Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Sustrans (WTC 12)



  Sustrans is a practical charity which seeks to lessen car dependency and to promote practical alternatives. Although best known for our successful partnership with the Millennium Commission in delivering Phase One of the National Cycle Network, our work on sustainable transport has led us into other subject areas, notably:

    —  Safe Routes to School.

    —  Safe Routes to Stations.

    —  HomeZones.

    —  Travel choice and modal shift.

  We believe there is a major role for walking in each of these. Such practical projects are positive ways of encouraging walking. We also believe that a re-appraisal of the importance of walking as a transport mode is long overdue. Walking is important not just in its own right but as a health measure, a means of social cohesion, and a vital link to public transport.

  We are dismayed at the general state of the walking environment. This is an indictment of current transport priorities and of professional commitment to this mode. Our cluttered footways, narrow pavements and lack of on-street priority speak volumes about the neglect of this topic. All too often, a small pedestrianised area in town centres is an excuse for ignoring the walker everywhere else.

  We are also worried that walking as a transport mode is once again losing out in priority terms. Despite the very welcome comments in the 1998 Transport White Paper, the Government's Ten-Year Transport Plan is heavily skewed in favour of heavy capital spending on longer journeys. Furthermore, despite years of preparatory work, the DETR has been unable to publish a National Strategy for Walking.

  Above all, we believe that a new vision for walking is needed, to put it at the heart of retail vitality, safe streets and civilised communities.

Basic Facts

  The basic facts about walking are now better known than they were. Fortunately, the DETR has ceased its previous habit of measuring all trips in terms of distance—which for years systematically downgraded the importance of walking. Also, most transport statistics now include journeys of less than a mile. Again, the previous absence of this (as 80 per cent of such trips are on foot) did a great dis-service to the pedestrian.

  Walking still accounts for 29 per cent of all journeys, even though overall trip lengths have been increasing. The 1998 DETR report on "Walking in Great Britain" says that this trend is "associated with much of the decline in the total number of walk trips".

  Households without cars walk more than those with, women walk more than men, the 11-15 age group walk more than any other. Around a quarter of all walk trips are for shopping, a fifth for social or entertainment. Still over half of all children 5-15 walk to school: this should be considered a vital national asset on which we must build.

Healthy Living

  The health case for higher levels of walking is by now well-known. Half an hour of brisk walking each day is reckoned to decrease stress, lessen the risk of coronary heart disease, reduce obesity and improve well-being.

  Walking is important for all ages. It can help the elderly keep mobile and independent, while for children it increases stamina and general fitness.

  Health Improvement Programmes have begun to support walking and there is undoubtedly great potential here. However, the great benefit of walking as health is that it can be a part of normal activity, and one that requires no specialist clothing or expensive equipment. With the latest alarming trends about increased levels of obesity, it is clear that the health "message" is still not getting through.


  At present, unattractive conditions mean a continuing fight from urban areas, especially for families with children. Traffic speeds and volumes are major disincentives to urban walking. Reducing both will play a major role in civilising streets and making walking an attractive alternative to short distance car journeys. A reversal of this would involve major regeneration exercises which should restore local facilities, remove through traffic, and restore streets to local residents. 20 mph should be the norm for all local urban roads. 10 mph should be the limit in HomeZones.

  Like all travellers, pedestrians rely on a "mind map" of their surroundings. But outside their own immediate neighbourhood they can be almost helpless, especially if they are visitors or tourists. Urban areas should develop promotional and diagrammatic maps, showing main origins and destinations, main walking routes, and distances involved. This would be the equivalent of existing maps for motorists, cyclists and bus users.

  New urban developments should be of a higher housing density, planned with walking in mind, and have streets with restricted car access. Meanwhile existing developments need a fundamental reappraisal of their design and purpose: the recent Urban White Paper sadly lacked "vision" in this respect.


  Firstly, the Government must shrug off its fears of a "Ministry of Silly Walks" and make a bold announcement about putting the pedestrian first. A National Walking Strategy, steered by a National Forum, would go a long way to embedding this into the policy process.

  Secondly, the DETR must monitor Local Transport Plans for their walking content. Unsatisfactory Plans should be the subjection of revision, and not be rewarded financially.

  Thirdly, there is an immediate and serious need for the re-training of existing transport professionals, and an almost complete reappraisal of transport training courses.

  Fourthly, the private sector development lobby must—as a matter of urgency—be brought into the policy arena, and weaned away from its car-dependent thinking.

  Fifth, the DETR's Speed Policy Review must be developed to create a road hierarchy, with major new emphasis on lowering speed limits.


  At the practical level Sustrans believes the quickest and most effective progress can be made by tackling types of trip. Influencing journeys to work can be done by Green Travel Plans. Trips to school should be tackled by a Safe Routes to School programme. Safe routes to stations, shops and services can all follow. Each of these topics offers easy opportunities to spread the health, environmental and transport reasons for encouraging walking.

Safe Routes to School

  Sustrans is a pioneer of this concept, and has just completed five years of its pilot project. We have undertaken this work with regard to cycling as well as walking. We are members of the School Travel Advisory Group. In brief, the key issues are:

    —  Information to teachers and governors.

    —  Information to parents.

    —  Information to children.

    —  Using the issue of "safety" to spread wider messages about health, exercise, transport and the environment.

    —  Offering practical, effective measures, such as the "walking bus".

    —  Tackling car-dependency, in particular car parking at and outside schools.

  With up to 20 per cent of morning peak-hour traffic being school escort trips, such activity offers great opportunities for reducing congestion and improving health and accessibility. Currently only 500 out of 24,000 schools in the UK have been treated. Every school should have some safe routes. This is an area of huge potential. The "walking bus" concept has spread like wildfire, and our experience is that just in-school discussion of the subject produces real—and quick—results. Our project at Wheatfield Primary School in Hertfordshire produced a 30 per cent increase in walking and concomitant decrease in car use.

Safe Routes to Stations

  Sustrans is working in close partnership with DETR, Railtrack, Train Operators and Local Authorities. Our aim is to provide good quality walking (and cycling) routes to train and bus stations. This is crucial if walking is to play its full role in an integrated transport system. Our aim is to set up 30 pilot projects a year for the next three years.

  For reasons of history, some rail stations and subsequent housing developments have very poor links for pedestrians. The main problems can be:

    (1)  Stations cut off by main road eg York, Leicester.

    (2)  Population remote from station.

    (3)  Circuitous route to station.

    (4)  Population has developed on the side of the railway away from the station entrance eg Chester, Didcot.

  The solutions are—respectively—to create a new priority route, to create a new direct route, make a short route, and have new access to the station from another side. Such work should feature strongly within Local Transport Plans.

  But these should just be the starting point. Pedestrian routes to stations should be high quality and attractive, with a new priority for walkers, and linked to a town centre "station entrance". This would have information points, ticket machines and train monitors. In this way the public should be encouraged to access stations on foot, thereby decreasing peak hour congestion and also reducing the pressure for larger and larger station car parks.


  We welcome the exploratory work being undertaken in the UK and the recent wording in the Transport Act to define and regulate HomeZones. Along with our partners at the Children's Play Council and Transport 2000, Sustrans is working with the DETR on its HomeZones pilot programme, from which valuable lessons should emerge.

  Clearly there is much to be learned from the Dutch and Danish experiences of HomeZone-type street design. In the UK, however, obstacles often arise in public acceptance, compounded by a lack of official vision, uncertainty over legal powers (speed limits, traffic calming, road priorities) and lack of professional awareness. All these factors need urgent attention.

  If only because of resource constraints, a strategy which pursues the extension of full-blown "HomeZones" (as they are currently understood) is likely to limit the overall impact on traffic and walking. We favour a hybrid approach that is likely to find wider acceptance in existing communities, combining the most cost-effective features of HomeZones with traffic-calming, restrictions and 20 mph limits. However, new housing developments should have HomeZones built in as standard.

Open Spaces

  We are also about to start working with the New Opportunities Fund to give the pedestrian a new deal in creating safe and attractive open spaces, and easy access to these. There are important issues of social inclusion and individual child mobility to be addressed here. We are also drawing on our extensive past work involving public art and sculpture, to create interesting features and a sense of community ownership.


  There is a surprising amount of good practice within the UK, but it tends to be piecemeal, and often lost under other headings such as "traffic management" or "traffic calming". Some of the main issues are dealt with by the DETR's brief "Walking Bibliography" (May 2000) or the Pedestrian Association's "Taking the Strategy Step". There are also important examples of urban good practice emerging from the DETR sponsored "Clear Zones" programme.

  Some of the most interesting and accessible material is contained within "Small Steps, Giant Leaps". Transport 2000's review of its Feet First project. Among good examples given are:

    —  Sheffield: some of the earliest pro-walking policies.

    —  Hampshire: strategies which give detail on physical design of pedestrian routes.

    —  Hertfordshire: travel awareness works.

    —  York: has developed a "road-user hierarchy", putting pedestrians on top.

    —  Leicester: neighbourhood-wide traffic calming.

    —  Worcester: health promotion of "Walk for Your Life".

  This report looks at perceived barriers to walking, headed by lack of funding, lack of Council powers, and perceived conflict with other Council policies. Seven key measures to increase walking emerge:

    —  Provide pedestrian networks.

    —  Minimise impact of the car.

    —   "Market" walking.

    —  Integrate with land use planning.

    —  Tidy up the pedestrian environment.

    —  Integrate with transport planning.

    —  Put pedestrian issues into wider Council policies.


  There is much Continental experience, little of which seems to gain currency here. Nor do European Commission studies, such as ADONIS (Analysis and Development of New Insight into Substitution of short car trips by cycling and walking). This comprises four weighty volumes, of which we refer only to one, "Best practice to promote cycling and walking".

  This is full of practical and innovative examples of good practice, some of which have significant implications for the UK. Among these are:

    —  Danish Children's Traffic Club.

    —  Examples of Pedestrian Plans from Geneva, The Hague and Middleburg (Netherlands).

    —  Environmentally Adapted Through Roads (Denmark).

    —  Routes for disabled people (Copenhagen).

    —  Access controls for motorised traffic (Barcelona, Namur).

    —  Increased pedestrian priority at traffic lights, signals and junctions (various).

  Few of these seem to have entered discussion in the UK. Perhaps the reason is the assumption on Page 4, "This catalogue assumes that a municipality has already allowed sufficient space for cyclists and pedestrians in its city planning or restructuring". This one sentence graphically illustrates how far UK thinking lags behind the normal on mainland Europe.

  This report contains a very useful grid showing modal share in a number of Continental cities. In some, pedestrians and cyclists already outnumber car drivers, as follows:

Bike Plus Foot


  It is clear from this that sustained planning for non-motorised modes can achieve results and bring about modal change.


"Developing a Strategy for Walking"

  We commend this discussion paper produced by the Walking Steering Group, as part of its preparatory work for what was hoped would be a national strategy for walking. The fact that it was produced over four years ago (December 1996) illustrates the general lack of progress.

  The report contains an extensive reference section, and is worth studying for this alone. It also contains sound comments about the value of walking as social interaction—an under-valued element which helps keep communities together—and on the dominance of motorised transport.


  Although this is only "advice to local authorities", we commend this as a first step. It has a useful list (pages 12-13) of potential partners in promoting walking. The Select Committee may wish to check how many are actually involved in the process. There are also valuable Checklists on:

    —  Developing a strategic approach.

    —  The local walking environment.

    —  Recommendation of the advisory groups.

  The "Summary table of actions" is helpful, as are the sections on "Travel for Education and Employment", "Reallocating Road Space", "Road Safety" and "Crime and Fear of Crime" Para 3.42 states "pavement falls bring ten times as many people into accident and emergency departments as are injured in road traffic accidents".

  We also welcome the section on "pedestrianisation and vehicle restricted areas". This highlights the problems that total pedestrianisation can bring for the disabled, cyclists, buses and deliveries. Sustrans strongly supports the statement in 3.15 that "targeted restrictions on vehicles can be a better solution than a simple ban".

  Annex A contains useful examples of good practice and it lists some key areas, as follows:

    —  Lighting.

    —  Traffic calming;

    —  Pedestrianisation;

    —  Public art and planting;

    —  Toilets;

    —  Local authority policy statements;

    —  CCTV;

    —  Minor engineering schemes;

    —  Street furniture;

    —  Seating;

    —  Safe Routes to School projects;

    —  Prevention of pavement parking.


1.  Conflict with Cyclists

  Sustrans' paths have been built for unsegregated shared use, and this has mostly worked well. Indeed, in urban areas the majority of National Cycle Network users are often pedestrians. Elsewhere conflict appears to be of three types:

    —  In pedestrianised areas.

    —  On shared use facilities.

    —  Illegal cycle use of the footway.

  We feel that "24 hour" pedestrianisation schemes are often inappropriate. They cause problems for buses, taxis, shop deliveries and cyclists. We prefer either traffic-calmed town centres, such as Leicester, or control by time. York's very successful "foot-streets" ban cyclists and other road users only between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm on week-days, and less at week-ends.

  Many "shared-use" conversions have been done on the cheap, are poorly designed and are often a means of removing cyclists from the carriageway. Adherence to the principles of the Transport White Paper—in particular about reallocation of road space in favour of cyclists and walkers—could solve some of these issues.

  Likewise, many cyclists use the footway because of non-existent provision on the road. They also use it because of the hazards and annoyance of an unfriendly environment which includes large roundabouts, lack of crossing facilities, lack of cycle route continuity, and too many one-way streets. Parts of the Continent have made nearly all urban streets two-way for cycling, without increasing danger and greatly facilitating the convenience of cyclists.

2.  Links with Cyclists

  However, the two non-motorised modes do have a deal in common. Both have suffered disproportionately from professional and policy decisions, a lack of funding, the volume and speed of motorised traffic, and general loss of priority on the highway. There are numerous examples—such as signalised crossings of main road—where joint provision of facilities is practical and cost effective.

3.  Funding

  Funding for walking (and cycling) has been inadequate in the UK for decades. It is only within recent years that walking has been given a place within Transport Policies and Programmes and now Local Transport Plans. Most local authority capital spending came under the all too clearly entitled "Minor Works". This was axed at the end of the Conservative administration and not immediately restored by the present Government.

  During the last 18 months of the new LTP process there has been much greater encouragement for walking, and the recent substantial increase in funding for Local Transport is most welcome. However, the block allocation system means it is very difficult to "track" spending on walking; we feel mechanisms should be introduced to do this.

4.  Rural Areas

  Walking in rural areas must not be forgotten. Many villages are ideal for walking, but narrow pavement widths (or none) and inappropriate vehicle speeds often make this threatening. The same is true for country roads, though recent proposals by the Government for Quiet Lanes are most welcome. We believe that the public footpath network needs to be joined up to make a truly national network. This is one of a number of key transport issues that should consider the needs of an ageing population.

  We also welcome those elements of the Rural White Paper which underline the importance of keeping local facilities. The disappearance of rural shops, sub-post offices, schools, banks, pubs and health facilities is both a symptom and a cause of the decline in walking for utility trips. There are lessons here also for urban areas, and the DETR should combine with other Departments in drawing up some form of local accessibility criteria.

5.  Individualised Marketing

  Sustrans believes that more people would walk for entire or part journeys if they were made more aware of the main transport opportunities. Accordingly, we are building on the pilot projects of "Individualised Marketing" in Western Australia by going into partnership with SocialData, to explore similar work in this country. Past work has achieved a 22 per cent increase in walking and a 12 per cent rise in bus use within twelve months.

  We also believe walking should be given a stronger and more positive profile within campaigns such as "Travel Wise" and "Are you doing your bit?"


1.  Measurement of "Safe Cars"

  There is a great amount of publicity on this topic, but the safety of those external to the vehicle is never mentioned thereby giving a false overall picture. Please also see (2) below.

2.  The "Pedestrian-Friendly" Car

  Official literature has for years promised progress on vehicle design, notably so that cars colliding with pedestrians do not "knee-cap" them and then hurt them on the bonnet. Little seems to have transpired. Perhaps the Committee could make enquiries of its own.

3.  Footway Repairs

  Local authorities seem as far away as ever from keeping footways in a good state of repair. Currently they still spend more on claims for compensation than on maintenance: this cannot be sensible. Signage of pavements is mostly for the motorist, but causes an obstruction for the pedestrian.

4.  "Stranger Danger"

  Media hysteria over "stranger danger" is enormously unhelpful to any moves to promote walking. Children are fifty times more at risk from traffic than from perverts. Some pro-walking, anti-speeding campaigns in the popular media would be most useful.

5.  Personal Security

  Similar concerns about "Violent Britain" also cause serious problems. These act as deterrents in particular to the elderly and to women. As they withdraw, the street appears less friendly than ever, creating a self-fulfilling downward spiral.

6.  Retailers' Ignorance

  It is probably lack of an official lead which causes the retail community to have so many mis-perceptions about the value of pedestrians (and bus users) as customers. Attempts at restraining traffic and improving access on foot are almost universally met with howls of protest and badly-informed opposition.

7.  Developers' Ignorance

  Many powerful players in the development world seem not to have heard about sustainability. Their continuing insistence on unrealistically high levels of car-parking and motoried access can be major problems in creating new possibilities for pedestrians. To maximise the potential of Green Travel Plans, employers and developers must create conditions that are positive for walking, across their local catchment area.

8.  Signalised Junctions Timing

  All such junctions should have pedestrian phases, and these should work on demand and not to time allocation.

9.  Pedestrian Crossing Criteria

  There must be relaxed amd made far more flexible, so as to make it easier to implement crossings where needed by the local community. We need to look again at the importance of zebra crossings, as these give people priority over traffic.

10.  Car-Free Areas

  We are making slow progress with these in the UK. They offer potentially enormous benefits in terms of brown-field development, regeneration, and traffic reduction.

11.  Real Road Safety

  Our national approach, though changing, is still based around the idea that "pedestrians should keep out of the way of cars". This probably explains our poor safety record, particularly for child pedestrians—still acknowledged to be among the worst in western Europe.

  Moreover, little consideration seems to be given to the role of powered two-wheelers, light vans, buses and heavy lorries in their very high fatality rate for pedestrians. This is a much neglected area. We are alarmed at pressure for greater use of motor-cycles in urban areas, where their mass, speed and acceleration make them particularly unsuitable. Sustrans opposes suggestions that PTWs should be allowed into bus lanes or advanced stop lines.

  There are also wider legal and cultural issues to be addressed. Fortunately the Government has just gone out to consultation on the vexed issue of Road Traffic Penalties. We hope that the result of this will mean that death, threat and injury on the road will be taken as seriously as in other walks of life.


  Sustrans welcomes this inquiry. We recommend that there should be a National Walking Strategy and a National Walking Forum. The latter must be properly resourced, with the staff and status to drive the Strategy forward. We are open-minded about whether targets should be set for an increase in walking by itself or as part of integrated journeys which help reduce overall car dependency. However, clear monitoring of walking's progress by the DETR is definitely needed.

  There are by now many design and policy measures of proven worth to advance the cause of walking: they simply need funding and leadership by central Government. In particular, the DETR should bring forward examples of excellence as soon as possible, recording how measures have improved or extended the popularity of walking.

  Above all, walking needs a new "vision". Each town should have its own "grand avenue", tree lined, safe and visually attractive. Major squares and streets should have pedestrian priority, and be transformed into centres of the urban renaissance.

  Local neighbourhoods should have their own distinctive "gateways" to re-designed, slow-speed, pedestrian-friendly streets. Walking should be made the first choice mode wherever possible for journeys to work, shops, schools and stations. At the same time design and policy links to bus/rail/train users, cyclists and the disabled should be made. Walking is the mark of the civilised city—it is healhty, equitable and environmental. It is time to stride out.

January 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 2 February 2001