Memorandum by Peter Waite Esq (WTC 50)
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
The Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE)
has suggested that Members may wish to comment on the following
Engineering in towns in relation
Problems encountered by people with
disabilities and people with children
The need to balance pedestrian safety
with ease of use and access
Obstructions to pedestrians; ie:
unauthorised use of pavement by cars etc.
This paper addresses the topics recommended
by ACE and covers items 2,3,4 and 5. The author is a safety and
environment professional and has recently prepared reports for
the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry Secretariat and given expert evidence
to that Inquiry as well as advising major companies on Safety
There appears to be widespread acceptance that
the Government should be encouraging the use of Public Transport
and encouraging everyone to place less reliance on the use of
private cars. One of the main reasons that motorists prefer to
use their own cars for commuting and other journeys is that their
car provides them with their own personal space, secure, climate
controlled and insulated from most of the unpleasant effects of
having to fit in with the requirements and habits of others. In
contrast pedestrians suffer from the opposite of all these benefits,
and no matter how sophisticated public transport becomes we will
still have to be pedestrians for a short time to reach appropriate
pick-up points. (Most motorists will also need to be pedestrians
at some time but they often go to extreme measures, see below,
to minimise the distance and duration of any extra-vehicular activity).
Therefore there is a need to encourage a safe,
pleasant environment to move around without the sense of security
and comfort provided by the car.
There are many factors which discourage walking
in towns and cities, I have selected two categories with several
examples in each to demonstrate how improvements may be made:
1. Environmental Factors. Walking in the city
is often unpleasant because:
(a) Wind and rain, particularly spray from
the wheels of fast moving vehicles close to footpaths.
(b) The need to cross increasingly busy roads.
(c) Pollution, particularly from road vehicles.
(d) Fears for personal safety, both in crowds
and in isolated spaces.
2. Interactions. Pedestrians are affected
by the actions of others who intrude on their space:
(a) Crowds in the busiest parts of towns
and cities which can slow progress.
(b) Motor vehicles driving on/obstructing
the footpath (illegal in most cities but not enforced).
(c) Cyclists riding on the footpath.
(d) Motor vehicles obstructing pedestrian
crossings in heavy traffic, or threatening people crossing by
edging forward in anticipation of light change.
(e) Frequent passing red lights on pedestrian
crossing (cycles and motor vehicles).
The rest of this paper addresses the relevant
issues against headings indicating how the situation may be improved.
Pedestrians could be given higher levels of
security, convenience and comfort by inclusion of various design
measures to promote their interests. A number are listed below
1. High curbs to prevent encroachment by
road vehicles and lessen the effects of spray; where curbs are
lowered for pram/wheelchair access ensure this is not an invitation
for vehicles to drive on to pavement by suitable bollards/width
2. Giving the roadway a sloped surface (traditional
camber) and good drainage, or use of surfaces with less water
retention could also reduce spray (with benefits to road safety
by reduction in skidding potential).
3. Where grade separated crossings are used
or being considered then the designers should ensure that pedestrians
have the least severe gradients. Over bridges and subways are
often inconvenient and the latter threatening.
4. Consider pedestrians when designing new
buildings and encourage the use of colonnades or other architectural
devices to improve the pedestrians environment, providing shelter
from the wind and rain but not total enclosure.
5. Separate cycle paths from footpaths where
6. The phasing of lights at road junctions
should suit the convenience and safety of pedestriansnot
road traffic; eg avoid large numbers of people waiting on a central
reservation; ensure red lights immediately adjacent to the pedestrian
crossing point not just on the far side of a junction. (Cf Islington
High St/Upper Street/Liverpool Road Junction).
7. In town and city centres consider having
narrow roadways with loading/unloading bays as appropriate coupled
with complex one way systems cf Oxford and Brugge (Belgium) to
ensure no through traffic. Provide car parks at the edge of town.
The prime need in towns and cities is to provide
and maintain a flat surface with no trip hazards and in order
to ensure this measures should be taken to avoid vehicles, even
those associated with maintenance, parking on surfaces unsuited
to heavy traffic. Vehicles can also deposit oils and other debris
on the footway which can be slippery and unpleasant.
A major source of problems is activity associated
with services because the surface is not always re-instated to
the original standard, or may be re-laid temporarily whilst settlement
occurs. Services should be installed beneath roadways rather than
footpaths, or service ducts should be provided for all services
and with adequate, engineered access points.
Maintenance of a level and clean footpath surface
should be given at least the same priority as road surfaces. Where
damage has occurred due to road vehicles then maintenance funds
from road budgets should be used to re-instate the surface and
provide protection against future encroachment.
Obstructions to the footway should be avoided.
Signs, light supports, telephone and post boxes should not obstruct
the pavement, particularly signs for road traffic. If large signs
are necessary then put supports at extreme edges of the footway,
never in the middle.
The layout of footpaths should pay particular
attention to ease of use by blind persons, wheelchair users and
those with prams or pushchairs. Street furniture can be a source
of obstruction to all of these users and a particular danger to
Many pedestrian schemes are confusing if they
allow access by motor vehicles for loading or unloading. Where
alternative access cannot be arranged then the use of severe speed
limits 5 mph (close to walking speed) and restricted times of
access should be considered. An alternative is to have a narrow,
single lane for road vehicles in the centre of streets with loading/unloading
bays as necessary for essential vehicles. This would also allow
for safe access by emergency vehicles.
Many streets in our towns and cities have old
residential properties designed before the universal use of private
cars. Front gardens are often converted to car parks or cars are
parked on pavements. There should be no parking on forecourts
of commercial premises which involves vehicles crossing a footway.
If the owners or occupiers want such a facility for their staff
or customers then the footway should be moved next to the building
and the parking areas next to the road to avoid the conflicting
use of the footpath. (In many cases the forecourt areas become
inadequate for the demand created and the overflow parking obstructs
Fixed obstructions by signs and other street
furniture should be removed, as they require replacement.
There should be clear national penalties for
parking/driving/cycling on footpaths, with removal of vehicles
causing an obstruction in the same way as for other parking offences.
Penalties should take account of the damage
to the surface and damage to existing services, particularly old
water and gas mains. Note that traffic over gas mains laid in
pavements has resulted in gas leaks, leading to explosions with
deaths and injuries.
Utilities and contractors occupying footpaths,
as part of street-works should be charged a rental for the space
occupied based upon the use of the footpath and so the disruption
A dangerous area of conflict exists at light
controlled pedestrian crossings. There should be regulation on,
or enforcement of, a prohibition of obstruction of crossings by
All new road and building schemes in towns and
cities should be evaluated in terms of how they improve the safety
and environment for pedestrians; particularly any schemes designed
to improve traffic flow. A Standard approach should be developed
with specific issues to address such as:
Will pedestrians be delayed?
Is the walking distance increased?
Will pedestrians have to change levels?
Are there adequate loading/unloading
bays avoiding obstructions to the footpath?
Is there physical separation to protect
Are junctions provided with adequate
crossing points for pedestrians, not involving diversions or delays
with safe positioning of signals?
The Government or Health & Safety Executive
may wish to consider the use of the Health & Safety at Work,
etc Act 1974 to enforce proper consideration of safety of pedestrians
and other users in all development schemes, changes to road layouts,
etc. This may entail the use of specific regulations, similar
to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations made under
the Act to give added protection to Construction workers, and
those affected by Construction activities. These regulations put
a requirement on designers to consider safety in construction,
maintenance and use.
In order to improve the comfort and safety of
pedestrians it is necessary to enforce and strengthen existing
regulations to prevent driving/parking/cycling on footpaths. Enforcement
could be through traffic wardens and local authorities could be
allowed to keep the proceeds of fines, or levy penal damages to
contribute to pavement maintenance.
The general enforcement of laws and regulations
for motor vehicles and cyclists should be subject to similar policies
of "zero tolerance" of other "street crimes"
which are designed to improve the environment of our towns and
cities and were cited as other reasons that people retreat to
the security of cars.
It may be necessary to introduce some form of
identification for cyclists so that they can be subject to the
same enforcement standards for red light and other offences.
Do not introduce the "left turn on red"
option being discussed, which would threaten the safety of pedestrians
and restrict their freedom of movement even further.