The "walkmobile" approach to understanding transport

The “walkmobile” was invented by Hermann Knoflacher, Professor at the Institute of Transportation at Vienna University of Technology. It is a simple frame made of wood and has the size of a car. A belt makes it easy to walk around with this frame. The idea of the “walkmobile” is to show how much space a car needs and how much city space we are willing to cut from public space and give it away to the group of car drivers. This results in streets where the whole width is reserved for cars and motorbikes, leaving almost no space to pedestrians - as seen on many streets in Pune. If all the pedestrians would walk around with a “walkmobile” occupying the same space as a car, our footpaths will be very fast as congested as streets are today.


Picture Courtesy: Institut für Verkehrsplanung und Verkehrstechnik, TU Wien

This clearly demonstrates that a car oriented traffic policy will lead to nothing but a collapse of mobility in the city. There have been many visualization projects on space consumption of different traffic participants, like pedestrians, cyclists, bus users and car drivers. The result was everywhere the same: non-motorized traffic and public traffic manages with much less space than individual motorized traffic. If traffic policy continues to concentrate mainly on car drivers, we would essentially lose the space for living and the city would only consist of streets and parking places to satisfy the needs of car drivers. To create a city with good living quality traffic policy has to focus on human beings and not vehicles.

Compared to European countries, the car ownership per thousand people in India is quite low. But the number is expected to grow very fast. Cheap cars are being introduced to get the drivers of two-wheelers to shift to cars (e.g., the Tata Nano). So, it is clear that this can only lead to congestion. But how many flyovers will have to be built over flyovers until it becomes obvious to our city planners that this only worsens the problem?

Instead of making the same mistakes as the West in the last century - a century of the automobile - decision makers in India should look for a sustainable answer. That is how India will leapfrog the west - not by following them but by learning from their mistakes. Today’s traffic policy should find solutions how to avoid the growth of traffic. Before people rethink their use of motorbikes and cars, they need a true alternative. A good working, affordable, clean, safe, reliable and well and maintained broad network of public transport as well as pedestrian zones, parking fares, bicycle lanes and pavements have helped many other cities to solve their traffic problems.

It is as Prof. Knoflacher points out with his “walkmobile”: the cities we are living in should be made for humans not for cars. The space in cities is precious, that is a fact of urbanization. We must not give away this precious space to vehicles but convert it to places with a high amenity value.

Robert Obenaus