Future Cities Lab explores Singapore's 'walkability' with smart map

The Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) – a research centre set up by ETH Zurich and the National Research Foundation in Singapore focusing on sustainable future cities – has used advanced location-based analytics technology to assess how walkable Singapore is today and evaluate strategies to improve walkability in the future.

“Most people refer to walkability as how far you can go and what can be reached within a 5 or 10 minute walk – however walkability is not only about the distance to daily amenities,” Michael van Eggermond, a PhD researcher at FCL said.

“The quality of the urban environment has a tremendous impact on how people perceive walking and directly influences people’s decision on whether to go on foot or take a car or other means of transport.

“In this collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, we wanted to determine what people value when walking in Singapore’s dense city centre and tropical climate, to enable planners to better plan for walkability,” he said.

The Engaging Mobility team of FCL combined detailed information on the pedestrian environment with observations of actual behaviour and dedicated surveys to find out what affects people’s behaviour in relation to walking and how it is affected.

Using a mobile GIS survey platform called Esri Collector, the FCL team was able to collect data and integrate it onto their central database in order to create compelling visualisations of pedestrian networks. This enabled them to arrive at well-informed recommendations for policy makers.

“Some of the variables we looked at included infrastructures such as pedestrian networks, quality of sidewalks, shade availability, presence of obstructions, and quality of surface among others,” Mr van Eggermond said.

“In addition, we also looked at things that are harder to measure such as the extent to which physical elements match the size and proportions of pedestrian and corresponds to the speed of humans walk,”

Based on these findings, a Walkability Index was created to measure how useful, comfortable and interesting it is to walk through certain areas. The walkability index was implemented as a newly developed tool for ArcMap and called the ‘Pedestrian Accessibility Tool’.

“At the end of the study, we determined if people’s perception of distance is affected if they are exposed to interesting sights while walking. In addition, other variables such as the width of sidewalk, presence of shade, lighting, and presence of shops among others also contribute to a city’s walkability,” Mr van Eggermond said.

Apart from measuring walkability, FCL also examined how infrastructure for cyclist in urban cities such as Singapore is perceived.

FCL mobility researcher Tanvi Maheshwari also used Esri City Engine, an advanced 3D city design application for creating, editing and sharing digital 3D building models to effectively model Singapore’s streets. This allows her to analyse the demand for cycling infrastructure and identify variables—such as safety and comfort of cycling—that would make people prefer cycling more.

Esri Singapore CEO Thomas Pramotedham said, location-based analytics equips organisations with the unique capability to seamlessly integrate and analyse data from multiple business systems to create a dynamic map-based view of information.

“This allows research centres such as FCL to better examine sample data, run simulations, create customised interpolation models, and generate unique insights that support more informed decision making.”

“FCL’s use of location-based analytics demonstrates how taking advantage of innovative technologies contribute towards more well-designed and community-centric towns for residents. It provides planners with a more holistic view of factors that make cities safer, healthier for its citizens, and a great place to live, work and play,” Mr Pramotedham said.

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