evolve on management and welfare in the future – that is being developed over the next months.

Programming pedestrians, © City of Aarhus

The Programme Committee consist of municipal managers from both the health sector and the urban development sector, whereas the Coordination Group consists of employees from the city’s mobility and health departments. The task forces are led by project managers, mainly from the departments of mobility, construction, and maintenance, who are however obliged to involve the health department in the implementation of the action when needed.

Walking is the glue that sticks it all together

No matter what mode of transport it is used, walking always seems to be a part of everyone’s day-to-day mobility. Whether it is commuting to work or taking the bus to run errands, people walk the first and last mile – even when multiple modes are combined, road users are bound to walk at the interchange. There is no way to shy away from that, and Aarhus just gets it.

Something fun: this pedestrian crossing in Aarhus has vikings on the lights, © Razvan Mirel

people walk the first and last mile – even when multiple modes are combined, road users are bound to walk at the interchange. There is no way to shy away from that and Aarhus just gets it

Instead of avoiding the challenge, the city sees promoting and creating better conditions for walkability as an opportunity to foster the gradual transformation of the current car-based system into a multi-modal one.

A step further with good information, © City of Aarhus

Where to go - It must be easy to find your way around the city, © City of Aarhus

Surely, improving walkability can be quite challenging. Strong leadership is needed to pave the way for the Strategy, but the potential end result is far too good to scare the municipality away. The walkability agenda is directly linked to multiple political, environmental and economic goals in Aarhus, such as CO2 neutrality by 2030 and the 30-minute city model for public transport and cars: this means that focusing on it creates a more favourable political climate to fund and promote other advantageous initiatives for citizens in the future, and not only a more liveable city at present times.

Taking all into account, Aarhus’s overarching walkability strategy serves as the glue between the past, present and future of urban mobility and life in the city. It is a strong bond to hold, but Aarhus’s grip is solid.

Aarhus as a POLIS Member

Gustav Friis and Simon Wind are Mobility Planners at the City of Aarhus. Contact them: guf@aarhus.dk and siwi@aarhus.dk

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