Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Ramblers' Association (WTC 13)



  1.  The Ramblers' Association (RA) warmly welcomes this inquiry into walking in towns and cities. As an organisation primarily concerned with walking, both in rural and urban areas, we believe that there is an urgent need to give greater priority to the needs of pedestrians. We hope that this inquiry will highlight not only the current problems and obstacles that exist for walking, but also the need for a responsible approach to encouraging walking, and identify possible solutions which walking can offer.

  2.  The RA is a voluntary organisation founded in 1935 whose aims are to promote walking, to protect public rights of way, to campaign for access to open country and to defend the beauty of the countryside. It has over 130,000 individual members and 77,000 members of affiliated clubs and societies. The Association believes that it is the largest single organisation representing a group of vulnerable road users and we are pleased to have the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee.

  3.  The last three years have seen a number of documents produced by the Government regarding transport. These include the White Paper on the Future of Transport (1998), the draft revision of PPG13 (2000), the 10 Year Transport Plan (2000) and "Encouraging Walking: advice to local authorities". These publications have shown the beginnings of a shift towards better planning for integrated transport, and have recognised the problems that currently exist in our transport systems. However, the references to walking in these documents are weak and this demonstrates that there is still a long way to go before it is accepted that walking can provide an important solution to some of the problems that exist.

  4.  Most worrying is the retention of the "predict and provide" approach to transport and planning (in draft PPG13) which must be tackled. The back-tracking that has occurred with the road building programme shows the disappointing reality of the Government's lack of commitment to sustainable transport. It is critical that the Government realises that predict and provide is a totally unsustainable way to proceed with transport policy and it is now urgent that attention is focussed on getting people out of their cars rather than simply catering for motorists and ever increasing traffic volumes by building more roads.

  5.  The following sections of this response tackle the issues which the Committee has indicated that it wishes to examine.

The contribution of walking to the Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reducing dependency on cars

  6.  The Urban Renaissance is about using our urban areas more efficiently and effectively, and making them more pleasant and desirable places to live and work, in order to meet the growing demand for new homes without placing unnecessary pressure on the countryside. It should also provide an opportunity to address many of the wider problems of the urban environment, such as health and welfare, through good quality design and planning.

  7.  Transport policy as a whole has a vital role to play here, and within this, walking should be greatly valued for the contribution it can make. Pedestrians improve the urban environment economically, socially, and environmentally, and this should be capitalised upon through the planning system. Walking is already an important means of transport—80 per cent of all journeys under one mile are made on foot—but in urban areas it is often an unpleasant chore rather than a pleasure. The potential for transforming this experience is both immense and urgent.

  8.  Motorised private transport has traditionally been prioritised in cities, largely to the detriment of quality of life. Cars are noisy, dangerous, congesting and polluting, and the car-friendly highways that dominate most urban areas are an uninviting environment for other road users, particularly pedestrians. Reducing dependence on their use must be a priority if cities are to be made healthier and more inviting places to live.

  9.  Walking additionally offers its own benefits, the most obvious of which is health. Research has shown that many conditions can be improved by regular walking including coronary heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure and weight gain. For children in particular, the dangers of inactivity are enormous and yet the numbers of children walking to school are falling rapidly. Walking also offers valuable social advantages that can help address such concerns. For example, it helps people "claim" their environment, getting them out on the streets where they might meet and socialise. Creating an active, out-and-about community with access to safe, pleasant, well-lit walking routes can help overcome social fragmentation and lessen fear of crime. And there are economic advantages to be gained too: people on foot are more likely to buy things, stop for coffee, browse in shops, galleries and markets than those in cars, so benefiting the local economy.

  10.  Other alternatives to the private car, such as cycling and public transport, offer some of these advantages too, but walking is easily the most sociable and is also available to all, requiring no specialist equipment, an important factor in more impoverished urban areas. Walking can also be easily combined with these other modes, especially public transport, to create an integrated urban transport system, with well-signed, good quality walking routes linking transport interchanges.

The reasons for the decline in walking and the main obstacles to encouraging walking and increasing the number of journeys made on foot

  11.  The 200,000 km rights of way network serves the countryside, urban fringe, and conurbations throughout England and provides a means to explore, as well as a convenient and attractive environment in which to travel. However, the increase in recreational use that has taken place over the last century has not prevented both a certain level of neglect and a decline in walking both for pleasure and for purpose. The reasons for this reduction are numerous and include the rise in car ownership, competing pressures for leisure time, a social stigma attached to walking and especially in cities, the pressure to get as many things done as quickly as possible. Attached to this latter point is a perception that walking is a slower form of transport which, of course, is not always true—particularly in congested areas.

  12.  In terms of introducing remedial measures, any campaign to encourage walking would be served well by establishing far more explicitly the connections between recreational and utilitarian walking. For this to work effectively, a new mind set needs to be brought about, a societal and cultural shift that leads to the consideration of walking before a consideration of using an alternative means of transport.

  13.  It is of paramount importance that the tangible and achievable benefits of walking are disseminated widely. To enable people to go walking, incentives need to be introduced; the easier the choice to take a walk is made, the more likely the decision to do so will be taken. Measures that can act as catalysts include changing the perception of walking, facilitating the activity and publicising improvements that have been made.

  14.  The principal means of creating change and helping people to walk will be to convince transport planners in local authorities of the advantages that can be gained from increasing the number of people walking in towns and cities (health, environmental protection, benefits to local economies etc) and to provide them with realistic means by which to realise such aspirations.

What should be done to promote walking, including the creation of city squares, the role of pedestrianisation, HomeZones, additional measures to restrain traffic, the harmonisation of walking and public transport, and improved safety and security for pedestrians

  15.  In designing strategy, local authorities need to make a serious undertaking and illustrate the high regard in which they hold walking as an activity. This in itself will aid the process of enhancing the status of both recreational and utilitarian walking. An effective means of avoiding charges of paying only lip-service in policy work is to ensure that a number of elements are included in any strategy, such as providing incentives, making it easy, communal, safe, feasible, publicising it efficiently and resourcing it adequately. Local authorities need to ensure that local allegiance of developments is fostered, through actively seeking consultation along with encouraging participation in planning procedures from the outset.

Street Space

  16.  We believe that the increasing demand on street space needs to be tackled in a much more logical fashion in many areas. The fact that more pedestrians generate trade, a sense of community, a safer environment, not to mention one that is healthier and a more pleasant place to be, indicates that more space should be dedicated to pedestrians than to cars which are noisy, polluting and dangerous. Experiments done in cities such as Oxford and Edinburgh have shown the benefits of re-allocating road space to pedestrians, and these findings should be used to encourage transport planners in other towns and cities. We are, of course, well aware of the restrictions that highways authorities have to work to, particularly financially, and strongly feel that they should be more firmly led by planning policy guidance, and that such guidance should demonstrate the benefits of improving facilities for pedestrians, which is often the cheaper and more practical option.

Dangerous road crossings

  17.  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. In towns and cities it is often the case that pedestrians are provided with either bridges or underpasses, or long detours around safety barriers, to enable them to cross busy roads. However, these are often inconvenient, particularly for wheelchairs and prams. Making the roads in urban areas safer in the first instance by reducing speeds, and then by giving pedestrians priority crossings, such as zebra crossings, would be a more practical, cheaper and fairer solution.

Lack of footways

  18.  It is vital that planners and road designers recognise the continuum of pedestrian access between the urban and rural situation. 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. Similarly they may be deterred by having to cross a ring-road or bypass on the edge of the town. The reverse also applies: people from outlying villages may wish to walk into town but a walk along an A road with no footway will be a serious deterrent.

Definitive maps of public rights of way for towns and cities

  19.  It is also worth mentioning at this point that there is a perceived, but ill-conceived, notion that people walk just for pleasure in the countryside and just for business (commuting, shopping, etc) in towns. This is not true: people walk for all kinds of reasons in both environments. Bearing this in mind, at the time the Definitive Maps were drawn up in the 1950s, many urban areas were legally excluded from the process. In 1981, the law changed so that only inner London Boroughs were exempt from the requirement to produce such a map. Even so, almost 20 years on, many towns and cities are lacking in a complete map and some, such as Nottingham, have no map at all. This leaves public footpaths in many towns and cities unprotected from development and obstruction. Additionally, it prevents people from being able to plan routes easily.

Whether relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  20.  We believe that a far greater priority needs to be given to the promotion of walking. We are also concerned that the relevant professionals do not always possess the requisite body of knowledge. For walking initiatives to be successful and work properly, the strategy as a whole needs to be more than the sum of its parts. A joined-up approach is necessary, whereby designers, such as urban land-use planners and developers, transport managers, architects and land managers, work in close consultation with local communities, health officers, representative organisations and those at the forefront of publicising walking and walking routes, including leisure services and tourist information centres. In short, provision for walking needs to be understood as a part of the wider societal context.

  21.  We are also aware that part of the problem lies in the fact that although there are numerous professionals who have very valuable skills and ideas for improving transport and planning for transport, they are not necessarily the ones that make the decisions. For example, there are numerous transport campaigning organisations which comprise transport experts, and yet at the end of the day, it is ministers, civil servants and local authorities that make the final decisions.

  22.  It is these professionals that often lack the overview and imagination to produce the best solutions to transport problems. The results of a review of highway design and practice undertaken by the Urban Design Alliance (a grouping of professional bodies) early last year showed that "highway design and management are biased towards vehicles, while practitioners are blinkered, have out-of-date attitudes and lack the funds and skills needed to delivery quality streets for people" (Surveyor magazine, July 2000).

Whether all Government Departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPG 13 and the Government paper, Encouraging Walking, are adequate

  23.  The Government's recent u-turn on transport policy has confirmed that it is not prepared to take sustainable transport seriously. Despite a manifesto commitment to create a better, more integrated transport system to tackle the problems of congestion and pollution, and gestures of funding for rural bus services, the fact that current thinking lies in building bypasses to tackle the problems is deeply disappointing and is fundamentally flawed as a transport solution. Furthermore, the understated launch and mediocre contents of Encouraging Walking points to an uninspired future for walking policy in England. One only has to compare this with the enthusiasm with which the Government launched the National Cycling Strategy and Target, the millions of lottery funds ploughed into the National Cycle Network and the willingness of local authorities to create cycle paths (often on pedestrian ways rather than reallocation of road space) to see how walking is seen as the poor relation to other forms of transport, despite its unique inclusive nature.

  24.  We also remain unconvinced at the attempts to join up Government thinking in this field. Obvious shortfalls provide evidence of this, such as the lack of involvement of the minerals planning division of the DETR in the multi-modal study process. Not only is it axiomatic that road building requires minerals, and that both activities have severe impacts on the countryside and on communities, but it is worrying that the desire for sustainable development, which the Government proclaims to support, appears to be so half-hearted.

  25.  On a more positive note, however, we welcome the initiatives that the Department of Health are now undertaking with regards to walking, and hope that these will feed through into other Government departments, so that they can be included as part of the sustainable development package. The Highways Agency (HA), too, has recently confronted its role in planning for more sustainable transport. It has produced a document, Encouraging Sustainable Travel: Highways Agency Strategic Plan for Accessibility, which deals with how it intends to address issues of accessibility that affect walking as a form of transport.

  26.  In it, the HA recognises that it has a responsibility to all road users on its network and acknowledges the role it has to play in improving access to everyday facilities for those without access to a car. It has outlined a number of key issues, including partnerships, community severance, access to public transport and pedestrians and set strategic targets to deal with them.

  27.  This is a welcome start, although we are wary that some of the suggested solutions are simply passing the buck rather than tackling the issue. For example, although the HA acknowledges that trunk roads passing through town and village centres create problems with physical and psychological barriers between communities, it believes bypasses can help to solve these problems. We disagree: a bypass will merely cause severance elsewhere and instead of severing one community, it might divide several communities on the periphery of the settlement it bypasses.

  28.  We, along with many others, await the publication of PPG13. Although we were pleased that the draft made several referrals to integrating transport and putting people before traffic, we were concerned that it was weak on providing measures to actively reduce car use. In particular, we felt that this was a prime opportunity to introduce measures into the planning system which would do this through restricted traffic areas, making it more pleasant and easier to walk, and through ensuring that development was responsibly placed so that it could be reached easily by foot, and therefore contribute to the economic, social and environmental well-being of an area. We hope that the final version addresses these issues.

Other matters to be considered


  29.  In recent years there have been proposals at both local and national level to extend the routes available to cyclists and to encourage the use of cycles so cutting the use of motor vehicles. The RA recognises that these proposals are generally beneficial to the public but is seriously concerned about the implications for the walking public. We acknowledge that cyclists are, like walkers, vulnerable users, but we take the view that if walkers and cyclists are in conflict, walkers are the most vulnerable. We therefore view with severe misgivings proposals which seek to convert pedestrian only facilities (footways and footpaths) into shared-use facilities. Pedestrian organisations have been waiting for the long-delayed Local Transport Note revisions by DETR on shared use. We look forward to its publication and hope that it will provide tougher guidelines on the conversion of pedestrian paths to shared use.

Closure of paths because of criminal activities

  30.  The 1998 consultation paper, "Improving rights of way in England and Wales", indicated that the Government was prepared to introduce legislation to enable highway authorities to divert or close highways to prevent crime. We commented that while we are sympathetic to genuine concerns about security and public safety we do not believe that the way to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour is by introducing sweeping new provisions to close public rights of way. Criminals will not be deterred by the closure of a path or alleyway and those indulging in anti-social behaviour will simply move elsewhere. Seeking to close traffic-free routes appears to us to be incompatible with the wholly desirable policy of sustainable transport and with such initiatives as "safe routes to school". It also has serious implications for the historic network or minor highways within our towns and cities (the ginnels and other alleyways which are part of the urban heritage). Encouraging people to walk by making it safe, convenient and enjoyable should mean that more people are out-and-about and that, in itself, will be a deterrent to criminal activity.


  31.  Walking as a form of sustainable transport is increasingly being perceived as a low status activity associated with those lower down the social scale. Advertising has a part to play in this, glamourising the car with images that bear little relation to the reality of driving and the true costs of car ownership. It may take an equally sophisticated marketing campaign to promote walking as a preferred alternative. This will be more difficult to achieve given that walkers and motorists often share the same routes and the toll of the motorist on the walker is far greater than vice versa.


In particular, whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share of the Government's budget and the re-allocation of road space

  32.  We strongly believe that greater priority should be given to walking, and to walkers, through the provision of better facilities and conditions for walkers, through the re-allocation of road space and through greater safety measures and restrictions imposed on motorists. As demonstrated throughout this response, walking is socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable, economically beneficial and healthy and should therefore play a key role in improving the quality of life in towns and cities.

  33.  Lessons must be learnt from European cities, for example, Amsterdam, where the centre is virtually car free because of the severe restrictions and disincentives that have been imposed on motorists. The arrogance of the car has to be curbed. However this will be hard to achieve unless alternatives are provided and, of course, this has associated costs. Walking has few, if any, associated costs except where the experience has been degraded because of the impact of car based travel habits.

Whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published

  34.  The RA would also strongly support the introduction of targets set for walking, and a national strategy which would set out ways in which local authorities might cater for pedestrians and so encourage walking. We would be pleased to assist the Government in taking this forward.

  35.  There is no doubt of the benefits that walking can bring, and we implore the Government to pay it much higher regard in all of its policies and work.

January 2001

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