Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eleventh Report


Conditions for pedestrians

26. Car travel has been accommodated not only through the planning system, but also by the assumption, which is not set down in any guidance, legislation or regulations, that motor traffic takes priority over walking. The attitude of many local authorities is that streets and roads are mainly for the passage of motor vehicles. The DETR observed:

    "over the last 50 years, most planning decisions relating to the wider local transport network have been based on improving conditions for car travel; the needs of people on foot have usually taken second place".[48]

27. The result of accommodating vehicle traffic has been ever worse conditions for pedestrians.[49] Surveys of public opinion have found that problems of traffic - speeding cars, difficulties in crossing roads - are a major deterrent to walking. Paul Cullen observed:

    "People who walk for part or all of their journeys deserve encouragement and praise for... (choosing) the most sustainable of all travel modes. Yet the roadside experience can feel like a punishment".[50]

We were also told:

    "Too often traffic schemes include measures which make it difficult for people to cross roads safely in their local areas, for example with roundabouts, filter lanes or bus priority junctions".[51]

Terence Bendixson added:

    "In effect might is right and, except on designated crossings, pedestrians are generally obliged to defer to vehicles".[52]

28. The speed of traffic is a serious problem. The proximity to fast-moving traffic is unpleasant for and intimidates pedestrians and it puts many people off walking altogether. Large lorries are particularly threatening.[53] It was argued that the passage of vehicles at 30 miles an hour or more was seen as perfectly legitimate, regardless of the effects on people on foot. Motorists also kill pedestrians, and speed is often a major contributory factor. Of the 3,423 people killed in roads incidents in 1999 in Great Britain, 867 (25%) were pedestrians. The number of child pedestrians killed is particularly high compared with other European countries. 107 people under the age of 15 died in 1999. Fear of speeding, accidents and injury is one of the main reasons people give for not walking or letting their children walk more.[54] The Institute of Child Health made a number of striking observations about our attitude to the death of children on our roads:

    "The political neglect of road danger must be one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century".

    " the death of a child following abuse taken as evidence of the failure of our collective efforts to protect children, whereas a child pedestrian death represents only the failure of an individual child to stop, look and listen?"[55]

29. This is not to deny that accidents involving pedestrians have declined steadily over the last 30 years. However, per mile travelled, pedestrians are 16 times more likely to be killed than car occupants. 20 years ago they were 8 times more likely to be killed. The relative risk has changed in large part because car travel has become much safer for drivers and passengers. The decline in pedestrian deaths has come about because people walk less and local authorities have pursued policies of accident reduction, which are aimed at pedestrian safety, but frequently make conditions less pleasant for walking and probably discourage it.[56] Coventry Agenda 21 group informed us of schemes of this type going under the heading of traffic management or road safety including cattle pen type crossings, railings, raised central reservations and the conversion of zebra crossings to pelican crossings.[57]

30. Pedestrians also have to contend with narrow pavements, often made narrow to increase the width of roads. The situation is made worse by all manner of ugly obstacles. Parked cars, a morass of posts, guard railings, traffic signs, litter and grit bins, sandwich boards, redundant phone boxes, commercial waste and wheelie bins all obstruct the pavement and seem to be dumped or sited with little thought for the consequences for walkers.[58] Indeed, as the Chairman of the Urban Design Alliance aptly pointed out, our streets are characterised by an absence of design.[59] Added to this clutter to create a most unpleasant scene are the consequences of poor public management of streets and public spaces, including litter, dog mess and uneven pavements.

Personal security

31. Such an environment increases feelings of personal insecurity which are a significant deterrent to walking.[60] The fear of crime was raised by many witnesses. Specific concerns include poor lighting and subways and alleyways, where would-be assailants could hide.[61] A badly lit path on the way to a bus stop could be the weak link in the chain that causes someone to abandon a trip by foot and public transport in favour of one by car.[62] Although the perceived risk of crime is often greater than the reality, the fear of street crime has been a major factor in the decline of walking, as the Planning Officers Society and the Local Government Technical Advisors Group pointed out.[63] People aged 65 years and over are particularly afraid of walking alone at night even though they are less likely to be victims of violence.[64] A downward spiral has been created whereby people do not walk because of the fear of crime which, in turn, has reduced the protection afforded by the presence of other "eyes on the street", and has made street crime more likely.[65]

32. Poor urban design and street management, and changes in policing priorities have contributed to these problems. The Pedestrian Association told us that it was concerned that there had been a move away from the role of the police as enforcers of public order in local communities.[66] Research conducted in the USA suggests that the loss of uniformed police officers from the streets undermines public confidence in the quality and safety of the local environment.[67]

Data on walking

33. Unfortunately, while we know the principal causes of the decline in walking, we have little idea of the exact contribution of each cause. Part of the difficulty is that there are almost no reliable local data on walking. Some local authorities such as the City of Birmingham collect their own,[68] but many other places do not. This is important because precise information is required if the most cost-effective solutions are to be found to the problem.

34. The main basis of analysis is currently the National Travel Survey. From this we know that the total distance travelled is increasing. It has grown by 44% in the last 25 years. Moreover, the number of trips made under one mile is decreasing. A good proportion of the increase in distance travelled is due to people switching from walking to other modes of transport. In part this is because there are fewer trips within walkable distance as a result of land use policies which have dispersed facilities.[69] However, this is not the whole story. It does not take account of the greater choice of destinations available when people travel by car; people are switching to the car and then choosing destinations which are further away. [70] Moreover, people have moved from higher density locations in urban areas where they walk to local facilities to lower density estates where they use the car more for all types of journeys.[71]

35. The National Travel Survey may tell us how much walking is done but we have little understanding of why particular groups of people walk or do not walk. The relative importance of factors such as physical conditions, fear of crime, traffic and lack of time in reducing walking is unknown. There has been very little research into walking in the past and it is important to gain a better understanding of the contribution of the relevant factors if the decline in walking is to be reversed. Accordingly we recommend that the Department commission further research into this matter and other aspects of walking behaviour and motivation which are poorly understood.


36. Decline does not have to continue. Although we do not know its precise causes there is sufficient evidence to show in general what should be done. More detailed research will make it possible to take more finely-tuned measures, but in any case policies should aim to civilise our towns and cities. The obvious steps are to reverse the causes of decline where possible and copy good practice both in the UK and on the continent. This is not to say that the immense changes in society over the last 50 years can be reversed; for instance, people will continue to drive to the numerous out-of-town facilities. Nevertheless, there is no reason why best practice cannot be adopted more widely.

37. Against the trend of decline in a few English cities walking has increased, for instance in Oxford, Brighton, Bath, York and central London. It is notable that these are successful and prosperous places. We were also informed of examples of good practice in Sheffield, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Leicester, Worcester and Birmingham.[72] In some continental cities, such as Groningen and Utrecht, the percentage of trips on foot or by bicycle exceeds 50%,[73] and many of the memoranda we received indicated that there was much which could be learnt. However, a few witnesses demurred. Lord Macdonald was sceptical of comparisons with the continent, commenting "you must be conscious that you are looking at 1,000 years of a different history, different cultures, towns that are built differently".[74] The Association of Town Centre Managers argued that in England people were not inclined to linger on the street because of the climate, but such an opinion fails to take into account the fact that many of the countries with the best environments for pedestrians and the most walkers are in Northern Europe, in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, where the climate is no more conducive to walking than in England.[75] Moreover, in the 1960s many of these cities were given over to the car, but changes of policy have had radical effects.

38. The lessons from these UK and continental cities where walking is increasing can be applied elsewhere. Particularly important are planning policies. Cities where walking is common tend to have similar patterns of land use. They also have transport strategies which give primacy to pedestrians. In addition such strategies need to attempt to provide the type of convenience, which is currently available to motorists, to walkers and users of other modes of transport, for example by encouraging home delivery. Finally these cities have better conditions for pedestrians. Among the measures which create such conditions are more direct and better routes, pedestrian priority areas, speed and danger reduction, and improved management of streets and public spaces, including, most importantly, better personal security.

Planning policies

39. Land use planning policies were widely seen as the key to encouraging walking.[76] Policy should promote mixed use, compact cities which keep distances short. The Government has accepted this, its White Paper, quoting with approval the following comments from Lord Rogers:

    "We need a vision that will drive the urban renaissance. We believe that cities should be well designed, be more compact and connected ... allowing people to live, work and enjoy themselves at close quarters within a sustainable urban environment."[77]

High densities mean that there are more people to support local services which can be reached by walking. The traditional post war housing development with its 'lollipop' layout should be replaced by ground plans which facilitate walking.[78]

40. New developments for leisure, retail and other services need to be smaller than at present and located in centres which are accessible on foot. Planning guidance and development plan policies based on it should be modified to reject most large format developments, which will be accessed primarily by car. Some EU countries have begun to address the problem by restricting the size of new development. The Republic of Ireland has recently set a 5,000m² limit on the size of superstores. In Denmark it is very diificult to get planning permission to establish new food outlets of more than 3000 square metres and non-food outlets of more than 1000 square metres.[79] We discuss this issue in more detail below.

Transport strategies

41. Secondly, transport strategies should be introduced which give priority to and promote walking. Coventry Agenda 21 argued that "a new culture of 'pedestrian first' needs to be applied in policy and planning to encourage walking".[80] CABE informed us that "walkers should be given primacy in the urban environment and should be seen as being at the apex of a transport hierarchy; walking is still the main means of movement in towns and cities and the planning of our streets should reflect that".[81] The Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT) told us that clear priorities were needed "as a guide where choices are to be made, particularly in LTPs (Local Transport Plans)".[82] The organisation argued that the following hierarchy of groups should be used in developing transport and land use strategies and in targeting investment:

    1. Pedestrians
    2. Cyclists
    3. Public transport passengers
    4. Deliveries to business
    5. Other business traffic by car
    6. Shoppers and other visits by car
    7. Commuters by car.[83]

It would make little practical sense to apply these priorities on all roads and streets in all circumstances. Few would suggest, for example, that pedestrians should have the right to cross any part of any road at any time without reference or deference to other road users. However, there are many urban situations where current priorities provide indiscriminate priority to motor vehicles, and this should be changed.

Re-classification of the road system

42. Several witnesses argued that changed priorities should be brought about by a re-classification of the urban road network since the present classification was outdated and inappropriate.[84] Most classifications are concerned only with the vehicle traffic, but streets have many other functions, for instance, "as places for social interaction, community life, play and relaxation".[85] We were informed:

     "The Government should work with local authorities and the Highways Agency to develop a new road classification. The current traffic hierarchy should be replaced with a new road use hierarchy. This would incorporate all the functions which roads and streets are expected to fulfill, including traffic movement, parking, shopping, social exchange and play"; and

    "In towns, this new hierarchy should be the basis for new national highway design standards".[86]

43. Roads vary in character from motorways, from which pedestrians are excluded, to pedestrianised zones, where traffic is excluded. Between these two extremes, however, there are many possibilities. Under a new classification, on some main roads in urban areas vehicles would continue to have primacy. On residential roads pedestrians would have priority using traffic calming, speed limits and home zones, although traffic would have access. Perhaps the main change would be to the main roads which carry through traffic but which are also important for pedestrians, for instance because of the presence of local shops, hospitals and schools.[87] Here, under the new classification, speed reduction, wider pavements, more pedestrian crossings, shorter waiting times at crossings and the removal of guard railings could all increase pedestrian priority, while still carrying general traffic. The Strand in central London seems to have been a successful redesign of this kind.[88]

44. In some parts of England such a classification has begun to be introduced, for example in urban areas of Devon and in Birmingham. In Portland, Oregon, a new approach of this kind has been adopted, and roads are classified according to whether pedestrians, public transport or cars have priority. This classification then informs planning decisions and highway design.

45. There should be an opportunity to undertake the re-classification as part of the DETR's examination of existing hierarchies announced in its road safety strategy, Tomorrow's Road - Safer for Everyone.[89] At present rural areas are the focus of the re-appraisal, but it should be extended to urban areas and should be able to take into account in any new designation who uses and lives beside the road.

Alternatives to the car

46. Transport strategies can encourage walking in other ways, for instance by making it as or more convenient to walk as to use the car for certain journeys. Some car trips such as bulk shopping at supermarkets seem to most people to be essential, but even these can sometimes be avoided. Much food shopping can in future be ordered over the Internet and delivered to our homes. The main order could in many cases be supplemented by a walk to the local shops. Transport strategies can promote such developments.

Conditions for pedestrians

47. During the inquiry we heard numerous proposals for improving conditions for pedestrians. Nevertheless, there was a considerable amount of agreement about what to do, and many of the measures proposed by witnesses are also to be found in the DETR's Encouraging Walking, although few have been implemented. The key is to create what the Association of Town Centre Managers called pedestrian friendly towns, which "can signal real renewal and hope for the urban fabric. Few undertakings can bring as much pleasure to communities or achieve such observable or measurable results".[90]

Improvements to physical infrastructure - dedicated routes

48. The proposal which perhaps received most support, recurring in many memoranda, was the creation of pedestrian networks, "dedicated networks around and across towns and cities for walking ... which link residential areas with green spaces, schools, shopping districts, business parks, sports and leisure facilities".[91] Direct routes are important to pedestrians because detours can make a big difference to short journeys. The Civic Trust emphasised that "each route along which people want to walk must be assessed to determine if it is convenient, safe and comfortable".[92] Encouraging Walking refers to the 5 'C's of quality networks being connected, convenient, comfortable, convivial and conspicuous.

49. Several witnesses argued that a start should be made by improving routes used for specific journeys, for instance to schools and public transport facilities. According to Transport 2000, councils and public transport operators should improve the walking catchment area around all stations and bus stops in order to reduce the deterrent effect of the walk to the bus stop or station.[93] The steps Government and others are taking to improve these routes are considered below.

50. Two crucial aspects of dedicated pedestrian routes are better crossings of main roads and segregation from fast moving traffic. It was argued that "greater separation between moving cars and pedestrians is essential".[94] The Ramblers Association commented:

    "Crossing roads is often an unavoidable part of any journey on foot. As such, it is essential that crossing points are safe and convenient and that they are created at the locations where they are needed".[95]

National TravelWise Association pointed out that this will mean cars stopping more often to give way to pedestrians.[96]

51. An important feature of these walking networks should be the linking of town and countryside. The Countryside Agency stressed the importance of ensuring that residential areas and the city centre are linked with green spaces and the surrounding countryside.[97] The Ramblers Association informed us that:

    "To reduce reliance on the private car and to encourage walking for health reasons it is important that people can walk from towns and cities and out into the countryside using safe and convenient pavements, footpaths and other ways from which vehicular traffic is excluded. For example, people will be deterred from walking into the countryside from say market towns if at the town fringes the pavement ends and they are forced to share the road with motor traffic".[98]

48  Encouraging Walking, p 15 Back

49  Q579: "streets have progressively been, over the last 30 or possibly 50 years, possibly longer, designed for traffic and the pedestrians have been marginalised"  Back

50  WTC60; Mr Cullen is a professional transport consultant Back

51  WTC42; the comments are from the Joint Committee on Mobility of Blind and Partially Sighted People, and refer to the failure to take account of "the needs of pedestrians, including blind, deafblind and partially sighted people"  Back

52   WTC22; Mr Bendixson is a Visiting Fellow, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Southampton Back

53  WTC25 Back

54  WTC07 Back

55  WTC19 Back

56  WTC02, WTC61 Back

57  WTC61 Back

58  WTC31 Back

59  Q601: "most of the urban environment is not designed at all, it happens on an ad hoc basis by a series of different groups incrementally adding and subtracting from it" Back

60  Eg see WTC13, WTC16 Back

61  WTC 85 Back

62  WTC 18 Back

63  WTC 21 Back

64  WTC 48 Back

65  WTC 21 Back

66  WTC 30 Back

67  WTC 30 Back

68  WTC16 Back

69  WTC20; and see National Travel Survey, 1997-99 update table 5.8 Back

70  National Travel Survey, 1997-9, table 3.2 The average length of a trip has increased by 27% in 25 years, but the average length of a car trip has increased at half that rate (13%) Back

71  Mayer Hillman (WTC 23) discusses the consequences of lower residential densities. Terence Bendixson (WTC 22) contrasts Bath where 25% of residents walked to work in 1991 with Solihull where the figure is 8%  Back

72  WTC12 Back

73  Idem Back

74  Q495 Back

75  Q250 Back

76  WTC69 Back

77  Cm 4911, p.42 Back

78  WTC102 Back

79  Collection of cycle concepts, Danish Road Directorate, 2001, p.46 Back

80  WTC61 Back

81  WTC102 Back

82  WTC05 Back

83  Idem Back

84  Eg.WTC29 Back

85  WTC30 Back

86  Idem Back

87  WTC45 Back

88  WTC30 Back

89  Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone; The Government's road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets for 2010, DETR 2000, p.50 Back

90  WTC35 Back

91  WTC74; WTC23 notes "perhaps the measure with the greatest scope for promoting walking is the concept of a pedestrian network. ...The construction of this network, consisting of pavement-level linkages across road would be staged over say a ten-year period, starting first outside schools, park entrances, lesser shopping areas...". The Association of Town Centre Managers stated: "We need to plan the system of coherent networks [for pedestrians] that every car driver expects as a matter of course" (WTC35)  Back

92  WTC31 Back

93  WTC 36 Back

94  WTC39 Back

95  WTC13 Back

96  WTC15 Back

97  WTC74; there are good examples of what to do in other European countries; for instance in Switzerland there is a statutory requirement to link rural footpaths with urban networks Back

98  WTC13 Back

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