Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Transport 2000 (WTC 36)


  Walking is the most sustainable form of transport, and an essential component of journeys by public transport. Walking is also not just a transport issue; many street based activities depend on people being on foot—for example shopping, delivering the post, or being neighbourly. However the growth in car ownership and the consequent volume and speed of traffic, coupled with increased distances to travel to shops, workplaces, schools and hospitals, have lead to a decline in walking activity in Britain.

  This has serious consequences. For the individual, it may mean poorer health and reduced fitness, higher transport costs, mobility restrictions for non drivers, and less independence. For society, it means more congestion, more pollution, more social isolation, higher health and social care costs, and unattractive and dangerous streets.

  Walking has low status: people who need, or choose to, walk are treated as third class citizens or even ignored. Walking is an activity which is socially inclusive, costs nothing, is healthy, and is very enjoyable, and we should be encouraging and rewarding those who already depend on this way of getting about.

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

Urban Renaissance:

  A good quality attractive walking environment is essential to persuade people to leave their homes on foot. Walking in cities is not just a transport mode, people also like to stay outdoors to socialise, watch what is going on, play with friends. A city where people are out and about on foot is a far more attractive place to live than one where people stay indoors or inside their cars (refs 1, 2, 3).

Healthy living:

  Walking has been described as "perfect exercise", and has many advantages over other forms of exercise and sport as it costs nothing, and is available at the front door and to everyone irrespective of age, gender or race. The proportion of the British population who are overweight has doubled in the decade to 1995. Even more worrying, the proportions of children not taking enough exercise for healthy growth is also increasing (4).

  The current targets for improving the nation's health are given under four headings: coronary heart disease and stroke; cancer; accidents and mental health (5). Encouraging people to walk more would help to meet the targets, leading to a healthier population and workforce, and eventually reducing the burden on health services. Walking for health is now widely encouraged through the introduction of community led Health Walks, where unfit people can be "prescribed" walks of graded standards to gradually build up their fitness (6).

Reducing dependency on cars:

  We believe that increased walking could help reduce car use in several respects. First, a proportion of journeys currently made by car are short enough that they could be made by foot (8 per cent of car trips are less than a mile, and 25 per cent of car trips are less than two miles) (7).

  Second, there has been a trend over the last twenty years for short trips to be replaced by longer ones, as people travel further to shops, schools and work. The proportion of trips less than two miles long fell by 9 per cent, and the proportion between five and 25 miles long rose by 8 per cent, between 1978/79 and 1997/99. Inevitably, short walkable trips are being replaced by car trips as distance increases (8). If these trends could be reversed, many car trips might again become possible to make on foot.

  Third, walking has an important role as part of public transport trips. If walking to and from the bus stop or rail station feels safe and pleasant, it is more likely that people will choose to use public transport for longer journeys (9).

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

  The decline in walking has been apparent in national statistics for over 20 years, and is probably a consequence of three inter-related changes. First, increasing car ownership means that people now have the option to drive instead of walking, and once they have acquired a car, its use for short journeys is perceived to be cheap (despite recent campaigns about high petrol prices).

  Second, increased traffic and the greater speeds of which cars are now capable have discouraged people from walking. Most roads are now dominated by the needs of vehicles, for example signs on posts, road widenings, traffic lights and parked vehicles. Greater traffic speeds mean parents are increasingly reluctant to allow their children to walk to school or to make other trips on foot (10), and as a result escort education trips have increased by over a half since 1985/86. Other vulnerable road users, including older people, may also be more reluctant to walk, often deterred by the difficulty of crossing roads (11). Old people with visual handicap often do not go out at all, deterred by the uncertain street environment; a recent survey for the DSS found that a quarter of disabled people had not been out shopping, visiting friends or any other excursion in the last four weeks (12).

  Third, there has been a steady decline of local facilities resulting from centralisation or amalgamation of amenities such as libraries, hospitals and schools; the closure of local shops, post offices and banks; and the rapid growth of large scale shopping centres and supermarkets, replacing local shops, and resulting in longer journeys less easily made on foot. One study in Liss, Hampshire, found that closure of the three banks in the small town generated a million extra miles of travel each year, 70 per cent by car, as residents were forced to make a round trip of 10 miles every time they wished to visit the bank (13). Changes in employment and more centralised siting of workplaces have also led to people working much further from home, and hence unable to walk to work.

What should be done to promote walking

  Walking as the most sustainable transport mode, and the cheapest to provide for, must be at the top of the transport hierarchy in towns and cities, not the bottom. The compactness of urban areas should make walking the obvious way to get about. York has successfully put pedestrians first, and other British authorities have been following this example.

  We need to civilise our streets—reduce or remove traffic, lower traffic speeds, enforce traffic law (both on carriageway and on pavements), control and reduce parking, provide better cycling facilities (on the road, not the pavement), maintain the walking space better make it more attractive with trees, seats, etc.

  Many residential areas could become home zones. Nine pilot home zones are being developed in England and Wales, but funding needs to be increased as there is considerable demand. Although the Transport Act 2000 was amended to encourage the introduction of home zones, it does not go far enough: we would have liked a change in the law to give pedestrians and cyclists precedence in home zones (as is the case in all continental home zones). We also believe that speeds of 20 mph are too high in such areas (the Dutch rule is that cars must travel at no more than a walking pace in a home zone, although in practice this is interpreted as about 10mph). Recent research for DETR (14) showed that implementation of 20 mph zones in residential areas has had little effect on encouraging walking. They commented: "To significantly change the function of the street, more stringent measures, such as road closure or changing the nature of the road to reduce speeds to 10 mph or less, are needed. Home zones may be more appropriate to change the function of the street."

  Although wider introduction of Dutch-quality home zones could encourage people to make more use of residential streets for walking, cycling, talking with neighbours and so on, changes are also needed on other roads in urban areas to encourage people to walk for short journeys to schools and shops. We believe that the normal urban speed limit should be 20 mph, not 30 mph, as at present, with exceptions on those main roads where there is less activity on foot. Experience in European cities shows that lower speed limits on main roads reduce casualties, and also have the effect of reducing drivers' speeds on nearby residential roads. For example, large parts of the town of Buxtehude in Germany have been given over to 30kph (20 mph) speed limits. Casualties in these areas have fallen by 60 per cent, and the number of people walking has risen by 17 per cent (15).

  We strongly support the government's move to improve enforcement of speed limits through wider use of speed cameras and hypothecation of speeding fines. Early evidence from the pilot areas suggests that wider use of speed cameras is very effective in deterring speeding and reducing casualties, and that if the pilot programme were rolled out across the country it might save around 750 deaths and serious injuries a year. As well as the obvious benefits in lives saved we believe such an enforcement programme would help create a safer environment in which people were more likely to walk.

  Safe routes to school schemes will also encourage walking. To be effective, these should combine changes to the infrastructure of the street (safe crossings, traffic calming, 20 mph zones) with other measures such as walking buses (rotas of parents escorting groups of children to school). We would like to see safe routes to schools programmes being rolled out much more quickly than at present: in York the city council intends that every one of its 72 schools will be surrounded by a 20 mph zone within six years, but elsewhere progress is comparatively slow.

  Councils and public transport operators together need to review and improve the walking catchment area around all stations and bus stops, to reduce the deterrent effect of the walk to the bus stop or station; simultaneously they need to improve waiting facilities at these stations and bus stops, with shelter, lighting, seating, information and maps.

  Much better local maps are needed, showing walking connections (paths, alleyways, short cuts on foot eg through estates) as well as the roads as at present. Maps should show crossings, which roads are walkable eg which can't be crossed—barriers, etc, or have no pavements, entry points to large sites and buildings. All urban areas should also have good and consistent signing of routes on foot with distances and/or times—this should be of the same standard as that expected by drivers.

  Councils need to work with local businesses and developers to make buildings accessible on foot, street level frontages attractive to walk past. Owners of car parks need to review facilities for car owners to walk from cars and for non car owners to walk to buildings or the street.

  Although this inquiry is focussing on walking in towns and cities, we note that many of the measures identified above are also important for rural areas. The key issues relating to walking in these areas are the intimidation caused by speeding traffic on rural roads which may have no separate pavement, and the loss of local services which makes it impossible for people to walk to the shops or bank. We support the government's aim to introduce 30 mph speed limits in all villages, and moves to introduce rural "quiet lanes". To have a significant effect on the proportion of journeys made on foot in rural areas, these initiatives will need to be widely adopted. We also support measures in the rural white paper to increase support for local services in the countryside, including extension of rate relief and funding to re-establish village services.

What can be learnt from good practice

  See replies to other questions.

Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  Our experience suggests that there is a serious lack of suitable skills and training, not just among transport professionals, but among others also responsible for the walking environment, for example planners do not understand the importance of ensuring access on foot; the police are reluctant to enforce traffic law that would protect people on foot; councillors make decisions with major deterrent effects on walk journeys.

  Whether all Government Departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking appropriate measures.

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

  Whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published.

  Responsibility for implementing many of the measures needed to encourage walking lies with local authorities. We think there is a marked difference in the level of commitment amongst local authorities, with some able to demonstrate an impressive track record and others showing little evidence of action. We are concerned that the signals from government to local authorities in the Ten Year Transport Plan and the local transport settlement place undue emphasis on capital spending on major infrastructure projects. We believe this is likely to encourage the less progressive local authorities to focus more of their energies on developing proposals for road schemes, and less on measures to civilise their streets and encourage walking.

  Even in those local authorities that are committed to encouraging walking, the rate of implementation of safe routes to school, traffic calming and so on is much slower than we would wish. This is partly because of lack of revenue funding to employ the necessary staff. We believe government urgently needs to address the way in which lack of revenue funding is constraining local authorities' ability to implement these small-scale, labour-and time-intensive schemes. We also believe that the capital cost of many of the measures needed is considerable. For example, DETR estimates the cost of traffic calming all appropriate residential roads as £3 billion.

  We estimate that the cost of creating 6,500 home zones (the same number as in the Netherlands) would be an additional £1.4 billion, and the cost of providing a safe route to school for every child would be £2 billion. For comparison, DETR has allocated £1 billion over the next five years to local road schemes. However, measures to encourage walking such as those described represent far greater value for money that the majority of local road schemes. For example, benefit-cost ratios for traffic calming schemes are at least 10, around double the BCR of most road schemes.

  We believe that the guidance given to local authorities in PPG13, Guidance on Local Transport Plans, and the government paper Encouraging Walking is good, and that the main problem lies in the slow rate of implementation.

  However, we were disappointed at the government's decision to publish Encouraging Walking as advice to local authorities rather than as a national strategy, and at the late decision made by Ministers to exercise national targets to reverse the decline in walking. The Ten Year Plan now has targets or projections for increasing all other transport modes, but not walking: it will be difficult to increase walking under this pressure.


  1.  Our Towns and Cities: the Future (Urban White Paper) DETR, 2000.

  2.  Reclaiming our Cities and Towns David Engwicht, 1993.

  3.  Life between Buildings Jan Gehl, 1996.

  4.  Road Transport and Health British Medical Association, 1997.

  5.  Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation Department of Health, 1999.

  6.  Thames Valley Health Walks Scheme British Heart Foundation and Countryside Agency, 1999.

  7.  National Travel Survey 1997/99 update DETR, August 2000.

  8.  Vital Travel Statistics Stephen Potter, 1997.

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

  10.  One False Move... a study of children's independent mobility Hillman, Adams and Whitelegg, PSI 1990.

  11.  Many Roads to Cross Pedestrians Association 2000.

  12.  Quoted in Night Site, Joint Mobility Unit and Civic Trust, 1999.

  13.  Transport Retort, issue 23/3, 2000.

  14.  Study by Allott and Lomax for DETR, 1999.

  15.  Slower Speeds Initiative (in preparation) 2001-01-14.

January 2001

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