Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Terence Bendixson Esq (WTC 22)



  The following note sets out a short list of issues that shape the walking environment and/or influence how much people walk. The author puts them forward for consideration by the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. He has been a student of walking since 1974 when his Instead of Cars, was published in London (Temple Smith & Penguin), Wisconsin and Tokyo.


  The amount of walking in a place is determined principally by patterns of land use but also by other factors such as levels of car ownership, age, physical ability and attitudes. Mixed higher density land uses such as Bath, where 25 per cent of residents walked to work in 1991, support walking. Lower density, suburban housing districts such as Solihull, where eight per cent of residents walked to work in 1991, deter walking.

  The future of walking therefore depends principally on promoting as much development as possible, whether in inner cities, suburbs or villages, at medium to high densities and within walking distance of local services. For Britain's increasing number of elderly people, this is likely to provide an attractive option.


  Site layouts and even individual buildings can be designed to favour or to deter walking. Even fringe of town supermarkets with large car parks can be designed so that their main entrances are close to nearby houses, or separated from them by, say, a main road and 50 yards of car park. The Waitrose supermarket at Cirencester and the Sainsbury supermarket at the Greenwich Millennium Village are both defective in this respect. The same considerations apply to in-town buildings where such features as blank walls, gaping garage entrances and adverse micro-climates create unpleasant walking conditions.

  Developments need to be laid out first of all for the convenience of walkers and only after that for vehicles. This is not an anti-car policy. It merely recognises that someone on foot will be more deterred by, for instance, having to go an extra 100 yards than someone in a vehicle.

  Birmingham City Council has valuable experience in converting its centre from a car-centred to a walking-centred place. The Council started from the position that walkers prefer clear, linear routes. It then established what were the main routes along which people were walking or seeking to walk. Having done so it has, in many cases, required developers to play a role in implementing its plan for walking. The Committee may wish to call as a witness the main architect of this policy. He is Geoff Wright of Robt Turley and Associates, Consultants, Birmingham, (This memorandum will be copied to Mr Wright.)

  Design for walking is as much about site planning and development as about highway engineering. Local Authorities need to establish where its people are trying to walk. Having done so it can require developers to create and enhance such routes.


  Current law provides that pedestrians and vehicles have the same rights in the highway. Both have right of passage and neither is entitled to obstruct the other. In effect might is right and, except on designated crossings, pedestrians are generally obliged to defer to vehicles.

  The Committee may want to consider whether there is any justification for allowing this unfair convention to persist. Already some drivers politely concede priority to pedestrians who are in the middle of the road. A first step would be to enshrine this principle in law—backed up by a programme of awareness raising. A further step, to be introduced once the first was established, would be to oblige drivers to give way when a pedestrian stepped into the road at any place.

  The latter is longstanding practice in Santa Monica in California. Such a convention transforms conditions for walking.

  Current practice in Britain is for pedestrians, out of concern for their lives, to defer to vehicles. The Committee may conclude that there are no grounds for allowing someone in a vehicle to presume that they have an automatic right of way over someone on foot. In which case they may wish to propose that increasing priority be accorded to pedestrians when in the carriageway.


  Signing in towns and cities is predominantly for drivers of vehicles. The resulting signs are large and ugly, their supports obstruct footways and they are of little or no use to people on foot. Transport information systems that give guidance to drivers in their vehicles are already being installed in expensive cars and promise to make street signs redundant. Although this could take up to 20 years to achieve, the Committee may want to alert the DETR to this opportunity to reduce the obstruction of footways and the blighting of streets and roads. Such a shift in signing technology, to be promoted through the European Commission, would enable all street signs to be devoted to people on foot.

  As cars become fitted with on-board navigation systems, an opportunity will arise to remove obstructive and ugly road signs. The Committee may wish to urge the DETR to promote such a change both nationally and internationally.


  More and more utility equipment is being allowed to obstruct footways. This is problem particularly in 19th century streets. With telephone companies in competition, Councils are often obliged to permit the installation of more than one kind of phone box on the same stretch of street. Traffic signals engineers create further obstructions by putting large control boxes on footways. Cable TV companies are likewise allowed to put their junction boxes on footways where local youths often daub them with graffiti.

  The Committee may wish to consider:

    (a)  requiring all public telephones to be available as wall mounted units so that Councils can oblige phone companies to install them in such a form in places where footway space is scarce,

    (b)  obliging all traffic signal, telephone and Cable TV junction boxes to be located beneath the pavement or on private property.

  More and more utility equipment is being allowed to obstruct footways. This problem could be reduced by giving local authorities powers to oblige telephone companies to install wall-mounted equipment and to require Cable TV, telephone and traffic signal engineers to put control equipment underground or on private property.


  Graffiti contributes to fear that the streets are unsafe. The daubing symbolises the taking over of the streets by a lawless force. Firms making the spray paint and other materials used in graffiti are making profit from this public fear. The Committee may wish to consider ways in which the manufacturers/importers of the paints be made responsible for clearing up graffiti.

  The City of Philadelphia, faced by a blitz of graffiti, passed a law that required the suppliers of the paints involved to take action to clear up the mess or face a ban on the sale of their products. The companies opted to clear up the mess.

  Graffiti contributes to fear in the streets. The Committee may wish to consider ways in which the suppliers of graffiti paints and markers be made responsible for removing the nuisance from which they profit.


  In many inner city streets, parked cars are a widespread obstruction to the free movement of people on foot. Experiments are under way in Edinburgh (Budget Car Hire), the London Borough of Camden and elsewhere with local car hire services that enable residents to have the use of a car without the need to own and park one. The Committee may wish to draw attention to this aid to pedestrian movement and to suggest ways in which such services might be made more widely available.

  The more widespread introduction of local car hire services could help to reduce the obstruction of walking by parked cars in dense inner city districts.


  The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has an outstanding record for the maintenance of pavements and the use of high quality paving materials. Furthermore the Council recognises the importance of walking for its residents by spending as much on footway maintenance as it does on carriageway maintenance. The Committee may wish to examine the proportion of highways expenditure devoted to footways by different authorities and draw the attention of DETR to any variations.

  Pavements in many towns are in a very poor state. With the government increasing the funds available to local authorities for highway maintenance, the Committee may wish to comment on differentials in spending on footway repairs by different authorities.


  Walking on the public highway for leisure is increasing. Such walking is likely to go on growing yet the National Travel Survey only reports leisure walking journeys by residents. Walking by visitors staying in hotels and hostels is not counted. In cities such as London, York or Edinburgh, which attract many visitors, this means that walking is undercounted and its importance under-rated.

  The Committee may wish to suggest that the National Travel Survey should count walking journeys by tourists and visitors who are staying in hotels and hostels.

Terence Bendixson

Visiting Fellow

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

University of Southampton

January 2001

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