Urban Mobility: walking the next big thing?

By January 18, 2016
Des piétons en centre-ville.

The Walc app is designed to help pedestrians find their way around town. The NYC-based company behind it is also campaigning for the development of more convenient street infrastructure to make it easier for people to get around on foot in the city of tomorrow.

Carpooling, sharing electric ‘Scoot’ vehicles, bicycles, self-driving taxis, public transport services – plus the navigation apps that enable residents and visitors to connect up one mode of transport with another – are all likely components of future urban mobility. And all are based on the same premise: private cars are not going to be a sustainable means of getting around for the eight billion people that will soon be living on our planet. But among this vast array of means of transport – some quite innovative, others less so – we often tend to forget one method of locomotion that has always been with us and is still indispensable today – walking. However many transport options there are available to urban residents, you will still need to walk a little at the very least in order to get from one to another on the way to your destination. There are navigation apps specifically designed for car drivers and public transport users, so why not create one for those travelling by Shanks’s pony? This is the challenge that New York City startup Walc has taken on. What is unique about Walc is that it gives users ground-level directions referring to what they can see around them. So, instead of telling the user to “proceed in a southerly direction for three blocks before turning diagonally to the east”, the app will for instance direct the user to “turn right after Starbucks”. Explains Walc founder and CEO Allison McGuire: ‟The Walc navigation app gives you directions based on what you actually see.”

Making urban pathfinding more intuitive

Behind this new approach to street navigation is the desire to assist those whose sense of direction leaves something to be desired, by making directions more intuitive, so that users can find their way easily without having to fix their eyes on their screen to ensure they are going in the right direction. Walc also recently came out with a ‘Pocket Mode’ version, which provides users with verbal instructions, so they can find the way without having to take the phone out of their pocket. The app, which is available for iOS and Android, works right across the United States. In order to generate revenue, Allison McGuire and her team are now planning inter alia to offer shops and other local businesses a geolocation-based advertising service. The idea is that retailers could use the app to send advertising in a much less intrusive, contextualised manner to people passing by their stores.


Encouraging people to walk

As part of its drive to help pedestrians get around, Walc’s creators are planning to urge municipal authorities to support this initiative by developing infrastructure that will make it physically easier to walk around the city. ‟Our transport infrastructure is already overloaded. In Los Angeles, my home town, everyone takes their car and you get to the stage where you just can’t make the roads any wider,” underlines Allison McGuire,” arguing: “Cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta should be making an effort to become more pedestrian-friendly. With Walc, we want to encourage healthy habits, ease urban traffic congestion and help to protect the environment.” The Walc CEO cites initiatives such as the fast walking lines being pioneered by Liverpool in the UK. By providing City Hall with data on the paths pedestrians commonly take, the app can potentially help the local authorities to make the streets more convenient for pedestrian use. 


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