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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



Miss McIntosh

  320. Do you both view walking as a form of transport? Do you believe that it has a role to play in reducing total vehicle mileage in a given year?
  (Mr Palmer) Walking is a mode of transport and should be seen as such. One of the difficulties in addressing issues that face pedestrians is that they are not just travellers but shoppers and so on. Pedestrians meet people and engage in window shopping and all kinds of other activities; they do not simply move from A to B. That is perhaps why it has been rather difficult to provide for their needs. The whole object of the exercise is not to try to reduce traffic levels but to provide opportunities to undertake activities by other means, of which walking is one. If we can design the right kinds of land use patterns so that people can walk to activities, for example local shops, local employment and so on, they will undertake activities for which they are not absolutely dependent on the car.
  (Mr Roberts-James) I agree. Walking is a mode of transport. More importantly, walking forms a part of almost every other trip type we make, whether we use public transport or our cars. At some point there is a need to walk to the particular mode. If we have the strategic purpose to try to engender a shift towards the use of public transport one way to do it is to make it easier to get to it. That is something of which we must not lose sight in designing our public transport interchanges and services. People need to be able to get to them safely and conveniently; otherwise, they may not choose to use that mode in the first place.

  321. Professor Goodwin, who used to advise the Deputy Prime Minister, has been quite critical of the Government's proposals, in particular the roads programme in the 10-year transport plan. Do you believe that small pedestrian schemes, and the encouragement of people to walk in towns, can have a greater impact on reducing congestion than the roads programme in its present form?
  (Mr Roberts-James) It depends on where you are and where the scheme is. Clearly, there has been significant under-investment in transport infrastructure and systems for a significant period. Therefore, there is a requirement for major schemes to deal with acknowledged environmental and safety problems. In the right circumstances, that means environmental bypasses of towns, villages and so on. My institution supports that. At the same time, it is a question of balance. We must ensure that we are dealing with the broad range of end-users for whom we seek to improve conditions. What worries the institution to a certain extent is that sometimes it is the small schemes which are necessary to try to improve conditions for pedestrians which are the hardest to deliver in terms of the amount of planning and preparation time as a proportion of the overall scheme cost. It is very hard to deliver small schemes on the ground because of the amount of consultation required to get to grips with understanding them. Some of the hardest jobs in which I have been involved have been small-scale schemes—cycleways, pelican crossings and traffic-calming—as opposed to major schemes. The balance in the 10-year plan is about right in terms of roads, public transport and the general split, but it is important that that plan is delivered, and we monitor it closely to ensure that it achieves the outcomes that we want. Within that we must not lose sight of the need to make sure that local authorities spend money wisely on local safety schemes and schemes for pedestrians. Those are the ones which will have the most tangible and perhaps immediate benefits.
  (Mr Palmer) Small-scale schemes are very good at opening up opportunities, in particular by reducing severance for pedestrians. As an example, an overbridge across a four-lane dual carriageway will take a pedestrian approximately three minutes to cross. If one provides an at-grade crossing one reduces the journey time quite significantly.

Mr Olner

  322. You mentioned the tangible benefits that can flow from small schemes. Do you believe that greater concentration on them should be a pre-condition of the financial settlements in the local transport plan?
  (Mr Palmer) As I understand them, local transport plans were originally designed to be strategic level documents to give an overview and local authorities would have a certain degree of discretion as to how they allocated funds to different types of schemes. Local authorities have produced local walking strategies which are designed to take forward more specific detailed measures. However, in general local transport plans must allocate more to maintenance of footways and the provision of better crossings for pedestrians.

  323. I represent a town in the shire counties and the county council is the highway agency. How does my town say that it has a local transport plan and wants to introduce a number of little schemes which will improve the quality of the environment for pedestrians in both the town centre and the outer urban area, because it will not be a priority at county level?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I believe that the best outcomes are achieved where the various tiers of local government work together in partnership. For example, previously I worked in Cheshire where partnerships were formed between the county, various districts and parishes. That needs to be done on a study area basis. That may be a town, village or grouping of such settlements. However, the secret is to work together and to have informed and inclusive consultation on the arrangements. There will always be a situation in which one part of a county is different from another in a whole range of ways, but that problem must be overcome. One deals with it successfully by forming properly managed joint working groups which are focused on action rather than analysing problems on too great a scale. Although that is an issue it is capable of resolution through mechanisms in use up and down the country at the moment.

  324. Have you made any assessment of the current local transport plan and local transport settlement?
  (Mr Roberts-James) Not yet. We intend to monitor over time the gap between promise and delivery. We are very pleased that a significant amount of money has been allocated to transport and now it is a sustained programme over time. However, we need to keep a check on reality to see whether that is occurring. We say in our written evidence that we would like the DETR to be firm in its monitoring to ensure that what is put forward to local authorities is being spent in the right way. An issue arises on the single capital pot. Maintenance and local safety scheme money is passed to local authorities in a single pot. That is very good when it comes to giving local discretion as to the detail of expenditure, but there is always competition for funds. The institution is very keen that money which is allocated for maintenance is spent on it, because a pothole of no concern to a vehicle may be a matter of concern to a pedestrian. Issues like street lighting and footway and highway maintenance are very important to pedestrian convenience and safety. We must not assume that spending on maintenance is spending on roads.

  325. Given the welcome that you gave this inquiry and your desire to increase the number of pedestrians, do you believe that national and local targets should be set? Do you believe that there is enough data available to set such targets?
  (Mr Palmer) At national level we have the National Travel Survey which provides quite a good basis for understanding trends. At local level it is more difficult.

  326. Is that survey based on a guestimate or hard facts?
  (Mr Palmer) It is the best survey of travel behaviour that we have. One of the benefits of the road safety targets is to unify three disparate parts of the profession—the engineers, the enforcement agencies (eg the police) and the educationists—to try to achieve them. If we had targets for walking we might achieve a similar combination of approach. The difficulty is that because there are so many targets it is difficult to know what they mean. I favour targets of modal shift or share rather than targets of absolute walking, as we have in cycling.
  (Mr Roberts-James) I agree. Targets offer an excellent opportunity to energise people and give purpose and direction to where one is going; they are things to be achieved. But to a certain extent those targets need to be achievable; otherwise, one just creates a rod for one's own back or failure. However, targets help one to decide where one wants to go, so there is a benefit in pursuing them in that way. However, I agree with Mr Palmer that targets based on modal shift as opposed to specific modes are probably the most sensible way forward, given what we understand about walking.

  327. We are all aware that there is little possibility of being able to walk to an out-of-town shopping centre and shop. Do you think that we have got it wrong? We have out-of-town industrial areas. Has the planning system meant that we do not encourage people to walk to work nowadays?
  (Mr Roberts-James) We are where we are in terms of existing land use patterns, and there is a long history about how we have reached the point where there are many out-of-town outlets, business parks and retail units. It is important that we plan the future better than the past in that respect. Therefore, the forthcoming PPG 13 will be very important in setting the framework. It is important that local authorities implement it. That is something which has not had the impact which over time was hoped since it emerged perhaps in 1994. We must ensure that it is enforced. The other option is to try to make our historic and older urban centres more people-friendly so that we attract people back. Out-of-town retail opportunities in particular cannot compete with some of our historic cities, for example Chester which offers a whole range of things that an out-of-town outlet cannot match. We must play to the strengths of existing urban centres and make them more accessible, attractive and people-friendly. We may well start to reverse that trend through market approaches. The most important part of this is PPG 13 which we urge should be released as soon as possible.


  328. Do you expect it ever to be released?
  (Mr Roberts-James) Absolutely!

  329. When?
  (Mr Roberts-James) In political terms, we live in difficult times. Because of elections and the like we may have to wait until perhaps June or July—who knows? I believe that the sooner it is released the sooner practitioners and decision-makers in local government will understand what it means and we shall be in a stronger position from which to work.

  330. If it is as good as you say surely it is an election winner?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I have seen only a draft.

  331. And you believe that that is not an election winner?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I cannot comment.

Mr O'Brien

  332. You have referred to targets, including those for road safety. There is no real data about the number of people who walk and the value of that activity. Bearing in mind that we must have regard to best value as between one authority and another, what do you consider is happening in practice? As far as concerns walking, the best city of which I am aware is York which has promoted pedestrians as a priority. York is renowned throughout the country. What happens in practice in our cities?
  (Mr Palmer) I believe that the York hierarchical approach is increasingly being taken on board by other local authorities. I suspect that it is adopted more in historic centres than elsewhere. The benefit of a hierarchy is that it helps in the planning, design and operation of the infrastructure. This week we have seen the reports from Hull where the traffic light sequencing has been changed so that it is on call for vehicles rather than pedestrians who enter certain areas. These kinds of changes can make pedestrian behaviour change quite significantly.

  333. If one takes York as an example where walking is being encouraged, there remain an inner ring road and narrow roads used by traffic. Do you believe that pedestrians should have priority in cities like York and vehicles should stop when someone wants to cross the road?
  (Mr Roberts-James) It is about getting the right balance. One must balance economy, environment and safety; one cannot take broad-brush approaches and transfer them very easily from one city or town to the next. The fundamental issue in places like York is political leadership. At the end of the day, local government officers do the work and political leaders set the agenda. The crucial point is that political leadership which sets the right framework and culture to promote opportunities for pedestrians is the central facet in areas where it has gone very well. It is important to set one's priorities such that pedestrians and cyclists are very much at the forefront. In our written evidence we set out how we believe that should be taken forward. However, in the end it is a very complicated balance.

  334. Therefore, do you think it is realistic that motorists should stop for cyclists or pedestrians whenever they want to cross the road?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I am quite concerned that there is a different value for time applied to pedestrians and motorists. We often see large groups of pedestrians waiting to cross at a pelican crossing while one or two cars pass over a couple of minutes. Clearly, the signal that is sent out is that the value of time to drivers is much more important than for pedestrians. In terms of our appraisal, forecasting and modelling techniques it may well be that we should pay higher regard to pedestrians' time and valued it more highly. There is no reason why my time as a pedestrian is any less valuable than a driver's if he is driving to a meeting and I am walking to one. It is a matter of getting the right balance in terms of value of time, and that may well lead to different outcomes.

Mrs Ellman

  335. What is the maximum time that a pedestrian should have to wait to cross the road?
  (Mr Palmer) Should he have to wait? If one looks at, say, Borehamwood in Hertfordshire, pedestrians have a central median strip which allows them to cross as and when they want to; they are not channelled into formal crossing points if they do not want to use them. That is based on some research done in Germany where it is estimated that about 60 per cent of people in shopping centre areas cross at random. The view is taken that rather than try to channel pedestrians into places where they may not want to be they should be allowed to cross as safely as possible wherever they are. Therefore, they do not have to wait. If one combines that with traffic-calming measures to reduce traffic speeds on the entries to those areas it changes pedestrian and car-user behaviour.

  336. What about the general picture? You have referred to the value of pedestrians' as well as motorists' time. How do you translate that into reasonable waiting times?
  (Mr Roberts-James) There is no easy answer to that question. The answer probably lies in having a hierarchical approach. If there is a hierarchy of route types, some should serve strategic purposes for motorists and some should be serving local objectives for pedestrians. On that hierarchy will depend how much time or priority should be given to pedestrians. I believe that on some roads as soon as a pedestrian pushes the button on the pelican, and it is safe to cross, he should be able to do so. One takes a hierarchical approach in deciding who has priority on those particular routes.


  337. I take my revenge on motorists. As I reach one of those crossings I press the button and then dodge through the traffic. As I disappear down the road and look back I see all the cars queuing to let an imaginary person cross the road.
  (Mr Palmer) One must remember that pedestrians do not cross only at crossings. There are lots of junctions where they do not have preferential treatment and, as a result of junction design, it takes them a lot longer than necessary to cross. For example, my walk to the station would take me about 25 minutes. If there were better junction design I could reduce it by almost five minutes.

Mrs Ellman

  338. Have any assessments been undertaken in the planning of crossings, whether through the hierarchy that you describe or any other way?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I am not aware of any work that has been done on the basis of that hierarchical approach. That is one idea that the institution may well look at. Work is being done now to look at rural road hierarchies in terms of safety. I believe that the Secretary of State has to provide a report within a year under the Transport Act 2000. There is a move towards consideration of hierarchies based on purpose in relation to speed. I believe that to transfer that approach into urban areas will give some opportunity to try to set a framework within which local authorities up and down the country can be consistent. It may well be that that is something which the committee can urge should be looked at. That would give us ammunition to discuss with the DETR funding for further work. There is an opportunity there, but I do not know that it has been examined in any great detail.

  339. Where is that work being undertaken?
  (Mr Roberts-James) The rural safety management work emerged through the IHT and has been taken on by the DETR as part of its current workload. I am not sure that the urban hierarchy is being taken forward in any great detail. I believe that it is a typology approach which the institution should like to spend time considering.
  (Mr Palmer) Many of the local transport plans that I have seen adopt hierarchical-type approaches to the allocation of road space in urban areas.

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