Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Hugh Burn Esq (WTC 02)


  The Committee's Press Notice highlights the following points set out in bold type to which I have added my comments.

The contribution of walking to the Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reducing dependency on cars

  Most towns have already defined areas of pedestrianisation in their central shopping streets. These should be completely free of vehicles including bicycles, skateboards and rollerblades which are a hazard to pedestrians. The only exception I suggest would be invalid carriages electrically driven at no more than walking pace—these are generally accepted inside supermarkets and other shops and it would be unreasonable to deny the handicapped this access.

  Outside these central areas where complete pedestrianisation is not possible but which are still shopping streets, all vehicles should be subject to a 10mph speed limit and time limited street parking only permitted where it causes no obstruction. These streets should have bus stops and taxi ranks because buses and taxis are a major factor in encouraging people to leave their cars at home. They should also give access to off street car parks. Where shops have rear loading facilities away from the main shopping streets they should be made to use them.

  There may be a case for an area of 20mph speed limit surrounding these areas but inside the 30mph area which is normal in most towns. All streets which are not pedestrianised should have frequent pedestrian crossings well marked to warn drivers in advance and these could incidentally have a marked traffic calming effect without the need for humps or chicanes which drivers dislike.

The reasons for the decline in walking and the main obstacles to encouraging walking and increasing the number of journeys made by foot

  The main reason for the decline in walking to the shopping centres is the fact that most people have a car, or access to one, for which the tax and insurance has been paid and they feel it should therefore be put to good use. This attitude could be changed if people who only need cars for short journeys were encouraged to opt for their bicycle or, better still, a quadricycle (pedal car) which would give them the same security and weather protection as a car whilst still being pedal propelled. These would need no tax or insurance and emit no harmful gases. Local authorities might encourage their use by allowing them free parking in pay and display car parks.

What should be done to promote walking, including the creation of city squares, the role of pedestrianisation, Home Zones, additional measures to restrain traffic, the harmonisation of walking and public transport and improved safety and security for pedestrians

  Promotion of walking is best achieved by making people feel safe wherever they walk. This can be achieved by low speed restrictions on vehicles and frequent crossing places for pedestrians. Drivers should be given clear warning of pedestrian crossings and reminders of speed limits preferably by carriageway markings rather than roadside signs. I believe Highway Authorities can, under present regulations, mark speed limits in roundels on the carriageway but some relaxation of the rules governing pedestrian crossings is needed.

  Except in heavily trafficked streets, light controlled crossings are neither pedestrian nor driver friendly. Most highway authorities seem to time them to give a long delay after the pedestrian button is pressed. This is frustrating for both pedestrians and motorists, and if traffic is not too heavy it would be better if the lights changed straightaway so that both know what to expect. Also there is a temptation for some pedestrians, often mothers with children, to run to catch a green phase which sets a bad example, and can be dangerous.

  Zebra crossings are to be preferred as they exactly reflect pedestrian demand but the light from their beacons tends to be lost in daylight and at night, being orange, although flashing does not contrast sufficiently against the orange street lighting which all authorities seem to use in town centres.

  It is unfortunate that present regulations lay down rigid criteria for the installation of pedestrian crossings, often dependant on their having been an accident record. It is far better to prevent accidents happening in the first place, and this could be done as suggested above, by frequent crossings and reduced speed limits.

What can be learnt from good practice both in England and elsewhere

  Travelling in France one finds that the smallest village has at least one pedestrian crossing plainly marked with black and white stripes. In most cases there is no need for the paraphernalia of beacons or traffic lights and the stripes are recognised internationally as pedestrian crossing places. I wish we could do the same in this country and in addition put appropriate advance warnings on the carriageway. There are many instances in my town and the others I visit where the highway authority have provided dropped kerbs and tactile paving at unofficial crossing places, presumably to help disabled people in wheelchairs and the blind and partially sighted, but there is a complete absence of any indication, much less a warning to drivers, that pedestrians are likely to cross at these points.

Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  As indicated by my remarks above, I am bound to say that some obviously have not. Some of their shortcomings stem from the fact that they do not live in the area concerned; local knowledge and experience is often more valuable than technical skill.

Whether all Government Departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPG 13 and the Government Paper, Encouraging Walking, are adequate

  These bodies are obviously taking some well intentioned measures but further thinking is needed, perhaps by "brainstorming" sessions with local people in the particular areas under review.

In particular, whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share of the Government budget and the re-allocation of road space

  Yes, greater priority should be given to these things. In re-allocating road space the present trend to encourage cycling is either by marking off a part of the carriageway or, worse still, a part of the footway. I agree cyclists are to be encouraged but they should where possible have their own dedicated space, otherwise walkers are going to be discouraged.

Whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published

  No. Apart from wasting administrative time a National Strategy runs the risk of being set in stone and difficult to vary in the light of experience. Consultation and constant vigilance within a flexible framework would be more satisfactory.

Other matters which may arise in the course of questioning

  The fact that this has been left open emphasizes what I have just said. New matters are bound to arise from time to time and they should be the subject of informed discussion between those with knowledge, unfettered by rigid regulations.

24 November 2000

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