A University of Otago, Wellington study of 118 of the Capital’s street-connecting walkways found graffiti was commonly visible (51% of walkways), as was litter (58%). Litter involving glass was present on 17% of walkways. On walkways with guttering, most (89%) were overflowing in at least one place with plant debris or living plants.
Lighting was often “insufficient” at walkway entrances, with only 20% having lighting at both entrances. In addition, only 3% of walkways with steps had step edges painted to assist with visibility at night.
Lead author of the study, Associate Professor Nick Wilson, says good urban design, including street connectivity, is important to encourage walking, which in turn helps prevent chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
“These conditions account for a large share of health loss for New Zealand, and are major costs for the tax-payer funded health system,” Wilson says.
Wellington City Council “could do better” with walkway maintenance and monitoring of the state of walkways, including engaging the public to help identify improvements needed, he says.
“A public monitoring system that enables people to report issues using, for example, free mobile apps, a text or picture message, or a website to report problems, would help Councils manage and respond to issues efficiently. But even the form used in this study could be used by the public.”
Some potential improvements to walkways would be fairly low cost, Wilson says.
“Improved signage would be inexpensive, and greater use of motion-sensitive and highly-directional LED lighting would both improve lighting and reduce electricity and maintenance costs.”
He suggests central government could play a greater role in funding research on the most cost-effective approaches to walkway improvements throughout New Zealand, and could also work with councils on establishing monitoring systems that the public can easily participate in.
The study included walkways in Karori (35 walkways), Wilton (7), Wadestown (16), Northland (16), Kelburn (18), Highbury (3), Aro Valley (10), Mt Cook (8), and Newtown (5).
Findings showed that 96% of the walkways could be identified as pedestrian routes on Google Maps. A favourable feature was that over half of walkways (55%) had signage at both the start and end, although some of these signs were partly obscured by vegetation or were in less-than-obvious places. However, in street cul-de-sacs with walkways, only 12% had walkway signage at the entrance to the cul-de-sac.
Positive features included the presence of handrails by all the sets of steps on the walkway (84%). Some walkways had planted flower beds or tended shrubs on the path verge, seating, community art works, and non-slip surfaces applied to wooden steps.
However other aspects the study described as “problematic” included walkways with obscure entrances which looked like a property entrance, broken railings, loose steps, water running over the whole path due to blocked drains, obstructive vegetation that would typically force adult pedestrians to bend down, and the path width completely covered in leaves, increasing the risk of slipping.
In another analysis the study found that the amount of litter and graffiti on walkways increased with the deprivation level of the area (based on census data). Signage levels at walkway entrances were also poorer in the more deprived areas.
The study is published online in the peer-reviewed international Journal of Urban Health.
For further information or a PDF copy of the published study (a copy of which has already been forwarded to Wellington City Council) contact: