Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Pedestrians Association (WTC 30)



Urban Renaissance

  Successful cities are walkable cities. Streets, alleys and squares that are dirty, dangerous and unattractive discourage walking and reduce the quality of urban life. This is not just about walking as a means of getting from A to B. It is also about sitting, talking, meeting neighbours, helping strangers and allowing children to play. Failure to tackle problems such as litter, graffiti, fly-tipping and social disorder can trigger a cycle of urban flight and rising crime.1 DETR Ministers need to ensure that the £60 billion for local transport in the Ten Year Transport Plan is invested in making towns and cities attractive and safe places to be, not just on moving people to and through them.

Healthy Living

  Walking has been described by leading public health experts as "the nearest activity to perfect exercise".2 Encouraging regular, brisk walking is a cost-effective way of tackling health problems such as coronary heart disease and obesity. There is strong evidence that the decline in childhood walking, particularly to school, is storing up serious long-term problems for adult health.3 The Government and health promotion organisations need to emphasise the health benefits of walking as part of wider publicity and education campaigns.

Reducing car dependence

  Walking accounts for nearly a third of all trips. This is second only to driving, three times as many trips as all public transport modes and 16 times as many trips as cycling. Walking accounts for 80 per cent of trips under a mile, a proportion that has not changed for many years. The problem is that the overall number of trips under a mile has fallen steadily, mainly due to dispersed patterns of land use. Existing walking trips represent a huge pool of potential short car journeys. The priority is therefore to improve the conditions for existing walking journeys. This would help prevent a further switch from walking to short car journeys and convert short car journeys back to walking trips. DETR should publish the national walking targets contained in the draft National Walking Strategy, ie to halt the decline in walking in the short-term and increase its share of total trips in the longer term.

  Walking is also the main way people reach buses, trains and trams, a fact often forgotten by those involved with promoting public transport. There is evidence that improving the quality and safety of the walking stages in public transport trips can increase patronage.4 All public investment in public transport should be accompanied by an audit of how high quality walking access will be provided to the resulting bus, tram and train services.


Political and institutional failures

  The problems facing pedestrians are political and institutional in origin. The public is very dissatisfied with the state of the walking environment. The top three problems identified in a recent National Consumer's Council survey were cracked and uneven pavements (44 per cent of those responding), dog dirt (43 per cent) and too much traffic (30 per cent).5 Despite this dissatisfaction, DETR remains equivocal about promoting walking. It has published an Urban White Paper, central to which are policies aimed at improving the quality and safety of the public realm. But Ministers felt unable to publish the National Walking Strategy.

  There are also serious deficiencies in the education, training and skills of policy makers and technical staff at both national and local level. The number and seniority of officials in DETR working on walking bears no relation to the importance of the issue. Recent research by Oscar Faber for the DETR revealed that even local authority officers with specific responsibility for walking lack basic skills and understanding.6 There is almost no reliable local data on walking journeys, creating the false impression that walking is not important.

Physical deterrents to walking

  There are two main physical deterrents to walking. The most important is increasingly dispersed patterns of land use. This reflects the trend towards out- and edge-of-town developments and decisions by public bodies such as health and education authorities to concentrate services on large, remote sites. People who could previously walk to local shops, library or the hospital now have to travel by car, use public transport or not use the facilities at all. Creating pedestrian-friendly settlements is essential for encouraging walking. If things are too far apart, people will not walk, even if immediate walking environment is immaculate. A new approach is needed to land use planning and site development to arrest the decline in walking.

  The second reason for the decline in walking is the deterioration of the walking environment over the past 40 years. This is a product of the political assumption that the primary function of roads and streets is to carry as much traffic as possible. This has had a number of effects:

    —  Roads are classified solely on their traffic function, ignoring their other functions as places for social interaction, community life, play and relaxation.

    —  Roads are designed and engineered to give priority to vehicles, resulting in a brutal and ugly environment and endless delays, detours and diversions for people on foot.

    —  Footways are often too narrow for their peak use, particularly in town centres.

    —  Crossings are often not located where people want to cross and are poorly designed, including long waiting times and short crossing times at light-controlled junctions and crossings where people have to cross in several stages while waiting mid-road in "cattle pens".7

    —  Footways are blocked by obstacles, including road signs, traffic lights, phone boxes, bus stops, shop signs, uncollected rubbish and poorly sited street furniture.

    —  Cyclists ride on footways, due to being too lazy or too frightened to ride in the road.

    —  Footway space has been lost due to the creation of shared walking/cycling routes.

    —  Traffic is noisy, smelly and dangerous, particularly where the speed limit is too high and/or people are breaking it.

    —  There is no information for pedestrians, including a lack of legible information about where people are and how to get to their destination on foot.

    —  There is a lack of basic amenities, including toilets and seating.

    —  The street environment is grey and ugly, with few trees and little or no public art.

    —  Streets are badly managed and maintained, including cracked and uneven pavements, utility works, litter, fly-tipping, graffiti, dog mess and broken streetlights.

  These problems are particularly severe for older people and those with disabilities. An RNIB survey found that over 75 per cent of blind and partially sighted people who go out alone regard cycling on pavements as a real problem, 70 per cent have problems with pavement obstacles and 65 per cent have problems with pavement parking.8

  Personal security concerns can be a more important deterrent for some people than safety concerns relating to uneven pavements or busy roads9. These concerns arise from poor urban design and street management and from changes in policing priorities. There has been a move away from the role of the police as enforcers of public order in local communities. Yet US research suggests that the withdrawal of uniformed officers from the street undermines public confidence in the quality and safety of the local environment. It is also associated with increases in serious crime such as robbery and assault.10

  Enforcement of road traffic law is not a police priority, despite evidence from Crime and Disorder Audits that local communities want dangerous driving to be tackled. This lack of enforcement ranges from failure to prevent pavement parking and pavement cycling to a lack of priority given to tackling speeding and dangerous driving.

The low status of walking

  Walking has a low status. People who would walk miles in the countryside or in a shopping centre will drive two hundred metres for a pint of milk. A campaign to change attitudes to walking needs to take place alongside efforts to improve the environment. This needs to be targeted at the public, politicians and officials.


Overcoming political and institutional barriers

A national policy commitment to encouraging walking

  Recent government initiatives may encourage walking. These include the Ten Year Plan for transport, Local Transport Plans and revisions to national planning guidance. The Urban White Paper includes a number of positive initiatives relating to investment in, and management of, the walking environment. But any encouragement to walking will be the accidental by-product of these initiatives, rather than the deliberate outcome of policy.

  The Government's failure to publish the National Walking Strategy reveals its confusion over this issue. The document eventually emerged as advice to local authorities, and contained the immortal phrase that "[n]one of this will make much difference to car mileage, air pollution or global warming".11 This underestimates the importance of preventing existing walking journeys becoming car journeys. It also underplays the wider social and economic benefits of creating more walkable environments. This would contribute to urban regeneration and crime reduction. It would help reduce social exclusion, given the high dependence of poor households on walking and public transport. Road casualties and air pollution would be reduced. Public health would improve.

  Creating more walkable environments should be national policy goal. This should apply to both rural and urban areas. It should inform policies in all relevant national departments and agencies. These include DETR, the Home Office, the Treasury, DfEE, the DoE, DCMS, the Highways Agency and the RDAs. New national targets for walking should be linked to the funds allocated for local transport investment in the Ten Year Plan and to the local walking strategies prepared by highway authorities through their LTPs.

Investment in the walking environment

  There should be a significant increase in the level of public investment in the walking environment. Local Transport Plans and other initiatives such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund will lead to an increase in spending. But most of new investment from the Ten Year Plan will go into a few costly road and rail projects. The amount spent on walking is likely to fall far below what is required. Portland Oregon (population 1.7 million) has recently published a Pedestrian Master Plan detailing all the pedestrian improvements needed in the city. The estimated cost of the new pavements, crossings and street furniture in the Plan is $120 million.12 No British city is contemplating investment on this scale. DETR and the Government regional offices should use the review of Local Transport Plans and other spending programmes to assess the expenditure on improvements to the walking environment, both in cash terms and as a proportion of total spending. If necessary, DETR should indicate the proportion of local authority investment in walking improvements required where current plans are too modest.

Improving skills and professional development

  To date, on one ever made a career in national or local government by promoting walking. The lack of people qualified and trained to create walkable environments reflects the historic lack of demand for such people. Increasing the political priority and funding given to a high quality walking environment would encourage universities and professional bodies to produce people qualified to deliver it. The Government should work with the universities and the professional bodies to review current educational and CPD opportunities around walking. A career development programme entitled "The future's bright, the future's walking" should be established for local authority personnel.

Overcoming the physical barriers to walking

Walking in the planning system

  Walkable communities have lots of people living and working in close proximity to shops, pubs, parks and leisure centres. National planning policy (eg revised draft PPG13) has recognised the need to curb dispersed development. The Government now has a target that 60 per cent of new housing should be on brownfield sites. But the emphasis in draft PPG13 is on ensuring access to new developments by public transport, despite the fact that walking accounts for three times as many trips as all public transport modes.

  The role of land-use planning in encouraging walking should be strengthened. Walking access to, through and within new developments should be a key consideration in planning decisions. Developments that are inaccessible on foot should only be permitted in exceptional circumstances. Accessibility criteria should apply to the development's location in relation to existing developments, whether roads or other barriers prevent walking, whether rights of way through the development are provided and whether the design of the development promotes an attractive and accessible walking environment.

  Such an approach has been successfully adopted in Portland, Oregon. Housing estates and other new developments that do not incorporate rights of way are not allowed. Whole areas of the city are designated as Pedestrian Districts where walking is targeted as the main way of getting about. These districts are planned as compact, high-density neighbourhoods with local shops and workplaces linked by fast, frequent bus and tram services.13 The city's urban design standards require developers to create an environment that is safe, beautiful and interesting for people walking past.14 US Money magazine has just named Portland as the most attractive US city in which to live. The city's economy is booming, with vacancy rates for commercial property at a nominal 3 per cent.

  The accessibility of new developments to people on foot should be a key consideration in the planning system. This should apply at a strategic level (eg in RPGs, Structure Plans and UDP Part 1s) and in development control decisions. Local planning authorities should be required to develop pedestrian-friendly local urban design guidelines. Compliance with these guidelines should be made a material consideration in planning decisions.

  Proposals by the NHS, education authorities and local councils to concentrate public services on new sites should not be taken until an audit of walking access to existing sites has been carried out. The cost of providing equivalent access via free public transport in perpetuity to the new site should be calculated and offset against the efficiency savings arising from economies of scale.

A new road classification

  A new approach to the planning, design and engineering of the road network is needed if people are to use and enjoy public spaces. In Portland, roads are classified according to whether pedestrians, public transport or cars have priority. This classification then informs planning decisions and application of the city's highway design guidance. A similar approach is evolving in some British cities. Bristol City Council is developing a new road hierarchy that aims to give greater weight to non-motorised users.15

  The Government should work with local authorities and the Highways Agency to develop a new road classification. The current traffic hierarchy should be replaced with a new road use hierarchy. This would incorporate all the functions roads and streets are expected to fulfil, including traffic movement, parking, shopping, social exchange and play. It would reflect both current and potential use for different purposes. All roads should be reclassified according to the new criteria, following consultation with relevant stakeholders. In towns, this new hierarchy should be the basis for new national highway design standards, building on the approach in Design Bulletin 32 and its companion guide.

Walking audits

  Local authorities should undertake town- and city-wide audits of the street environment and of the rural road network in the light of the new Road Use classification. An assessment should be made of whether the current engineering and design of a road is consistent with its new classification. The audit should include assessment of the quality of walking access to key pedestrian attractors such as offices, shops, stations and bus stops and the routes between them.

Reallocating space and re-designing roads and streets

  Towns and cities that have created an environment designed to encourage walking have reallocated space in favour of pedestrians. This does not always imply full-scale pedestrianisation. There is a spectrum of pedestrian priority. At one end is the total exclusion of all traffic 24 hours a day. At the other is the motorway network. Speed reduction, traffic restraint, wider pavements, more pedestrian crossings, shorter waiting times, longer crossing times and the removal of barriers all increase pedestrian priority without requiring pedestrianisation.

  The Strand in central London has been successfully re-designed to improve pedestrian priority while still carrying general traffic. Cities like Birmingham, York and Cambridge have developed attractive pedestrian cores, although these allow limited access for public transport and deliveries. Other cities allow general traffic on some streets but restrict movement in pedestrian priority areas. The centre of Gothenburg in Sweden is divided into traffic cells that prevent people driving through the old city. The Corporation of London has virtually eliminated through traffic and is creating a high quality environment within the "ring of steel". The Downtown Transit Mall in Portland Oregon is designed to discourage through traffic while allowing free movement of buses and trams.

  Pedestrian priority areas should extend beyond town and city centres. Portland's Pedestrian Districts are local centres where the road network is designed round the assumption that travel within the district will be on foot. Cities like Gothenburg and Malmo in Sweden have adopted Home Zones outside residential areas, to create walkable environments in local centres.

  National government should introduce a new 20 mph speed limit as the norm for built-up areas. Following the walking audits recommended above, local authorities should undertake a phased programme of investment to reallocate space and re-design streets to create a more walkable environment. Changes might include new road layouts; footway widening; traffic restraint and speed reduction (including creation of 20 mph zones and Home Zones in both residential and non-residential areas); removal of safety railings; re-design and re-phasing of existing pedestrian crossings and installation of new ones; replacement of footbridges and subways with street-level crossings; and removal of footway obstacles such as traffic signs. Shared walking/cycling routes should be phased out and replaced with safe cycle routes in the carriageway, as occurs in cities like Copenhagen.

Creating a clean, beautiful, legible and safe public realm

  Encouraging people to walk and spend time outside in towns and cities requires the creation of a clean, beautiful, legible and safe public environment. This needs to include places for stopping as well as planned and well-signed routes for movement. The elements of this environment will include lighting, seating, signing, paving, public toilets, sculpture, fountains and trees. These need to be planned and installed in a coherent way based on local urban design standards. Creating such an environment is expensive. The bus shelters installed in Portland Oregon's new Downtown Transit Mall in 1974 cost $80,000 each at a time when the median house price in the city was $60,000. But the shelters were integral to the design concept of the Mall. 25 years on, they are as beautiful and well maintained as ever. Local authorities should identify priorities for investment in an enhanced public realm as part of their Community Strategies.

  Maintenance, management and policing are also crucial. Capital spending on environmental improvements can be wasted if resources are not allocated to maintain and manage the public realm. The Government should build on proposals in the Urban White Paper aimed at ensuring a high level of management and maintenance of the public realm. A funded programme for maintenance and management should accompany all capital funding proposals for urban regeneration or public realm improvement. The police have a crucial role to play in enforcing the laws that underpin people's willingness to spend time out and about. This includes public order maintenance and prevention of dangerous driving, including speeding. Yet there is little reference to policing in the Urban White Paper. The Government should clarify the role of the police in maintaining and managing the public realm. The Home Secretary should make traffic law enforcement a core policing objective.


  1 See The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2000.

  2 "Walking to Health", J Morris and A Hardman, Sports Medicine, May 1997.

  3 The School Run—Blessing or Blight? report for the Pedestrians Association by the Institute for Child Health, 1999.

  4 Personal Security Issues in Pedestrian Journeys, DETR, 1999.

  5 Problems for Pedestrians, NCC, 1995. The other problems mentioned were vehicles parked on pavements (30 percent), bicycles ridden on pavements (20 per cent), no pedestrian crossings (19 per cent), pavements being dug up (17 per cent), uncleared snow/leaves (15 per cent), litter/fly tipping (11 per cent) and narrow pavements (11 per cent).

  6 Cycle Initiatives Register—Professional Training Extension Report by Oscar Faber for DETR, 2000.

  7 Many Roads to Cross, Pedestrians Association, 2000.

  8 Within Reason, RNIB, 1998.

  9 See for example Personal Security Issues in Pedestrian Journeys, DETR, 1999, p 90-91.

  10 Fixing Broken Windows, George Kelling, 1998.

  11 Encouraging Walking, DETR, 1999.

  12 Portland Pedestrian Master Plan, City of Portland, 2000.

  13 Portland Pedestrian Master Plan, City of Portland, 2000.

  14 Portland Central City Fundamental Design Guidelines, revised draft, City of Portland, 2000.

  15 Local Transport Today, 7 December 2000, p 7.

Ben Plowden

January 2001

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