Citizens First: Making the City Walkable

With its population density standing at 16,318 people per square kilometer, second highest in the nation after Seoul, Bucheon City is pushing for pedestrian-centric policies, shifting a transport paradigm, in response to problems arising from overpopulation and automobile-based transport system. As a result of the City’s effort to implement sustainable transportation policies that facilitate low-carbon climate actions and make the city pedestrian friendly, the number of pedestrians and use of bicycles have increased, while automobile use has gone down. Traffic jams and accidents also decreased, and there were other positive effects apart from traffic, including improvement of air quality through fine-dust reduction. The reputable Sustainable Transport Award 2019 gave Bucheon a special recognition of Honorable Mention for its innovative policies and achievements. Putting citizens at the center of its policy, Bucheon City’s effort to “make the city walkable” is setting an example to many cities that face similar problems in the process of fast industrialization.

Policy background

Bucheon, one of the major satellite cities of Seoul, is not only an industrial city but also a city of culture hosting world-class international film and comics festivals and operating a reputed city orchestra. With rapid urbanization from the 1970s and development of new cities to provide residential spaces for metropolitan population in the 1990s, the inflow of population into Bucheon soared, making Bucheon the hub of traffic and an industrial base. In the 1970s, Bucheon deployed automobile-centric transport policies just like other cities did at that time. Existing roads were expanded and new roads were constructed to accommodate rapidly increasing traffic volumes, and even the Simgok Stream that runs across the heart of the city was covered with concrete to build roads. Pedestrian sidewalks, however, were too narrow to walk along, adding insecurity to the vulnerable such as children and the elderly. The automobile- and road-oriented transport policies resulted in severe traffic jams and air pollutions, depriving the citizens of their public spaces including green places for rest.

In recognition of these problems, the Bucheon City Government has pushed for pedestrian-centric transport policies to ensure sustainable growth of the city and higher quality of life for its citizens. Envisioning a “walkable city” as its supreme policy goal, Bucheon City focused its policy on green transport, stressing the mobility of pedestrians and bicycles, and on greater accessibility to public transportation. The pedestrian-centric transport policy has the following key features. First, it is a policy shifting the transport paradigm in favor of the citizens, or the demand side, not supply side. Second, instead of concentrating on constructing infrastructure such as sidewalks, the City focused on creating pleasant, environmentally friendly pedestrian spaces. Third, a comprehensive transport policy was established by effectively and seamlessly combining public transport and pedestrian policies. Last, a public transport system was improved for comfortable and safe use by citizens and its service quality was enhanced. 


Creating a walkable environment


“A walkable city” is not merely ensured by the expansion of pedestrian sidewalks. Pedestrian pathways must be appealing and charming enough to attract citizens for their choice of walk. The Bucheon City Government designed spaces for its citizens to walk along. In particular, pedestrian walkways were designed to access 188 libraries, culturally important places for citizens. Furthermore, mini libraries and resting spots were created along the trails for walk so the citizens can avoid heat and rain and enjoy their walk through books. A particular attention was paid, while the walkways were expanded and constructed, to linkage with other transport modes such as public bicycles, buses, and subways and to the creation of a safe and comfortable walking environment by minimizing obstructions to passage of pedestrians. Such an effort to improve walkability contributed to a significant rise in the number of pedestrians. According to surveys conducted by nine city libraries and twenty one small public libraries, of the total 4,428,012 library users in 2017, close to 90% accessed the libraries on foot.

Apart from building walkable pedestrian pathways, the City increased green spaces which had been in short supply and connected waterways to grow eco-friendly green networks and provide pleasant environment, improving the quality of life of the citizens. Bucheon City shared the process of creating such green networks, and empowered its citizens to join in the creation of trail gardens through their donation of talents and volunteer services. Beginning with the restoration of the Simgok Stream in 2017, 40km-long waterways were created to organically link major streams. Such efforts and other various green projects helped to increase green park space per person from 4.48㎡ in 2012 to 5.53㎡ in 2017.


Bicycle-friendly environment and programs for safe use of bicycle

The Bucheon City Government constructed infrastructure and developed various programs to increase the use of bicycles by citizens. First of all, 200km-long bicycle roads were created that pass through major attractions in the city. In addition, “Bike Stations” were installed at subway stations, where shared bicycles are lent for free and repaired. Citizens thereby are able to reach subway stations riding a bicycle, leave the bicycle at the Bike Station, take a subway, get off subway, and borrow a bicycle to reach their final destination, a seamless system of transport combining bicycles and public transportations. Unlike other cities that provide non-face-to-face services via mobile applications, Bucheon’s shared bicycle centers are staffed by people, facilitating humanizing communications and fostering social values among community members. In the autumn each year, Bucheon holds “Bicycle Festival” to propagate bicycling culture and safeguard the environment.

These efforts led to the increase of Bucheon’s bicycle users by 11 percentage points from 2.1% of the total city population in 2010 to 13.1% in 2017. Adoption of bicycle insurance for all citizens including foreigners in February 2018, in particular, appears to have significantly increased bicycle user population while decreasing bicycle-related traffic accidents. While bicycle-related traffic accidents showed a trend of annual increase by 5.19% with 31.17 cases per day in 2017, only one case was recorded in March and April 2018. According to a survey on bicycle insurance, respondents displayed a higher level of awareness than before on the environmental friendliness of bicycle as a transportation and assurance that it is safe to ride. The bicycle policy of the Bucheon City Government was commended with Presidential Citation for local authorities, and over 230,000 Bucheon citizens, 26% of the city population, are currently using bicycles.


Improved public transport system and enhanced connectivity

The Bucheon City Government is striving to reduce carbon emissions and traffic disarrays by increasing the utilization rate of public transportations such as subway and bus. The convergent platform of subway, bus, and taxi stations enables the public to use public transportation safely and quickly while improving pedestrian environment at the same time, sharply raising the satisfaction level of citizens. For example, the transfer center of Songnae Station is the nation’s first transfer facility where the subway, bus and taxi are inter-transferrable in the same place. The convergence of various public transport modes has enhanced the mobility and convenience of citizens.

Subway stations are the face and gateway of the city, where the largest crowds gather daily in the city. Spaces in front of major subway stations in Bucheon had been unable to service as public plazas due to disorderly, dense traffic. As such, the Bucheon City Government realigned the disorderly traffic system in the vicinity of the stations and revamped transportation systems to restore the original function of the plaza by giving people a top priority. Bucheon Station Maru Plaza, Songnae Station Rainbow Plaza, and Yeokgok Station Dahaeng Plaza, renovated as spaces for citizens, not only offer the means of public transportation but also serve as plazas for the community. Installation of rest spots and outdoor stages brings people together with daily cultural performances in the city of culture, transforming the disorganized places into the spaces of pleasantness and rest for the citizens.


Fruits of human-oriented eco-transport policies

Thanks to the human-oriented eco-transport policies of Bucheon, it was reported that the use of public transportations, such as subways and buses, and the number of pedestrians and bicycle users increased while the use of passenger cars decreased. The passenger-car utilization rate in 2017 fell by 3.2% from a year earlier, whereas walking and bicycling increased by 14.93% during the same period. Traffic jams and traffic accidents declined, and average air quality also improved, proving that the shift toward human-oriented transport policies not only had positive effects on the transport sector but also gave rise to various environmental and socioeconomic benefits. Such transport policies of Bucheon were recognized by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) for their innovativeness and fruitful results, with Bucheon being rewarded with the ITDP’s Honorable Mention of the Sustainable Transport Award 2019[1], as well as 135 awards in that regard since 2017.



[1] The Award winner is determined by the Sustainable Transport Award Committee comprised of nine international institutions including the World Bank and the World Resources Institute. Each year, the Committee selects a city as an awardee that has reduced environmental pollutions and accidents in relation to transportation and revitalized the community through greater mobility and accessibility of bicycles and pedestrians in the preceding year.


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