Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  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 here.

Mr Cummings

  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.


  4. Significantly?
  (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.[1] 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.

Mrs Gorman

  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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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.

Mrs Gorman

  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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  10. They must have a certain income then, must they not?
  (Mr Bendixson) Could probably have a very low income.

Mr Brake

  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.

Mr Cummings

  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 Kingdom.
  (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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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 the economy.

Mr O'Brien

  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 on walking.

  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 pedestrian facilities?
  (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 and cities.
  (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

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