From Sidewalks to Policy in The Cities


How Germany Is Redefining Pedestrian Prioritization

Germany has long been known for its pedestrian-friendly cities. Places like Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin have some of the highest rates of walking in the world. But that hasn’t stopped Germany from taking its pedestrian infrastructure even further.

In recent years, Germany has implemented an ambitious national pedestrian policy framework aimed at getting more people walking and making walking safer, easier, and more enjoyable. As other countries look to improve their own pedestrian infrastructure, Germany’s framework offers many valuable lessons.

Why Pedestrians Matter

Getting people out of their cars and onto their feet provides immense benefits both for individuals and communities. As you walk more, you’ll likely see improvements in your overall health and wellbeing. Walking helps prevent conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. It can also boost your mood, energy levels, and cognitive functioning.

On a wider scale, high rates of walking correlate with cleaner air, less traffic congestion, closer-knit neighborhoods, lower infrastructure costs, increased economic activity, and overall better quality of life. Most short car trips can relatively easily be replaced with walking trips, creating cascading positive effects.

Recognizing these broad benefits, countries and cities around the world have been working to improve walkability. Germany’s new national pedestrian plan takes these efforts even further.

Germany’s National Walking Plan Targets and Objectives

In 2019, Germany’s federal government passed a National Walking Plan outlining specific targets and strategies for increasing walking over the next 10 years. The plan aims to boost walking for all purposes by 30% from 2019 levels.

More specific goals include:

  • Increasing walking’s modal share for short trips under 5 km to 35%
  • Increasing walking to school by 40% for children and adolescents
  • Increasing walking by senior citizens by 25%
  • Reducing pedestrian road fatalities by 40%

To achieve these targets, Germany’s plan focuses on both improving physical infrastructure as well as public communication and education around walking.

Specific infrastructure objectives include:

  • Enhancing pedestrian accessibility and safety
  • Expanding pedestrian zones in city centers
  • Improving walking facilities like wider sidewalks and reduced road crossing distances
  • Implementing traffic calming measures like speed limits and curb extensions
  • Integrating walking needs into all aspects of transportation planning

Germany will allocate over €200 million in new federal investments to support states and municipalities in implementing these kinds of walking infrastructure improvements.

Education and Encouragement Strategies

In addition to infrastructure, Germany’s plan prioritizes communication campaigns and initiatives aimed at highlighting the benefits of walking and encouraging people to walk more in their daily lives.

Strategies include:

  • Organizing nationwide walking awareness weeks and days
  • Promoting walking through workplaces, schools, and healthcare providers
  • Implementing incentive programs to encourage walking
  • Providing walking maps, route planners, and digital tools
  • Supporting community organizations that promote walking

The plan emphasizes that communication and education efforts must complement infrastructure improvements in order to fully achieve increased walking rates.

Progress Monitoring and Evaluation

A key component of Germany’s National Walking Plan is comprehensive monitoring and evaluation.

The plan establishes concrete baseline metrics for walking rates and pedestrian fatalities/injuries using regular national travel surveys and traffic safety data. Progress towards targets will be assessed every two years.

Additionally, the plan mandates that all infrastructure projects receive performance evaluations, including before-and-after pedestrian counts and user surveys. This data collection ensures that investments are truly increasing walking rates and enhancing the pedestrian experience.

By closely tracking outputs and outcomes, Germany can pivot strategies over time while holding states and cities accountable. The country intends to update and refine the targets and approaches in its National Walking Plan every five years.

Vision Zero: Eliminating Pedestrian Fatalities

Alongside its National Walking Plan, Germany pursues an ambitious Vision Zero policy goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, with a special focus on vulnerable road users like pedestrians.

First pioneered in Sweden in the 1990s, Vision Zero rejects the notion that deaths and serious injuries are inevitable side effects of mobility. Instead, it takes a systems-based approach saying that the transportation system should be engineered to be forgiving of human error.

Germany’s pedestrian policy aligns with Vision Zero principles in several ways:

  • Setting the target of a 40% reduction in pedestrian deaths
  • Prioritizing pedestrian accessibility and safety in infrastructure design
  • Implementing extensive speed management initiatives
  • Leveraging technological solutions like pedestrian detection and emergency braking
  • Establishing safe speed limits aligned with pedestrian injury tolerances – for example, 30 km/h limits in urban areas

This comprehensive Vision Zero approach complements Germany’s walking promotion and infrastructure efforts by ensuring road safety keeps pace.

Equity Considerations

Germany aims to increase walking among all segments of the population. But the National Walking Plan particularly spotlights the mobility needs of seniors, children, low-income groups, and people with disabilities.

The plan mandates that all infrastructure improvements undergo an equity analysis to ensure they provide fair access and exposure to risk. Specific equity strategies include:

  • Prioritizing sidewalk improvements and reduced crossing distances around schools, care homes, hospitals, affordable housing, and transit hubs
  • Implementing accessibility standards like tactile walking surface indicators for vision impaired pedestrians
  • Tailoring communication campaigns and incentives towards groups walking less
  • Subsidizing public transport costs for vulnerable groups to bridge first/last mile gaps

By deliberately addressing equity, Germany helps ensure that increased walking rates provide population-wide benefits.

Stakeholder Participation and Coordination

Germany’s federated governance structure places considerable responsibility for transportation, planning, education, and public health policies at state and municipal levels. Successful national pedestrian strategies therefore require extensive multi-level collaboration.

To enable cooperation, Germany’s walking plan establishes new stakeholder participation processes including:

  • A National Walking Committee with representatives from relevant ministries and societal groups
  • State and municipal walking coordinators
  • Cross-sector working groups with planners, police, schools, and health officials
  • Public hearings, surveys, and citizen advisory boards

These measures facilitate dialogue, coordination, resource sharing, and idea exchange across governmental silos and between decision-makers and community members.

Additionally, the plan offers guidelines, playbooks, conferences, pilot programs, and “walkshops” to foster integrated approaches to promoting walking across sectors and between different levels of government.

Learnings for Other Countries and Cities

Germany’s ambitious national walking agenda offers many instructive examples for jurisdictions elsewhere looking to drive large increases in walking rates.

Useful takeaways include:

  • Establishing numerical targets for specific populations tracks progress and motivates investment
  • Emphasizing safety through both infrastructure upgrades and speed management makes walking more attractive for wider groups
  • Monitoring matters – regular evaluation of outputs and impacts holds agencies accountable
  • Focusing on equity ensures policies benefit entire communities
  • Participatory planning processes enable coordination and idea sharing across government and civil society groups
  • Dedicated walking divisions/coordinators within relevant agencies help elevate the issue
  • Allocation of funding catalyzes on-the-ground improvements

More broadly, Germany demonstrates the value of proactively developing integrated national pedestrian plans rather than leaving action purely to local jurisdictions.

There is no one-size-fits-all blueprint. But Germany’s ambitious example provides both inspiration and practical guidance to shape locally-adapted pedestrian promotion initiatives elsewhere. By learning from international peers while tailoring approaches to local contexts, governments around the world can work towards Germany’s vision of walkable, healthy, vibrant public spaces for all.

German Cities Lead the Way

Germany’s national walking agenda builds upon sustainable transport successes already emerging at the local level in places like Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Freiburg.


As Germany’s capital and largest metropolis, Berlin exemplifies global best practices in walking promotion and pedestrian infrastructure.

Since reunification, Berlin has reconfigured vast sections of the inner city to reduce car dominance. Pedestrian zoning initiatives expanded walkable areas in commercial and historic neighborhoods. Upgraded sidewalks now account for 23% total street space city-wide.

Complementing infrastructure enhancements, Berlin runs innovative communication and incentive programs like the Walking Challenger app tracking teams’ step counts, Walking Weeks promoting foot travel, and KinderLaufBogen projects encouraging walking for school trips.

These multifaceted efforts make Berlin the most walkable major German city. Almost 50% of trips occur on foot along with 251 weekly walking minutes per capita – nearly double the German average.


Munich matches Berlin as Germany’s most pedestrianized metro. Over 60% of the city center excludes private car access, transformed into expansive walking zones filled with plazas, green spaces and outdoor cafes.

Munich’s tactile paving program installed 30,000 ground surface indicators aiding vision impaired navigation across 350 intersections. Wider sidewalks now accommodate high pedestrian volumes and 10,000 new curb ramps improved accessibility.

Extensive traffic calming initiatives also boost safety and comfort. Many residential areas have 30 km/h speed limits or lower, while child safety zones enforce walking pace speeds.

Beyond infrastructure, Munich actively consults pedestrian advocacy organizations and holds a biennial conference sharing best practices with other municipalities.


As one of Europe’s largest ports, Hamburg contends with heavy freight traffic on many central city corridors. But living up to its reputation as Germany’s “gateway to the world” for visitors means ensuring high quality pedestrian access.

Hamburg continues to expand pedestrian zones around busy commercial areas and tourist attractions. Custom wayfinding signage aids navigation while sidewalk widenings, extended crossing times, curb extensions and refuge islands ease foot travel across car-centric streets.

One innovative concept is Hamburg’s network of “walking line” routes featuring wider sidewalks with special paving, ample seating and lighting for an enhanced pedestrian experience.


With a long history of green transport policies, Freiburg serves as Germany’s walkability model for small cities.

Extensive pedestrianization of medieval quarters makes sightseeing irresistible by foot. An emphasis on family friendly design means kids can walk safely to school, parks and activities.

Smart traffic signals prioritize pedestrians, while 30 km/h limits calm roads citywide. Bike lanes and trams supplement pathways for longer trips, minimizing car reliance.

Thanks to deliberate transit-oriented development, all residents live within a 300 meter walk of public transport. Such integration makes walking a cornerstone of Freiburg life.

Local Innovation Inspires National Framework

As these cities demonstrate, municipal leadership paved the way for Germany’s national walking agenda. Local infrastructure projects, safety redesigns, awareness campaigns and monitoring efforts highlighted the extensive benefits achievable through holistic walking promotion strategies.

Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Freiburg set admirable yet attainable benchmarks for enhancing walkability. Now the national government aims to scale proven grassroots interventions countrywide.

All jurisdictions have a part to play within the framework – from rural villages to booming metropolises. But the groundbreaking strides by German cities remain an invaluable wellspring of inspiration and experience to guide national efforts.

The Road Ahead: Tracking Progress and Results

Ambitious as Germany’s targets may seem, they sit firmly within demonstrated local possibilities. If anything, past local successes suggest national goals should stretch further to fully harness walking’s vast potential.

With the right strategies and investment, a 40% increase in walking trips under 5 km seems highly feasible given proper infrastructure and incentives. Many commutes, school drop-offs, errands and social outings can transition from driving to walking relatively painlessly.

Likewise, a 40% traffic fatality reduction should be attainable by scaling model urban safety redesigns: 25 mph limits, narrowed car lanes, pedestrian islands, improved night lighting, etc. Sweden achieved a 60% decline in 20 years under its Vision Zero policy using similar engineering approaches.

But only rigorous monitoring will reveal where reality meets (or misses) aspirations. Germany’s plan wisely mandates consistent before-and-after evaluation of all relevant metrics: mode shares and trip durations, injury statistics, pedestrian volumes and patronage of different facility types.

This transparent tracking will help policymakers understand which interventions successfully shift travel behavior so proven programs can expand further. The data will also reveal which groups respond most to different measures, helping target campaigns.

And if fatalities and mode splits fail to hit mandated marks, responsibility falls clearly on state officials and agencies. Performance metrics inject accountability and motivation.

Of course, the long timeframes in shifting mobility cultures means Germany’s headline 2030 targets merely represent waypoints. Sustaining progress requires persistent leadership, financing, community organizing and government oversight over generations.

Near term signs look promising on paper. But only by walking the talk over the next decade and beyond can Germany fully transition from car-centric development patterns toward becoming a world leader in livable pedestrian cities for the future.

The Time is Right to Step Up

If any country can elevate walking from an afterthought into a centerpiece of sustainable mobility, Germany boasts the right mix of ingredients to set the pace globally.

Widespread public concern over carbon emissions and road safety combine with rising demand for livable neighborhoods. National coordination channels local walkability momentum into holistic, equitably minded policy frameworks. And ample technical capacity positions German planners to pioneer state-of-the-art walking infrastructure.

Most fundamentally, German cities provide the perfect urban fabric to build upon. Compact historic cores centered around pedestrian plazas offer ideal foundations. Inherently walkable street patterns await relatively simple traffic calming measures to fulfill their potential.

For people worldwide facing car congestion, fears of climate impacts, and loss of community, Germany’s initiatives showcase timely solutions. The new national walking agenda may launch from Bavarian sidewalks, Hamburg harbor promenades and Berlin’s urban trails. But the ripple effects promise to carry far beyond.

So for policymakers and planners seeking sustainable and equitable mobility options, now is the time to walk Germany’s walk.

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