Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2001
MR R BENDIXSON,
MR A PURKIS
1. May I welcome everyone to the first session
of the Committee's inquiry into walking in towns and cities? I
had hoped that all the written evidence the Committee has received
would have been available for publication today. Unfortunately
there has been a slight delay and all the evidence will be available
on Friday. It will be in printed form which I expect will be fairly
expensive, but just to stress you will be able to see it far more
cheaply on the internet. Anyone who wants to look at the evidence
which has come in from other organisations will be able to see
it on Friday. May I now welcome the Pedestrians Association and
ask you to identify yourselves for the record please?
(Mr Purkis) My name is Andrew Purkis
and I am the Chair of the Pedestrians Association. On my left
is Terence Bendixson, who is President and general veteran of
the charity. On my far left is Ben Plowden, who is the Director,
in fact the first full-time paid Director of the organisation.
2. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction
or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Mr Purkis) Very, very briefly. I should like very
much to welcome your choice of subject; obviously it is dear to
our hearts. We think it is very timely, very important and very
encouraging that you have chosen to look at this topic. We are
also very encouraged that you are looking at it not simply as
an alternative mode of transport in the narrowest sense, but walking
as people going about their daily lives, very important to the
quality of life, very important to the urban renaissance and these
broader issues. We think it would be a big mistake simply to look
at it in narrow transport terms. Our job is to try to represent
the voice of people who at the moment often feel marginalised
because the central assumptions of a lot of our policies and planning
and institutions is that in answer to the question, what are streets
for, the implicit answer is that they are for the movement of
traffic. Everything tends to be based on those assumptions, whereas
we think streets are for very much more than that; they are very
important for community, for people walking and stopping and communicating
with each other and enjoying life together. We hope to represent
that point of view to you today and we are very pleased to be
3. Do you believe that people will make more
journeys on foot if conditions for walking are improved?
(Mr Bendixson) We should like to draw a distinction
between what one might for want of a better word call functional
walking, walking to work, walking to school, walking to the shops
and leisure walking. Walking is an incredibly important form of
transport; something like 25 per cent of all of our journeys are
made on foot. However, for a whole set of reasons there is a decline
in functional walking. The one exception to that that we know
of is Inner London, where all forms of walking, including leisure
walking, are on the increase. That tells a little bit of a story.
It is quite possible one could have similar figures from Bath
or York, but we do not have detailed figures on walking. In Inner
London walking is increasing for obvious reasons. It is very difficult
to use other forms of transport, certainly it is very difficult
to use cars, so walking and public transport are on the increase.
(Mr Bendixson) Yes.
5. What? One per cent, two per cent increase
in walking in London?
(Mr Bendixson) Over the period 1990 to about two years
ago it was two or three percentage points. Walking in Inner London
is very high of course as a percentage of all travel. It grew
from 38 to 40 or 41, something of that order.
That was because of constraints on the use of vehicles, parking
constraints particularly. As far as leisure walking is concerned,
that is increasing everywhere and when I say leisure walking in
this context, it is walking for leisure on the highway, on the
public streets, not rambling across the moors. That is because
of lifestyle changes as far as we know. It is nothing to do with
constraints. I hope that answers your question.
6. What are the most important improvements
which should be made to encourage more people to walk?
(Mr Plowden) The most important issue of all for making
sure that walking is a viable way of travelling around is the
land use planning issue. Distance is the killer of walking journeys.
If shops, homes, schools, hospitals are too far apart people will
not walk, they cannot walk, however good the immediate environment
may be. It is ultimately important that we make sure that existing
policies towards encouraging denser developments and reducing
sprawl are tightened up to ensure that walking is physically possible
between key origins and destinations like homes and schools. Beyond
that we need to think very differently about how we plan and design
and manage the streets and public spaces we have to use as pedestrians.
On the streets of most British towns and cities, you will find
a mixture of large amounts of traffic, railings, obstacles, poor
street maintenance, bad street lighting, roads which are laid
out and designed primarily for traffic movement. Those cities
in Britain and elsewhere which have successfully increased the
amount of walking have done so by completely redesigning their
town and city centres and their local areas and residential areas
to give greater priority to non-traffic activities. There is a
whole set of issues around design and management of the environment
and particularly around things like cleanliness, crime and disorder,
the low level things which deter people from walking, even if
in other respects the environment is attractive. Land-use planning
first and most importantly and then a whole rethink about the
way that we design and manage our urban streets and public spaces.
7. I am astonished that you should say there
is an increase. Every woman I know will hesitate to go out on
the streets walking between their neighbours at night because
they are afraid of the security aspect. How do you get those statistics?
(Mr Plowden) Certainly cities in other countries which
have in some cases been doing this for many years, which have
looked across the board at people's willingness to walk, have
recorded increases either in stemming the decline in walking or
increases in the amount of walking going on. The point you make
is very important which is that this is not just about more pedestrian
crossings, wider footways and so on. It is also about people's
perceptions about the environment. An environment which might
look safe to a young man will look entirely different to a woman
or an older person who is more anxious about the risk of personal
attack. Often you will find that money is spent on the physical
environment, putting a new pedestrian crossing but thought not
be given to the other things which will affect people's willingness
to walk, such as the presence of a policeman, levels of crime.
8. So what is the answer to Mrs Gorman's question?
(Mr Plowden) How do we know what the figures are?
From data from other cities like Copenhagen, like Stockholm.
9. But you said in London.
(Mr Plowden) The data from London is in the DETR's
basic statistics on travel in London which we can certainly send
to the Committee afterwards if that would be helpful. That is
mainly because people in Inner London now find it particularly
difficult to drive. In a sense it might not be their choice to
walk but driving has become so difficult that they feel walking
is the next best option.
(Mr Bendixson) We do not have data which distinguishes
daytime walking from nighttime walking. It could be that your
point about evening walking means it is in decline while people
are walking more to the shops, to work. After all in the City
of Westminster 25 per cent of the residents walked to work in
the 1991 census.
10. They must have a certain income then, must
(Mr Bendixson) Could probably have a very low income.
11. Is there a point beyond which there is an
exponential drop-off in terms of people who are willing to walk?
In other words is it five minutes and ten minutes and thereafter
the numbers nosedive?
(Mr Plowden) There are two ways of looking at the
length of a journey: one is distance and the other is time. There
is not very much hard evidence on people's willingness to walk,
but our impression from bits of research we have seen is that
it is about 15 minutes in terms of journey length and probably
half to three quarters of a mile in terms of physical distance.
If you look at traditional city centres, particularly where they
were built around walking, they are normally about three quarters
of a mile across which suggests that the kind of realistic range
of walking journeys is about that. Beyond that you then get into
questions about the links between walking and the public transport
system. Where a journey is longer than three quarters or maybe
at most a mile, you can actually get decent bus and tram services
to take people or cycling beyond those immediate environments.
12. Perhaps you could expand on your thoughts
in relation to walking being planned and provided for as a mode
of travel or mainly as a way of promoting the urban renaissance.
(Mr Plowden) You will not be surprised to hear that
we think it is important for both priorities. The key issue in
relation to walking in travel terms is to prevent a further switch
from walking to short car journeys. The National Travel Survey
shows that one of the fastest increasing types of car journey
is the shortest car journey and the evidence suggests that people
outside London in particular are switching from walking to the
newsagent to driving to one slightly further away or to the supermarket.
If we want to prevent that stored up number of short car journeys
coming about from walked journeys, we have to make sure that walking
remains or is made more attractive as a form of travel locally.
If we do that, we may find people switch from short car trips
to walking So the first priority is to make sure existing walk
journeys do not switch to short car journeys, because that would
have huge implications for local congestion. In relation to the
urban renaissance, it is our view that pedestrians and people
on the street are canaries in the coal mine of cities and towns.
If there are no people walking around, whether during the day
or at night, that suggests there is something wrong with the environment
they find themselves in. It feels unsafe, as the question a minute
ago suggested, it is dangerous from a traffic point of view, it
is not properly lit or whatever. Actually if you want to encourage
cities and towns as a place where people would want to choose
to live, we need to make them attractive for walking in. The strong
evidence from the social exclusion world is that the single most
important environmental issue for people in the most deprived
communities is not actually their housing, interestingly, it is
the environment they experience outside their house. You might
own a beautiful house in a poor part of a city, but when you step
outside the front door, you are confronted with a mixture of crime,
of mess, of disruption and noise and that makes that area feel
very unsafe and unattractive. It is crucial for the urban renaissance,
both for city centres but also for housing areas.
13. Would you share your experience from Portland,
Oregon, with the Committee? Apparently a high level of planning
goes on in Portland, yet we are told that walk trips account for
less than five per cent compared to 25 per cent in the United
(Mr Plowden) Portland is interesting because it is
in America where, as we all know, the car is king. The crucial
thing about Portland, and this is for the main metropolitan area
of Portland, is that there has been strong political leadership
from a succession of elected mayors in cities since the early
1970s. In 1974 they published the first downtown development plan
which looked at how the city should develop, starting with the
main downtown area and then spreading out. Ever since then, they
have included walking in decisions about development, for example
for new supermarkets and apartment buildings, for how they spend
the city's budget, for how they lay out their streets and roads.
One of the consequence of that 20 to 25 years of commitment to
creating a high quality walk environment has been that the city
has just been nominated the most attractive city in America in
which to live by Money magazine, not a well-known source of muesli-eating
readership; very keen on the high quality environment Portland
has created. The city is booming as a result, especially the main
part of the metropolitan area. I agree the statistics seem slightly
odd, but that needs to be seen in the context of America more
generally where walking, certainly outside areas like Portland,
is almost non-existent.
14. They do have a light rapid transit system
which is extremely effective and which has actually increased
the rateable value of various properties close to it.
(Mr Plowden) Absolutely. What they have been very
careful to do is link those improvements in public transport,
particularly the Max Light Rail System, to what they call pedestrian
districts where they have identified residential and business
areas which are clusters of activity around a new light rail stop,
which is very much what this Government is trying to do as well.
So they are linking local walking journeys within the neighbourhood
to longer distance journeys by bus and light rail. It is proving
very successful, both in terms of travel choice and in terms of
15. Has the Government placed too much emphasis
on new roads in the ten-year plan? Does the recent local transport
capital settlement encourage local authorities to increase provision
for the car as against the best interests of the pedestrian?
(Mr Plowden) There are two issues around the ten-year
plan. The first was that it was not just roads which seem to be
attracting a lot of the money which was available. It was big
schemes in general, which included major rail schemes and major
rail based public transport schemes, like trams and light rail.
There clearly is a place for those sorts of investments in Britain's
transport system but we think that those schemes will appear relatively
attractive compared to the sorts of small-scale improvements we
would argue for for pedestrians. Yes, there was too much emphasis
in our view on big schemes in the ten-year plan and potentially
in the local transport plans, both road schemes and major public
transport schemes. Our argument would be that you can get a lot
more benefit for the travelling public by spending £1 million
on 1,000 pedestrian improvements than you may get for spending
£1 million on one route of public transport improvements.
They need to compare those like for like. In relation to the local
transport plans, clearly a lot more money will be going into walking
and road safety improvements than was the case in the past. Again
we suspect that the tendency will be locally for people to be
attracted to the big, high profile schemes where the mayor can
snip the ribbon on the launch date which will attract press interest.
The key issue is how you make these small-scale improvements in
people's local environment seem attractive to both elected members
and to officers. That, it seems to us, is a very important role
for the regional offices in scrutinising what local authorities
are doing with their LTPs to make sure that enough money is spent
16. Half of the £8.4 billion is on improving
and maintaining roads. (Mr Plowden) Yes.
17. Would that not impact upon trying to provide
(Mr Plowden) Certainly it would. The backlog of pavement
repairs has been a major issue, particularly for older and disabled
pedestrians, where it can be a serious deterrent or indeed a complete
deterrent for people walking around in safety. Yes, I want to
stress that there is a significant real increase in funding going
into these sorts of investments through the ten-year plan, the
local transport plans. The crucial question is for the Government's
regional offices to scrutinise what actually happens on the ground
to make sure that enough money is spent creatively on these small-scale
improvements to everyone's local environment rather than simply
these big, high profile schemes.
18. Is it necessary to restrain car use in order
to improve conditions for walking or will improved walking conditions
themselves lead to a reduction in car use? This is part of the
programme. How do you see it? Which comes first?
(Mr Bendixson) They have to be part of a package.
The evidence is that the places where walking has increased are
places where for instance there is restraint on parking in city
centres and where there are residents parking control schemes.
Looking forward, we would expect congestion pricing, if local
authorities bring that in, likewise to have an effect on encouraging
people to walk more. The constraint is necessary, but then parallel
to it, there need to be improvements in walking conditions of
the kind that Mr Plowden was talking about.
19. In your paper you refer to walking in the
planning system, but nowhere do you refer to existing pedestrian
schemes as improvement through planning. You refer to the Government's
target of building 60 per cent of new houses on brownfield sites.
You refer to new developments in the second paragraph of this
section, you refer to new developments in the third paragraph,
you refer to new developments in the fourth paragraph. Right through
the paper on planning issues you are interested in new developments.
The £4 billion is to improve what we have and planning plays
a big part. Why did you not address that in your paper?
(Mr Plowden) That is a very fair question. I think
the answer would be in our suggestion in the paper that we need
to develop a new road classification system which would look at
the existing road network and existing town and city centres to
review whether the way we have designed and managed our roads
reflects the jobs we want those roads to do. We need to look both
at the existing cities and towns we have, to see how those can
be adapted or changed to improve conditions for pedestrians and
also make sure that we do not create new environments through
new developments which are inaccessible on foot in whatever way.
Both have to go in parallel because the danger is that we will
allow new developments to become more and more car dependent and
car based and also not address the existing problems in our towns
(Mr Bendixson) Since the 1960s, provision for pedestrians
and for walking has really been concentrated in two places: one
in city centres and two at road safety schemes providing crossings.
The new theatre in which you are interested is where efforts are
made to improve walking conditions from one side of the town to
the other wherever you live, in suburb, in inner city, in new
estate, in old estate. It is providing for walking across the
board in cities which is the new objective.
1 Note by witness: The most recent figures
show that the proportion of trips on foot in Inner London has
fallen from 40.4 percent to 37.6 per cent of total trips ie from
402 of 995 trips in 1985-6 to 356 of 945 trips in 1997-9. The
previous figures showed a small rise for walking trips in Inner
London from 40.4 per cent to 40.5 per cent between 1985-6 and
1994-6. In both cases, the changes relate to walking's share of
total travel, rather than absolute number of trips. As in the
country as a whole, the total number of walk trips per person
has fallen over this period. It should be noted, however, that
both the absolute number of trips and the total proportion of
trips on foot are higher for both Inner London and London as a
whole than for Great Britain. In the case of Inner London, the
difference is significant, 37.6 per cent of all trips, compared
to 26.9 per cent for the country as a whole. Back