Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by The London Walking Forum (WTC 29)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

  Walking is, without question, the most popular activity in Britain—both as a leisure pursuit and way of getting about locally. Surveys, such as the General Household Survey, London Areas Transport Survey, UK Day visits Survey and Mintel lifestyle survey; confirm this and it would be perfectly possible to fill the remaining space allowed with impressive facts and quotes from distinguished people who, particularly over the last four years in the UK, have recognised the valuable contribution walking makes to the quality of everyday life.

  It is more important however to concentrate on the trends and patterns that successive surveys are suggesting. While the cup is still very much half full, which should be recognised with far more positive pedestrian priority policies, it is also half empty and it is clear that people are walking less distance and walking less often. Only relatively recently has the importance of this become appreciated at a strategic level regionally and nationally as slowly, and often somewhat reluctantly, the measure of decline in walking is being accepted as a key indicator of a more congested and polluted environment and a less healthy and content population. (An even more important justification for having more pro walking policies).

  In order to find the solutions to stopping and preferably reversing this trend, walking must be understood in the context of the different disciplines that are involved with walking matters. The London Walking Forum has been creating a dialogue with, and developing best practice and joint working across these disciplines in earnest for the last three years. Walking is of relevance to a number of traditional policy areas as highlighted in a manual of best practice titled "Walking—Making it Happen" published by the Forum in 2000. In the London Borough of Croydon, for example, the Authority identified 53 officers with a remit for walking initiatives in their job description from all over the authority. Croydon's response was to pool the diversity of skills and projects into a strategy for the Borough joining up a number of policies and identifying gaps at the same time that were subsequently dealt with to enhance the "walkability" of the Borough. The three most significant disciplines that deal with walking are leisure, health and transport—This is reflected in the Forum's growing membership.

WALKING FOR LEISURE

  In the last 20 or so years, walking has been regarded as a leisure activity and not something which needed specific planning for, apart from the provision of signs, pavements/surfaces and crossings to distinguish priority on the highway, at a more functional level. Public Rights Of Way (PROW), ironically originally formed as a connecting functional network for walkers, have been promoted almost entirely as a "rambling" leisure resource and often been the total of any walking initiatives and policy at both local and national levels. It could be argued that this has been very successful in servicing and encouraging a demand for leisure walking which continues to grow. It should be noted however that local authority investment in the public rights of way network has been typically very poor, despite the legal responsibilities placed upon them, and this culture has been allowed to develop, with little regard for demand, watched with an apparent apathy from Central Government which has been disappointing.

WALKING AS A WAY TO BETTER HEALTH

  The Health Education Authority recognised walking as a key "acceptable" exercise which could be promoted to encourage more physical activity in their "Active for Life" campaign three years ago. The monitoring of the campaign suggested it was making an important long-term contribution to influencing and changing attitudes and behaviour but it was unfortunately dropped from the agenda of the new Health Development Agency. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has set up its own specific health walk programme across the UK in the last two years, with the support of lottery money and the Countryside Agency, which is proving popular. The BHF initiative needs to be supported with other similar projects targeting different segments of the population in different ways and national physical activity campaigns need to be embraced as a key role for central government in order to benefit people's well being and grasp the opportunity of being able to reduce the burden on the health service in the longer term.

WALKING AS A MODE OF TRANSPORT

  Transport professionals, pressed into recognising the survey trends, have boxed "walkers" as "vulnerable road users", "soft traffic" and "alternative transport". These are not particularly positive terms and reflect that, despite impressive modal share statistics, only very small amounts of time and money have been committed to walking initiatives by authorities locally and nationally in the context of more car orientated policies. Surveys by DETR and others have highlighted a huge lack of professional understanding and available skills about walking issues and a significant gap in the training provision open to staff to improve the situation. Of even more concern, the Forum recognise a reluctance from professional staff to get involved and develop walking initiatives both at a national and local level due to the poor perception of walking as a discipline relative to other engineering fields. Walking is sometimes even seen by some professionals as embarrassing, which has not been helped by central government's open public nervousness to actively promote and encourage walking within current policy.

  Having identified the importance of walking and recognised the growing concern at the impact of the negative trends on the quality of every day life, the above brief assessment highlights an alarming lack of prepared policies and a yawning gap in support and guidance available to professionals in order to do something about it.

  More could be done for walking if authorities, led by a positive example set by central government, recognised waking as an activity carried out by individuals, thus the solutions to encouraging more of it are tied up with people, getting to know their behavioural habits, travel motivations and preferred experiences. In other words, walking policies and priorities need to stem from the needs of individuals which, in turn, should be the anchor point for all investment in physical environmental improvements. PROW networks, health walks, walkways, pedestrianised areas, pavements etc all need to be considered primarily as a utilised, functional resource—their future provision, management and maintenance should be governed by a thorough understanding of what need they are serving and how they are being utilised. The Walker is the priority not the walkway and if it is recognised that environments need to be created so that people choose to walk in them we must identify first what factors influence that choice and make that the start of any future investment.

  A National Walking Forum should be established as soon as possible to combine the best skills and experience from around the country to deal with this. The Forum should be given a clear remit for promoting walking at a national and regional level and it should be asked to advise on ways that existing policy statements can be strengthened into achievable, targeted policy and give a practical way forward for overriding the political unease around walking by promoting solutions which secure and enhance the quality of public life.

  There appears to be a tendency to seek "solutions" to a more walking friendly environment with technical pilots and often over complex projects. Walking should not be treated as a "new", "emerging" or "alternative" science—all red crossings, homezones, inflatable speed humps, pressure pad crossings etc have proved quite expensive experimental tools which, yes, it can be argued have all contributed to more "walkable" areas, but the needs of walkers can be catered for with quite traditional and often relatively cheap investment too. Pedestrian audits are (somewhat amazingly) still in their infancy in this country, and an understanding of why people walk, their likes and dislikes is quite well documented in the tourism and leisure world (used to direct for example international campaigns by the British Tourist Authority to promote Britain as a walking destination), yet proposals to extend similar research across other disciplines, to be co-ordinated by DETR, have disappointingly been put on hold due to a lack of staff time.

  Solutions should not be segregated based on people's primary motivations—(a health trip, education, work, shopping or leisure trip all need providing for) we need to start managing people's experiences, considering their involvement and relationship with the environment and managing it positively.

  Champions are needed at every level to raise the status of walking and to place it in the context of current management structures and policies. To make walking happen we need to create "walkable" environments where people choose to walk. Walking needs to remain everyday and acceptable, natural and obvious without questioning its validity or the status of its image. It is recognised that promotions which don't talk specifically about walking but which link all the factors, which combine to make up the walk experience, are most effective.

  In support of priorities jointly developed with the Pedestrian Association, the Forum specifically support the following recommendations:

    —  The Government needs to strengthen still further the requirement for development to be accessible on foot.

    —  The Government needs to develop a new road classification for all roads that takes account of their non-traffic functions (eg shopping streets, residential streets, play areas etc). All roads should be reviewed on a rolling programme and changes made to their design and management to ensure the non-traffic functions are properly accounted for.

    —  The Government should strengthen the existing Best Value Performance Indicators (BVPI) relating to maintenance and management of the public realm. These should require local authorities to report on their performance across a range of street management functions, including street sweeping, rubbish collections, graffiti removal and clearance of fly tipping and dumped cars.

    —  The Government should make accessibility on foot a key criterion in the planning system, so that new developments will only be allowed if they are fully accessible on foot. This needs to include access to, through and within developments.

    —  Government should require local authority compliance with tougher standards for street maintenance and management, monitored through new BVPIs.

    —  Government should introduce a 20-mph speed limit as the norm for built up areas, with higher limits having to be justified case by case.

    —  Working with universities and professional bodies, the DETR should set in train a systematic review of existing skills amongst key professionals and develop a plan for re-skilling the appropriate staff. This should include those at the top of their profession, as well as those just starting out.

Jim Walker
Director

January 2001


 
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