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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 599)



  580. Do I take it from that that in order to rebalance there has to less priority given and less space for cars and more for pedestrians, in your view?
  (Mr Whitby) We are not anti-car but we have to address the balance with the car and other vehicles on the streets with the needs of the pedestrian.

  581. The balance is wrong currently. Do you think that a national walking strategy and targets for walking would help in this process or not?
  (Mr Whitby) I definitely believe that a national walking strategy would work, much like the national cycling strategy is working and much along the lines that a marathon in London is encouraging people to run. They are major campaigns which have a spin-off in the local community. They work on the basis of linking communities together ultimately to create a long strand across the country. They must work at a local level primarily.

  582. Targets for walking.
  (Mr Whitby) Targets for walking, it is very difficult to measure the amount people walk. We want people to walk more. How that is demonstrated in terms of a target has to be seen in light of some intangible measurable quantity. There are statistics to do with walking, pedestrian accidents particularly, and we wish that if people were to walk more that it did not equal the increase in pedestrian deaths. As people cycle more there are more cycle deaths.

  583. Are you saying that you are not convinced that if there were targets for walking we could find ways of measuring whether we meet them or not effectively.
  (Mr Whitby) I think it is difficult to measure.

Miss McIntosh

  584. Do you think that one of the ways we could restore the balance in favour of pedestrians is to remove the barriers which currently exist, which seem to serve no particular purpose, such as the staggered crossings and the rail guards. Certainly the evidence that the Committee has taken and on the visit that colleagues made to continental venues is they did not exist in any other modern street?
  (Mr Whitby) I completely agree—walking here today we walked across staggered crossings—they are to do with the management of traffic, not pedestrians, and people have to be able to move quickly and freely in order for them to be able to feel they are tolerated as pedestrians in our cities and towns.

  585. What would you like to see them replaced by?
  (Mr Whitby) We need to address phases when we come to busy roads which are prioritised for pedestrians moving from one side to another.

  586. Without causing accidents?
  (Mr Whitby) Just a space which has sufficient time for people who are pedestrians to make a crossing. That would include disabled pedestrians.

  587. What would you deem to be the most appropriate features of a modern street?
  (Mr Whitby) The most appropriate features are a lack of clutter, clear views, an ease of crossing, but equally a tolerance between both the pedestrian and the traffic to the point where both can exist together.

  588. It would appear that in other European cities, not necessarily capital cities, what they do is they have an access which is particularly friendly towards wheelchair access as well as pedestrians, would it not be more appropriate and are you making suggestions we should have that style of crossing rather than staggered crossings and guard rails that we see at the moment?
  (Mr Whitby) Guard rails are purely to protect the traffic from pedestrians doing what they might otherwise naturally wish to do, which is to cross a road in a period when the road is clear of vehicles. They are constraining natural parts of movement. They are only there because otherwise people may wish to use that point.

  589. If you look at Millbank people do avoid the railings and people will cross where they want to cross, the point I am trying to make is, are you positively suggesting they should be removed and replaced with other more pedestrian-friendly features?
  (Mr Whitby) We certainly should be working to remove them. You cannot remove them unless you replace the crossings with crossings which are definitely friendly to the pedestrian.


  590. Do the railings not actually stop people parking by the curbside so they tend to help to keep the traffic flowing and discourage people from parking and do they not stop people parking on pavements?
  (Mr Whitby) They do both of those but more often they constrain the pavement because they occupy parts of the pavement. In some cases two pushchairs could not cross each other.

  591. If there are all these problems why are so many local authorities putting them in?
  (Mr Blackwell) That comes from DETR guidelines on safety. Experience has shown, certainly where those barriers have gone in, they have shepherded more pedestrians to a crossing point and have made that particular crossing point safer. It does nothing for the aesthetics and cuts into the footway, as people have said.

  592. When you say that it cuts down the number of accidents, is that because the same number of people are using that bit of road in crossing at that point or is it merely that fewer people use it and, therefore, there are fewer accidents?
  (Mr Blackwell) I think there are less people walking anyway. It does concentrate the crossing movements to a point where the highway engineers have historically thought it to be much safer than the pedestrians. As has already been pointed out, a lot of pedestrians choose to cross at another point, probably just before the railings start, et cetera, because they perceive those railings as being a hinderance to their movements.

  593. On these safety statistics, does it take into account that people do cross at other points?
  (Mr Blackwell) All accidents are looked at where they occur and local authorities look to see the cause and whether people actually crossed on the crossing or elsewhere.

  594. Do you think that staggered crossings are helping road safety?
  (Mr Blackwell) No, I am not saying that. I think the barriers have helped reduce pedestrian casualties perhaps.
  (Mr Whitby) They have also deterred the pedestrian. It is equally worth saying, when you remarked about the motor car not parking there, it is quite clear that motor cars have great difficulty parking alongside railings. The management of traffic is an important issue and I believe it relates to the pleasure and ability for people to walk.

Mr Brake

  595. Like, I am sure, all other members, in my constituency I have a number of developments that were built in the 70s, 80s, 90s that are very meandering, with lots of different cul-de-sacs. If you want to walk to the furthest house you end up walking three times as far as if you could take a direct route. What are the Urban Design Alliance doing to try and make those sort of developments more accessible?
  (Mr Whitby) It is worth saying that we differ in terms of our view about cul-de-sacs. I can place a point of view which says that cul-de-sacs create a tight community within which young children can play and enjoy the space in front of their own homes with a degree of safety. I live in one and I returned last night to find my neighbours children using it much like an amphi theatre in Rome on their skateboards and scooters. That is a positive aspect of a cul-de-sac. It is worth saying that Barry has negative views about cul-de-sacs.
  (Mr Sellers) One of the things we have also looked at, and there are differing views, is we certainly looked at the possibility of increasing permeability through areas so that people have a wider choice when moving around the environment. There is also the fact that you can have more frontage development to the streets themselves, so there becomes natural surveillance between buildings and the street itself. It also gets rid of the high walls, and so on, which are dead spaces fronting on to streets which can be alienating to people walking along the pavements.

  596. In terms of making that sort of development more accessible by foot from main roads and having paths and shortcuts into developments are you doing anything as an organisation to try and promote that?
  (Mr Sellers) The Alliance itself are looking at new ways of master planning and urban design. It has to be recognised that the master plans of the past have not necessarily been the quality they ought to be. From a professional view we are now looking at ways of providing better guidance on master planning and frameworks so that these can be built into strategies for an area which local authorities could produce, or they could be part of the developers design guidance when they are required to make a planning application. A developer could be required to provide that framework so that the local authority and the people that live in that area would know what the pattern of development is going to be.
  (Mr Whitby) It is worth saying that the police force recognise that there are risks to properties which have cul-de-sacs and pedestrian alleyways running off those cul-de-sacs. We have a balance to strike in this area.

  597. I was going to ask you as a follow up question, how are you trying to address the issues in terms of safety, because there are cases in my constituency where people have wanted to shut off the alleyways because people are transitting through an estate, occasionally with criminal intent, and they are using the alleyways as a shortcuts. How do you balance those two in terms of design?
  (Mr Whitby) As a group we recognise there is a problem and we need to bring all of the stakeholders in to discuss the problem. One of the issues is engaging the Home Office, and through them the police force, in discussing issues to do with the management of urban space, both from the point of view of traffic, how traffic moves through their space and equally the management of crime in that space. We believe that one of the measurables to successful urban design will be a reduction in street crime. Equally we believe that good urban design is related back to the number of pedestrian accidents. It is worth saying that one of the statistics available is that a child from a poor community runs a five-fold risk from pedestrian accidents than a child from a rich community.

  598. Can I finally ask you how receptive, or otherwise, you find the house builders to ideas for improving accessibility by foot on this sort of development?
  (Mr Whitby) The house builders are very integral in urban design initiatives and addressing the legislation behind urban design, particularly as they stand to gain from anything which increases the density on urban plots. They are primarily interested in new buildings. The businesses who are engaging in it are those house builders who are interested in building large, new developments. They are definitely at the table and involved. It is worth saying that we have not, necessarily, engaged them with the totality of this issue in terms of the pedestrian movement through the neighbourhoods.

Mr Olner

  599. Could you perhaps tell me, Mr Whitby, whether you think the technical guidance of street and highway design from the Government is now satisfactory?
  (Mr Whitby) I think to say that it is satisfactory would always be begging a question. There is a lot that can be done to improve the technical guidance year-on-year as we develop a better modelling of best practice across the board and can demonstrate the gains that come from that best practice. There are definitely certain pieces of guidance which owe their origins to the horse and cart, the positioning of bollards away from kerbs, which are more to do with, possibly, a running board on a motorcar, which is now no longer a necessity.

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