Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2001
320. Do you both view walking as a form of transport?
Do you believe that it has a role to play in reducing total vehicle
mileage in a given year?
(Mr Palmer) Walking is a mode of transport and should
be seen as such. One of the difficulties in addressing issues
that face pedestrians is that they are not just travellers but
shoppers and so on. Pedestrians meet people and engage in window
shopping and all kinds of other activities; they do not simply
move from A to B. That is perhaps why it has been rather difficult
to provide for their needs. The whole object of the exercise is
not to try to reduce traffic levels but to provide opportunities
to undertake activities by other means, of which walking is one.
If we can design the right kinds of land use patterns so that
people can walk to activities, for example local shops, local
employment and so on, they will undertake activities for which
they are not absolutely dependent on the car.
(Mr Roberts-James) I agree. Walking is a mode of transport.
More importantly, walking forms a part of almost every other trip
type we make, whether we use public transport or our cars. At
some point there is a need to walk to the particular mode. If
we have the strategic purpose to try to engender a shift towards
the use of public transport one way to do it is to make it easier
to get to it. That is something of which we must not lose sight
in designing our public transport interchanges and services. People
need to be able to get to them safely and conveniently; otherwise,
they may not choose to use that mode in the first place.
321. Professor Goodwin, who used to advise the
Deputy Prime Minister, has been quite critical of the Government's
proposals, in particular the roads programme in the 10-year transport
plan. Do you believe that small pedestrian schemes, and the encouragement
of people to walk in towns, can have a greater impact on reducing
congestion than the roads programme in its present form?
(Mr Roberts-James) It depends on where you are and
where the scheme is. Clearly, there has been significant under-investment
in transport infrastructure and systems for a significant period.
Therefore, there is a requirement for major schemes to deal with
acknowledged environmental and safety problems. In the right circumstances,
that means environmental bypasses of towns, villages and so on.
My institution supports that. At the same time, it is a question
of balance. We must ensure that we are dealing with the broad
range of end-users for whom we seek to improve conditions. What
worries the institution to a certain extent is that sometimes
it is the small schemes which are necessary to try to improve
conditions for pedestrians which are the hardest to deliver in
terms of the amount of planning and preparation time as a proportion
of the overall scheme cost. It is very hard to deliver small schemes
on the ground because of the amount of consultation required to
get to grips with understanding them. Some of the hardest jobs
in which I have been involved have been small-scale schemescycleways,
pelican crossings and traffic-calmingas opposed to major
schemes. The balance in the 10-year plan is about right in terms
of roads, public transport and the general split, but it is important
that that plan is delivered, and we monitor it closely to ensure
that it achieves the outcomes that we want. Within that we must
not lose sight of the need to make sure that local authorities
spend money wisely on local safety schemes and schemes for pedestrians.
Those are the ones which will have the most tangible and perhaps
(Mr Palmer) Small-scale schemes are very good at opening
up opportunities, in particular by reducing severance for pedestrians.
As an example, an overbridge across a four-lane dual carriageway
will take a pedestrian approximately three minutes to cross. If
one provides an at-grade crossing one reduces the journey time
322. You mentioned the tangible benefits that
can flow from small schemes. Do you believe that greater concentration
on them should be a pre-condition of the financial settlements
in the local transport plan?
(Mr Palmer) As I understand them, local transport
plans were originally designed to be strategic level documents
to give an overview and local authorities would have a certain
degree of discretion as to how they allocated funds to different
types of schemes. Local authorities have produced local walking
strategies which are designed to take forward more specific detailed
measures. However, in general local transport plans must allocate
more to maintenance of footways and the provision of better crossings
323. I represent a town in the shire counties
and the county council is the highway agency. How does my town
say that it has a local transport plan and wants to introduce
a number of little schemes which will improve the quality of the
environment for pedestrians in both the town centre and the outer
urban area, because it will not be a priority at county level?
(Mr Roberts-James) I believe that the best outcomes
are achieved where the various tiers of local government work
together in partnership. For example, previously I worked in Cheshire
where partnerships were formed between the county, various districts
and parishes. That needs to be done on a study area basis. That
may be a town, village or grouping of such settlements. However,
the secret is to work together and to have informed and inclusive
consultation on the arrangements. There will always be a situation
in which one part of a county is different from another in a whole
range of ways, but that problem must be overcome. One deals with
it successfully by forming properly managed joint working groups
which are focused on action rather than analysing problems on
too great a scale. Although that is an issue it is capable of
resolution through mechanisms in use up and down the country at
324. Have you made any assessment of the current
local transport plan and local transport settlement?
(Mr Roberts-James) Not yet. We intend to monitor over
time the gap between promise and delivery. We are very pleased
that a significant amount of money has been allocated to transport
and now it is a sustained programme over time. However, we need
to keep a check on reality to see whether that is occurring. We
say in our written evidence that we would like the DETR to be
firm in its monitoring to ensure that what is put forward to local
authorities is being spent in the right way. An issue arises on
the single capital pot. Maintenance and local safety scheme money
is passed to local authorities in a single pot. That is very good
when it comes to giving local discretion as to the detail of expenditure,
but there is always competition for funds. The institution is
very keen that money which is allocated for maintenance is spent
on it, because a pothole of no concern to a vehicle may be a matter
of concern to a pedestrian. Issues like street lighting and footway
and highway maintenance are very important to pedestrian convenience
and safety. We must not assume that spending on maintenance is
spending on roads.
325. Given the welcome that you gave this inquiry
and your desire to increase the number of pedestrians, do you
believe that national and local targets should be set? Do you
believe that there is enough data available to set such targets?
(Mr Palmer) At national level we have the National
Travel Survey which provides quite a good basis for understanding
trends. At local level it is more difficult.
326. Is that survey based on a guestimate or
(Mr Palmer) It is the best survey of travel behaviour
that we have. One of the benefits of the road safety targets is
to unify three disparate parts of the professionthe engineers,
the enforcement agencies (eg the police) and the educationiststo
try to achieve them. If we had targets for walking we might achieve
a similar combination of approach. The difficulty is that because
there are so many targets it is difficult to know what they mean.
I favour targets of modal shift or share rather than targets of
absolute walking, as we have in cycling.
(Mr Roberts-James) I agree. Targets offer an excellent
opportunity to energise people and give purpose and direction
to where one is going; they are things to be achieved. But to
a certain extent those targets need to be achievable; otherwise,
one just creates a rod for one's own back or failure. However,
targets help one to decide where one wants to go, so there is
a benefit in pursuing them in that way. However, I agree with
Mr Palmer that targets based on modal shift as opposed to specific
modes are probably the most sensible way forward, given what we
understand about walking.
327. We are all aware that there is little possibility
of being able to walk to an out-of-town shopping centre and shop.
Do you think that we have got it wrong? We have out-of-town industrial
areas. Has the planning system meant that we do not encourage
people to walk to work nowadays?
(Mr Roberts-James) We are where we are in terms of
existing land use patterns, and there is a long history about
how we have reached the point where there are many out-of-town
outlets, business parks and retail units. It is important that
we plan the future better than the past in that respect. Therefore,
the forthcoming PPG 13 will be very important in setting the framework.
It is important that local authorities implement it. That is something
which has not had the impact which over time was hoped since it
emerged perhaps in 1994. We must ensure that it is enforced. The
other option is to try to make our historic and older urban centres
more people-friendly so that we attract people back. Out-of-town
retail opportunities in particular cannot compete with some of
our historic cities, for example Chester which offers a whole
range of things that an out-of-town outlet cannot match. We must
play to the strengths of existing urban centres and make them
more accessible, attractive and people-friendly. We may well start
to reverse that trend through market approaches. The most important
part of this is PPG 13 which we urge should be released as soon
328. Do you expect it ever to be released?
(Mr Roberts-James) Absolutely!
(Mr Roberts-James) In political terms, we live in
difficult times. Because of elections and the like we may have
to wait until perhaps June or Julywho knows? I believe
that the sooner it is released the sooner practitioners and decision-makers
in local government will understand what it means and we shall
be in a stronger position from which to work.
330. If it is as good as you say surely it is
an election winner?
(Mr Roberts-James) I have seen only a draft.
331. And you believe that that is not an election
(Mr Roberts-James) I cannot comment.
332. You have referred to targets, including
those for road safety. There is no real data about the number
of people who walk and the value of that activity. Bearing in
mind that we must have regard to best value as between one authority
and another, what do you consider is happening in practice? As
far as concerns walking, the best city of which I am aware is
York which has promoted pedestrians as a priority. York is renowned
throughout the country. What happens in practice in our cities?
(Mr Palmer) I believe that the York hierarchical approach
is increasingly being taken on board by other local authorities.
I suspect that it is adopted more in historic centres than elsewhere.
The benefit of a hierarchy is that it helps in the planning, design
and operation of the infrastructure. This week we have seen the
reports from Hull where the traffic light sequencing has been
changed so that it is on call for vehicles rather than pedestrians
who enter certain areas. These kinds of changes can make pedestrian
behaviour change quite significantly.
333. If one takes York as an example where walking
is being encouraged, there remain an inner ring road and narrow
roads used by traffic. Do you believe that pedestrians should
have priority in cities like York and vehicles should stop when
someone wants to cross the road?
(Mr Roberts-James) It is about getting the right balance.
One must balance economy, environment and safety; one cannot take
broad-brush approaches and transfer them very easily from one
city or town to the next. The fundamental issue in places like
York is political leadership. At the end of the day, local government
officers do the work and political leaders set the agenda. The
crucial point is that political leadership which sets the right
framework and culture to promote opportunities for pedestrians
is the central facet in areas where it has gone very well. It
is important to set one's priorities such that pedestrians and
cyclists are very much at the forefront. In our written evidence
we set out how we believe that should be taken forward. However,
in the end it is a very complicated balance.
334. Therefore, do you think it is realistic
that motorists should stop for cyclists or pedestrians whenever
they want to cross the road?
(Mr Roberts-James) I am quite concerned that there
is a different value for time applied to pedestrians and motorists.
We often see large groups of pedestrians waiting to cross at a
pelican crossing while one or two cars pass over a couple of minutes.
Clearly, the signal that is sent out is that the value of time
to drivers is much more important than for pedestrians. In terms
of our appraisal, forecasting and modelling techniques it may
well be that we should pay higher regard to pedestrians' time
and valued it more highly. There is no reason why my time as a
pedestrian is any less valuable than a driver's if he is driving
to a meeting and I am walking to one. It is a matter of getting
the right balance in terms of value of time, and that may well
lead to different outcomes.
335. What is the maximum time that a pedestrian
should have to wait to cross the road?
(Mr Palmer) Should he have to wait? If one looks at,
say, Borehamwood in Hertfordshire, pedestrians have a central
median strip which allows them to cross as and when they want
to; they are not channelled into formal crossing points if they
do not want to use them. That is based on some research done in
Germany where it is estimated that about 60 per cent of people
in shopping centre areas cross at random. The view is taken that
rather than try to channel pedestrians into places where they
may not want to be they should be allowed to cross as safely as
possible wherever they are. Therefore, they do not have to wait.
If one combines that with traffic-calming measures to reduce traffic
speeds on the entries to those areas it changes pedestrian and
336. What about the general picture? You have
referred to the value of pedestrians' as well as motorists' time.
How do you translate that into reasonable waiting times?
(Mr Roberts-James) There is no easy answer to that
question. The answer probably lies in having a hierarchical approach.
If there is a hierarchy of route types, some should serve strategic
purposes for motorists and some should be serving local objectives
for pedestrians. On that hierarchy will depend how much time or
priority should be given to pedestrians. I believe that on some
roads as soon as a pedestrian pushes the button on the pelican,
and it is safe to cross, he should be able to do so. One takes
a hierarchical approach in deciding who has priority on those
337. I take my revenge on motorists. As I reach
one of those crossings I press the button and then dodge through
the traffic. As I disappear down the road and look back I see
all the cars queuing to let an imaginary person cross the road.
(Mr Palmer) One must remember that pedestrians do
not cross only at crossings. There are lots of junctions where
they do not have preferential treatment and, as a result of junction
design, it takes them a lot longer than necessary to cross. For
example, my walk to the station would take me about 25 minutes.
If there were better junction design I could reduce it by almost
338. Have any assessments been undertaken in
the planning of crossings, whether through the hierarchy that
you describe or any other way?
(Mr Roberts-James) I am not aware of any work that
has been done on the basis of that hierarchical approach. That
is one idea that the institution may well look at. Work is being
done now to look at rural road hierarchies in terms of safety.
I believe that the Secretary of State has to provide a report
within a year under the Transport Act 2000. There is a move towards
consideration of hierarchies based on purpose in relation to speed.
I believe that to transfer that approach into urban areas will
give some opportunity to try to set a framework within which local
authorities up and down the country can be consistent. It may
well be that that is something which the committee can urge should
be looked at. That would give us ammunition to discuss with the
DETR funding for further work. There is an opportunity there,
but I do not know that it has been examined in any great detail.
339. Where is that work being undertaken?
(Mr Roberts-James) The rural safety management work
emerged through the IHT and has been taken on by the DETR as part
of its current workload. I am not sure that the urban hierarchy
is being taken forward in any great detail. I believe that it
is a typology approach which the institution should like to spend
(Mr Palmer) Many of the local transport plans that
I have seen adopt hierarchical-type approaches to the allocation
of road space in urban areas.