Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the Planning Officers Society and the Local Government Technical Advisors Group (WTC 21)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  This response to the Select Committee Inquiry on walking has been prepared on behalf of the Planning Officers Society (POS) and the Local Government Technical Advisors Group (TAG). Both groups welcome the opportunity to respond to the inquiry.

  The Planning officers Society is an organisation whose membership is drawn from the Chief Planning Officers of Local Authorities. It was formed in 1997 by merger of the former County Planning Officers, District Planning Officers and Metropolitan Planning Officers Societies.

  The Local Government Technical Advisors Group's main aims are to provide co-ordinated and comprehensive advisory services to local and central government and its agencies and to provide a professional network for the development and dissemination of best practice. Members of TAG are generally directors or departmental heads directly responsible to their councils for the provision of technical services. These officers have a variety of professional backgrounds including architecture, town planning, engineering, environmental health, leisure and housing.

  The remaining sections of the document cover: (2) Benefits of walking; (3) Practical barriers to walking; (4) Overcoming the policy barriers to walking; and (5) Practical steps towards encouraging walking.

2.  BENEFITS OF WALKING

  There are a number of benefits that stand to be gained through increased walking activity. Some of these benefits arise directly from the activity of walking itself, notably the health and fitness gains and social inclusion benefits. Others arise from the potential of walking to achieve reductions in the use of (or dependence on) motor vehicles, with their associated adverse impacts such as congestion, natural resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and noise, road safety, community severance and spatial demands. Pedestrianisation, pedestrian priority and/or traffic calming schemes may contribute to local reductions in the volume and/or speed of motorised traffic—conversely, those wider policy objectives may create the conditions which enable such pedestrian-friendly schemes to go ahead. This reciprocal relationship has the potential to lead to a "virtuous circle of benefits".

Environmental, health and safety benefits

  Low spatial demand—in terms of transport and land use, a major advantage of walking activity is that it requires very little space. Encouraging a switch of journeys to walking (on its own, or in a combination with public transport or other modes) can therefore help to reduce congestion and the associated economic costs of delays. It can also reduce the demand for both on and off street parking space, freeing it up for alternative uses which may be more economically productive and/or environmentally attractive.

  Reducing pollution, congestion, noise and danger—other side-effects of pedestrian-friendly schemes include the potential for improved local air quality, reduced noise levels, and safer road conditions, particularly for the most vulnerable user groups (eg cyclists, as well as pedestrians themselves). Safer road conditions can be particularly valuable for certain groups who generally have reduced access to car use (see "social benefits" below). They can also lead to significant economic or regeneration benefits in urban and/or residential areas. There is considerable evidence for instance of the benefits for retailing in pedestrianised (or pedestrian-priority) areas of town centres. Dutch experience suggest that pro-pedestrian measures such as home zones can have a positive effect on house prices.

  Benefits of reduced pollution—Pollutant emissions from road vehicles contribute to acid rain, which in turn causes damage to buildings, agriculture and natural ecosystems. They also have a range of adverse impacts on human health. It has been estimated that 24,000 UK citizens dies each year due to illnesses linked to air pollution, with about half of these being linked to vehicle emissions. Another recent study suggested that around six per cent of all deaths in developed countries are attributable to air pollution and that around half of these are from traffic related pollution. It also includes an estimate that the health costs of traffic pollution is in the region of 1.7 per cent of GDP.

  Other health benefits—the promotion of walking also has direct health benefits as a form of exercise that is good for personal health and fitness in its own right. There is growing concern that increasing inactivity in the UK population (particularly the child population) is leading to worsening fitness, with increasing numbers being overweight or obese, with the associated risks of heart disease, stroke etc. Moreover, as life-expectancy continues to rise, more physical activity will be necessary to avoid having a growing number of people having an increasingly long period of ill health, inactivity and degraded quality of life in their old age. The major health benefits of walking are reduced risk of heart diseases, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers (especially of the colon), together with enhanced ability to reduce excess body weight, and improved mental health.

  Reduced greenhouse emissions—transport (particularly road transport) is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. At present, the scientific consensus stops short of absolute certainty that greenhouse emissions can be implicated in the climate changes which are already observable. However there is no longer any doubt that greenhouse emissions will lead sooner or later to increased global average temperatures (even if the speed, extent and severity of the changes are still hotly debated topics). In "Encouraging walking", the Government suggest that actions on walking will have little impact on global warming. Yet the replacement of longer car trips (eg for shopping) by shorter walk trips would surely have a worthwhile (even if small) impact. Moreover, the contribution of a walking strategy to increased public transport use could be expected to achieve some really significant emissions savings.

SOCIAL BENEFITS

  Social inclusion—walking is a mode of transport which is available to virtually everyone, regardless of age or income. Reducing the barriers to walking can therefore open up increased travel opportunities for people who have little or no access to car use. This can include not only children, younger and older people, but also many people with sensory, mobility or learning difficulties. Hence the promotion of walking can contribute significantly to a more socially inclusive society.

  Children's independent mobility—Children are particularly affected by increased danger on the roads. This is important not merely in transport terms (eg the extra traffic due to parents escorting children, eg for journey to school), but also in terms of their physical and mental development, and their personal freedom. An increasing proportion of children is either unfit or obese, and it is likely that this is related to their reduced freedom to walk and cycle, and to play outdoors. The street has traditionally been shared public space where neighbours can meet and socialise, and this is particularly important for children. Outdoor play and (as they grow older) travelling around on their own are important activities in developing attributes as diverse as sensory, motor, emotional and cognitive skills, self-esteem, a sense of identity, creativity and the ability to be responsible for their own actions and safety.

  General social and community benefits—American researchers have found a strong link between traffic volumes on residential streets and the number of friends and/or acquaintances which the residents have among their neighbours. Also, the presence of "more eyes on the streets" helps reduce the risk of crime and hence to create a safer, more attractive environment, both for walking itself and for other on-street activities (eg children's play). Here too a "circle of benefits" is possible, with increased pedestrian activity leading to increased security and hence safer conditions, leading to yet more pedestrian activity.

3.  PRACTICAL BARRIERS TO WALKING

Danger and perceived danger

  A major factor in the decline of walking (and a major obstacle to the revival of walking) is the fear, actual or real, of suffering either a road accident or from street crime (assault, mugging etc). Fears of being hit by motor vehicles are often well founded—pedestrians are disproportionately represented among road casualties, regardless of whether the casualty rate is measured in terms of distance, trips or time spent travelling. By contrast, the perceived risk of street violence and "stranger danger" is often greater than the reality. But in both cases, the perceptions could easily become self-fulfilling. The parents who increasingly drive their children to school "for fear of the traffic" are ironically becoming part of the very problem they are seeking to avoid. Similarly, if people avoid walking due to the fear of street crime, then the protection afforded by the presence of other "eyes on the street" diminishes, making street crime more likely. Positive action will be needed to overcome both of these barriers. But if pursued vigorously, strategies to promote walking could become part of the solution to both problems—another example of a potential "virtuous circle of benefits".

Physical barriers, especially for disadvantaged groups

  There are many features of the highway environment which act as deterrents to walking. Often the people most affected by these are people with sight or mobility disabilities or other disadvantaged groups. In many cases these are the people who are most dependent on non-car travel. Barriers include:

    —  footways that are narrow, poorly maintained (eg broken/uneven surfaces, vegetation etc.), or obstructed by parked vehicles, barriers or unnecessary street furniture, or compromised by poorly designed shared use cycle tracks;

    —  wide or fast roads and major junctions, a lack of crossing facilities, poorly located crossings involving detours from pedestrian desire lines, short pedestrian phases at signalised crossings, guard railing, lack of dropped kerbs or tactile surfaces.

  Many people in these disadvantaged groups find that leaving their homes by any means at all is a major, and sometimes insurmountable, challenge. As previously mentioned, the risks of crossing roads is also a major barrier to children's independent mobility.

Economics of the car

  The economics of car purchasing and use inherently encourages car use and discourages the use of other modes. The purchase costs and other fixed costs of car ownership are relatively high, whereas the marginal costs of individual trips are very low in comparison. This does not accord well with the polluter pays principle, since most of the external costs of motoring are related to vehicle use rather than ownership. For short trips, the marginal cost of using a car is often perceived as negligible, hence there is little if any disincentive for people to use a car, rather than a less damaging alternative such as walking.

Land use and associated societal changes

  The increasing ease and availability of low-cost motorised mobility has influenced the locational choices made by households and businesses alike. Retailers have moved to out-of-town sites, expecting their customers to come to them; businesses have centralised warehousing and other operations to take advantage of economies of scale; employers expect their staff to be able to travel to increasingly remote business parks, hospital sites etc; housebuilders benefit from the lower costs of purchasing and building on greenfield land. Related to this has been the decline of local facilities—shops, post offices, schools, libraries etc, which are within reach of their catchment populations. This makes it increasingly difficult to access these services without using a car, hence those who depend on walking, cycling and/or public transport (whether by reason of a disability, low income or any other reason) are increasingly excluded.

Attractiveness of the car

  A less obvious feature of our society's growing "car dependence" are the attractions of personal space, comfort, in-car entertainment, protection against inclement weather, the perceived protection against road accidents (this in itself can encourage drivers to impost greater risks on other road users, particularly the more vulnerable modes), and the associations (encouraged by advertising) of cars with status, sex, speed and fantasy. These will create significant psychological resistance to policies aimed at reducing car dependence and promoting alternatives such as walking.

4.  OVERCOMING THE POLICY BARRIERS TO WALKING

Guidance on walking targets

  Walking is the only significant transport mode which does not have either a prediction or a target for increased use associated with it in the Government's "10 Year Plan". Despite the encouragement given to local authorities in this and other policy documents to invest in improved pedestrian conditions, the lack of a target gives the impression that walking is still a low priority compared with other modes. This impression is compounded by the Government's decision not to adopt a national walking strategy. The lack of targets also makes it difficult for local authorities to know how much they are expected to do to achieve the policy aspirations of Government, even when these aspirations are enthusiastically reflected in their own Local Transport Plans. Guidance on setting targets for increased walking activity, based perhaps on the size and region of the town, would give local authorities greater certainty about what they are expected to achieve, and that their efforts are likely to be matched (and not undermined by local authority policies in neighbouring areas.

Wider traffic restraint policies and targets

  The achieveability of targets for increased walking will inevitably depend on other aspects of transport policy. Here, the picture is mixed, and in some respects contradictory. On the one hand, the Government urges local authorities to pursue the laudable (and inter-related) objectives to "reduce the need to travel, especially by car" (PPG 13) and to "focus development . . . in locations where the proximity of businesses . . . maximises the opportunity to use means of transport other than the car" (PPG 6). It is easy to envisage how walking might be successfully promoted in the context of these policies, and the contribution which walking could make towards them. However, other aspects of transport policy appear to pull in other directions.

  One problem is that local authorities do not have adequate measures to restrain inter-urban and rural travel demand. This creates the danger that traffic restraint policies in urban areas (policies which would naturally complement and be complemented by pro-walking policies) could have the opposite effect of that which is intended. Instead of encouraging people to make shorter journeys by walking, cycling and public transport, they could lead to people making longer journeys, by car, to more remote destinations such as out-of-town shopping centres, where free parking is readily available. Similarly, when local authorities are seeking to attract developers into a town centre (in accordance with PPG 6), they can come under pressure to provide adequate car access and parking (contrary to PPG 13), in response to developers' fears of losing out to competition from out-of-town sites. Hence the objectives of PPG 6 and PPG 13 can create contradictory pressures when they should be complementary, due to the absence of mechanisms for restraining non-urban travel demand.

  The problem is further exacerbated by the 10 Year Plan, which does not appear to support the PPG 13 objective to "reduce the need to travel, especially by car". Instead it sets a variety of targets or predictions for growth in virtually all modes of transport apart from walking. Road Traffic is expected to increase by 17 per cent, whilst targets are set for bus travel to increase by 10 per cent and rail travel by 50 per cent, for light rail use to double and for cycle use to treble. The implication must either be that people's average time spent travelling is going to increase, or they will be travelling further and faster. The first of these explanations seems implausible (given the historical stability of travel time budgets at around one hour per day) and neither outcome is socially desirable or consistent with the PPG 13 objective. In either case, it seems hard to imagine anything other than a continuing decline in the use of walking (and indeed cycling, despite the stated target) for short journeys.

  In this apparently contradictory policy landscape, local authorities are unclear how rigorously they are expected (or able) to apply traffic restraint policies in urban areas, and the level of traffic restraint likely to be applied in competing urban areas in the same region. Efforts to introduce restraint policies are often undermined by the fear that that economic activity will simply go elsewhere, particularly to a neighbouring area which is applying traffic restraint less intensively.

  We would urge the Government to indicate what sort of targets are expected for different types of town or city in different regions of the country. This would provide a stronger lead for the development of Regional Transport Strategies, together with increased confidence about the viability of restraint policies, and hence a clearer basis for establishing local targets and policies for increased walking activity.

  We also recommend that the Government should assess the various policy levers which could be used to restrain inter-urban and rural traffic growth. The advantages of measures such as road pricing, fuel duty, levies on out-of-town private non-residential parking, and taxation of greenfield developments need to be weighed up and a clear menu of policy options adopted, in order to support the objectives of PPG 13, and hence to create a more credible context for the promotion of walking.

  There is also scope for establishing clearer links between local traffic reduction targets and the development control process, and travel plans in particular. For instance, government guidance could recommend ways for local authorities to establish targets for the proportion of trips attracted to (or generated by) new developments which are to be made by the more sustainable transport modes. These would then provide a basis for negotiating the measures that would be required in a Travel Plan as a condition of granting planning permission. This in turn would provide a powerful incentive for developers to prefer more sustainable locations. This too would support the objectives of PPG 13.

  Finally, traffic restraint policies locally run the constant risk of being undermined by accusations that they are "anti-car". It follows that further effort is required to increase the credibility of pro-walking policies. This could take the form of campaigns to raise public awareness the personal, health, social and environmental benefits of promoting other transport modes. There is already considerable activity in this field, both locally and nationally. However, many people remain unconvinced that alternative modes can be improved sufficiently to achieve the benefits of traffic reduction, or that they stand to gain by making reductions in their personal car use. Moreover, there is a lack of information on pro-pedestrian policies and projects which have achieved quantified success in the UK. See the discussion on this issue under "monitoring and disseminating results of best practice"; also some further discussion of public awareness campaigns under "road safety and speed policies" below.

Road safety and speed policies, and enforcement

  Significant benefits for walking would arise from encouraging and enabling local authorities to make wider use of lower speed limits, such as 20 mph in town centres and residential areas—lower perhaps in home zones. The comparative risks of injury in collisions at different speeds are well known. The Government's targets for reduced casualties are welcome, however it is not clear that local authorities have the measures to deliver these targets. Current guidance suggests that 20 mph limits should be used selectively (eg in the vicinity of schools), even though the casualties suffered by pedestrian and cyclists (including children) often occur in more dispersed patterns (ie not clustered at blackspots or in the vicinity of the school gate). A more general approach to reducing the road danger is required if people are to feel more confident about walking, whether for themselves or for their children.

  Measures to facilitate more widespread introduction of lower speed limits (notably 20 mph zones) in appropriate locations would be a welcome feature of a walking strategy. These could include stronger encouragement for area-wide 20 mph limits in the Government's speed policy guidance, and easier order-making procedures for introducing these limits. The proposed introduction in Greater London of widespread 20 mph limits could be regarded both as a valuable pilot and as a flagship project, with the potential to raise public and political backing for similar initiatives elsewhere in the country.

  We would also urge the Government to extend the current pilot projects to hypothecate the revenues from speed cameras for increased enforcement measures (eg more speed camera provision), and to consider decriminalising speed enforcement, placing this responsibility in the hands of local authorities. Together, these two proposals could help to overcome a frequent obstacle to proposals for lower speed limits (ie the lack of resources for police enforcement) and, at the same time, provide local authorities with an additional revenue stream for road safety measures that would particularly benefit pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

  Finally, local authorities are expected to campaign on travel awareness and road safety. However, the viability and effectiveness of these campaigns would be greatly strengthened if they were to occur against the background of stronger national initiatives to promote awareness of the unacceptability of driving at inappropriate or excessive speed. This will take time and will not produce instant results—it has taken 20 years of concerted effort to create a strong climate of opinion against drink-driving. Similar perseverance will be necessary to combat speeding. Yet without a change of public attitudes, local authorities will continue to be at risk of appearing to be "anti-car" when introducing traffic calming and other casualty reduction initiatives which are essential features of pro-walking transport strategies.

5.  PRACTICAL STEPS TOWARDS ENCOURAGING WALKING

  The first step towards increased walking activity must be the adoption of a National Strategy for Promoting Walking. We suggest this term as being preferable perhaps to the faintly ridiculous-sounding "National Walking Strategy" (and the associated fears of "Ministry of Silly Walks" headlines!)

  Many of the elements of such a Strategy have already been discussed: a national target and/or guidance on local targets, better integration with wider transport policy objectives and targets (including policies on road safety, speed limits and the enforcement thereof), stronger demand restraint policy mechanisms, and nationally-led promotional campaigns. The remainder of this section sets out other specific elements which could usefully be included.

Best practice

  There are many places in continental Europe with long and varied experience of successful pedestrian planning and design. A study and publication on good practice—drawing both on UK and European experience—could be highly beneficial in accelerating the learning process which will be necessary among local authority planners and engineers if walking is to be successfully promoted. Topics to be covered would need to include pedestrian squares and other open spaces (eg Copenhagen), home zones, pedestrian priority in town centres/shopping streets, health promotion initiatives, initiatives on walking for particular journey purposes (eg to work and to school). In terms of pedestrian route networks, it would need to discuss not only the planning of these networks (eg how the routes should be identified) but also the measures necessary (eg mapping, and signing with walk times to key destinations).

Monitoring and disseminating results of best practice

  Best practice advice on walking policies and projects needs to highlight not only the policies and schemes that have been implemented, but wherever possible to include information on quantified benefits achieved. This leads us to advocate a programme of best practice monitoring as part of a national walking strategy, which could, for instance, take the form of a "Walk Challenge" competition. This would be similar to "Cycle Challenge", which formed a part of the National Cycling Strategy (NCS)—this comprised a number of innovative pilot projects, which were awarded "pump-prime" funding on a competitive basis, with monitoring of the projects and widespread dissemination of the results. The NCS has also resulted in the compilation of a database of cycling initiatives—again, this could be usefully replicated as part of a walking strategy. There is presently a dearth of widely-available information in the UK on successfully implemented walking initiatives and their benefits. Yet this information could greatly increase the ability of local authorities and others to justify walking initiatives, both internally (in terms of justifying the expenditure) and externally (ie winning the public argument for such initiatives, particularly in response to campaigns to oppose measures which are perceived as "anti-car").

Audit procedures

  Another output from the National Cycling Strategy which has great potential to address the knowledge gap among planners and engineers is the guidance on Cycle Audit procedures. Analogous procedures for walking could have similar benefits. However, it may also be useful to aim for a single integrated audit procedure to cover cycling, walking and disability issues (in order to reduce the risk of "audit overload"). Oxfordshire County Council's Local Transport Plan already includes a commitment to introduce "Vulnerable Road User Audit" procedures for this very reason, and would be keen to work with central Government on the development of appropriate audit processes for walking and disability issues.

Other training

  There are widespread (and probably well-founded) fears of an impending skills shortage in transport planning, and this must surely be most acute in walking and cycling (the modes which have been historically neglected in UK transport planning). There is a need to review the content of higher educational training in transport. For in-service training, visits to other European countries could well prove valuable. Seeing how transport is handled elsewhere is also a useful reminder that the familiar solutions are not the only options, even in cases where the solutions studied cannot be directly applied in the context of ones own work.

Priority and raised crossings at side road turnings

  Rule 146 of the Highway Code says: "You should . . . watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way". Similar rules are widely respected in much of continental Europe, yet in Britain, pedestrians who try exercising their priority place themselves at risk of anything from a car horn aggression to a fatal injury. An awareness campaign to restore this right of way, backed by widespread provision of footway-level crossing of side roads (or "pavement extensions") could have major safety benefits for pedestrians, as well as reducing the routine intimidation which they suffer (especially the less mobile). Such crossings could particularly benefit people with prams, wheelchairs etc., whilst the change in driver behaviour could also facilitate the provision high quality segregated cycle facilities of the kind widely used in Holland, Denmark and Germany. At present these facilities are unpopular with Britain's cycling organisations because they simply result in danger and/or a loss of priority at all side roads and driveways.

Monitoring

  At present there is no clear methodology for monitoring the results of local action on walking, making it difficult to set and monitor useful targets and indicators for walking. Practical guidance could assist local authorities not only to monitor their own performance, but also (if reasonably uniform procedures were adopted) to compare it with that of other authorities, in accordance with Best Value requirements.

January 2001


 
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