Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by D Paul Cullen (WTC 60)



  I am a professional transport consultant whose specialisms include walking. I gave evidence on behalf of the Pedestrians Policy Group to the Inquiry of the House of Commons Transport Committee into Risk Reduction for Vulnerable Road Users during its 1995-96 session.

  This submission is made from the perspective of the user of the walking environment, rather than from that of the supplier or the policy maker.

Question (1): The contribution of walking to the Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reducing dependency on cars

  Walking is popular and continues to be so. This fact is demonstrated by the large and growing membership of organisations like the Ramblers Association; and by the fact that magazines devoted entirely to recreational walking can be purchased from major newsagents.

  What has declined is not the desire to walk—among the changes have been the growing dominance of motor traffic and its by-products on urban streets. The urban walker experiences ever increasing noise, air pollution, driver aggression, road danger (including a disproportionately high level of death and injury), threatening streets and stress. Standing at the roadside, delayed and diverted, breathing in noxious gases, it is easy to watch drivers passing by with apparent indifference and conclude that the way to go is by car.

  Parents with cars have responded to these conditions by denying their children independent mobility, replacing walk journeys with car escort journeys.

  The fact that people will travel long distances to enjoy recreational walking underpins not only the recreational and well-being benefits of such exercise, but demonstrates just how great the potential for improving urban environments is, through reducing the dominance of motor vehicles and re-establishing the pleasure of going about one's business on foot.

  Clearly walking in towns and cities is not, and should not be, simply about transport. Conditions should encourage people to undertake recreational and health walking locally.

Question (2): The reasons for the decline in walking, and the main obstacles to encouraging walking and increasing the number of journeys made on foot

  The reasons for the decline in walking include those described above, but also the dispersal of homes and businesses away from towns and cities has made it much more difficult to fulfil all one's needs locally. Some local journeys have been replaced by vehicle journeys; but many people without access to cars have found that they can no longer make certain journeys. Local facilities may have been closed or relocated, but there is no satisfactory means to access their replacements. Elderly people may find that they no longer go out.

  The main obstacles to encouraging walking are:

    —  the continuing acceptance that car use should be largely unconstrained—that wherever possible the car trip should be door to door; and

    —  the absence of public transport services that people want or are prepared to use in order to replace some car journeys.

Question (3): What should be done to promote walking...

  Walking needs greater status. Its value is tremendous, for everybody can walk or make journeys in the company of others who are on foot. No other mode is as socially inclusive. It is cheap to walk, so even the least well off can use it to gain access to opportunities. It deserves to be promoted. Unlike motoring or cycling, there is no strong commercial thrust to promote walking. Its promotion must come from the public sector.

  People respond to promotions when they see that there is a benefit for them to do so.

  People who walk for part or all of their journeys deserve encouragement and praise, for their chosen method of travel requires little in the way of capital or revenue funding, does not pollute, is not environmentally threatening and is not dangerous. It is the most sustainable of all travel modes. Yet the roadside experience can feel like a punishment.

  Walking and public transport are intertwined. Public transport depends extensively on the ability of its customers to walk to and from it. The promotion of walking entails:

    —  Identifying popular walking champions and giving them prominence

    —  Emphasising the value of reducing the dominance of motor traffic in towns

    —  Improving the quality (and status) of public transport

    —  Increasing the status of walking

    —  Showing people how walking more can improve their lives.

Question (4): What can be learnt from good practice in England and elsewhere

  The biggest lesson to be learnt is that promoting walking requires a different philosophy for the use of urban highway space to that which has become the convention. The philosophy for giving precedence to motor traffic simply does not work in towns. Two changes must occur:

    —  Motor-traffic engineering needs to be replaced by people-traffic engineering, and the capacity of roads and junctions needs to be measured in people, not in vehicles.

    —  The road safety approach, whereby people on foot are diverted, delayed and contained in order to keep them away from the danger of motor vehicles, must be replaced by an approach to reducing road danger by controlling the source of danger and not those who are threatened by it.

      These lessons are understood in many European towns and cities. There have been worthy attempts to introduce them in England, especially in York and Avon, and in the Gloucester Safe Cities demonstrations; but while there have been some notable improvements to streetscape (ie to the appearance of streets) in some towns, there is little to demonstrate what can be achieved through city-wide people-traffic engineering.

    Question (5): Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

      At all levels of seniority, the appropriate skills and training are largely absent. There are individual exceptions to this of course, but it is largely true of all the professions involved in the complex task of providing and maintaining the walking environment. Also absent is an understanding of the reasons for the need to acquire new skills. This will remain the case while the functions of walking are misunderstood, and while the design objectives of traffic engineers remain for the most part to accommodate vehicles, without necessarily considering the effects on people walking beside and crossing roads; and while many among the Police see their complementary task as being "to keep the traffic moving".

    Question (6): Whether all Government Departments... are taking appropriate measures... and whether ... Encouraging Walking are adequate

      No. If they were, walking in towns would be increasing and not continuing to decline.

    Question (7): Whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking...

      Yes, greater priority must be given; but it must be given by all concerned with some aspect of providing the walking experience. Although much Government funding is disbursed via local authorities, many other organisations receive some form of Government funding. These organisations must also be directed to increase their efforts to improve the walking experience. This includes rail companies and the Police. Reallocation of road space to improve walking experiences involves not only local Councils, but also their contractors, utilities and other organisations that undertake streetworks. All must be involved in moves to improve people's experience of the walk elements of their journeys. Planning guidance must direct developers and others to whose space the public has access, to provide walking facilities in accordance with best practice.

      Such moves need to be accompanied by proper procedures to consult (rather than to notify) users about their walking experiences and needs.

    Question (8): Whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published

      Yes. Professionals will not change their approach without a national thrust to do so. Targets are an acknowledged way of achieving this, for they help focus minds. At present walking, despite its importance in everybody's lives, remains without any Government targets. This sends a strong message to the professions, that the Government has no serious intent to increase the role of walking.

    Question (9): Other matters

      The New Roads and Streetworks Act militates against efforts by Councils to control companies undertaking streetworks. This needs to be remedied.

      Footways and paths, zebra crossings and other essential components of the walking infrastructure are in poor condition in many towns. The quality of the walking surface is a critical element of any walk journey. Among those who walk are the elderly and others who find it difficult to get about. They deserve consistency in the application of funds for the maintenance of footways and other walking facilities. Footway condition and funding targets must be covered by a national Strategy.

      Driver crime and cyclist crime, for example ignoring red traffic lights and footway cycling, must be attended to. Recent statistics have shown a substantial increase in pedestrian deaths and injuries in London. Much of this increase will be attributable to those in charge of vehicles.

    4 January 2001

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