Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the Civic Trust (WTC 31)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

INTRODUCTION

  The Civic Trust and its 850 member Civic Societies believe strongly that there should be an environment that is conducive to walking in our towns. Walking is a socially beneficial activity because it is cheap; it allows people to appreciate their local environment; it promotes social contacts; it is non polluting and environmentally sustainable and it is healthy.

  Consequently, measures that successfully encourage walking foster a caring attitude towards peoples' local environment; strengthen local identity and community; purify the air and the atmosphere and save non-renewable resources; and allow people to lead healthy lives which reduces the cost to society of caring for the sick.

  The experience of walking could be far more pleasant. If one walks through the streets of a British town the journey is too often blighted by noise, conflict with vehicles and other pedestrians, a variety of obstacles and fear of attack. All individuals and organisations should therefore strive to improve the walking environment.

  Our submission has three parts. It begins by exploring how walking can contribute to the Urban Renaissance; looks at some factors that inhibit walking and suggests remedies; and concludes by discussing the relative priority currently given to walking in public policy. We have not attempted a comprehensive coverage of the topic, but rather to raise the profile of some issues relating to the promotion of walking that have been neglected by transport planners and their political masters.

WALKING AND THE URBAN RENAISSANCE

  Planning should aim to give higher priority to social space compared to movement space. Heavily trafficked streets are striped of life by noise, congestion and fumes. It is virtually impossible to foster local social interaction and community spirit where neighbours cannot easily or safely move and converse outside their houses. Towns and cities exist because they maximise the opportunity for exchange. Hostile streets drive this exchange activity inside so that it becomes more privatised and exclusive. Spontaneous encounters on the street are replaced by planned encounters that involve a car journey. The street environment is further degraded and a vicious cycle is established.

  There are powerful forces creating car dependency that cannot be altered significantly simply by making physical alterations to the walking environment. Action is required on a broad front including planning policies for the location of housing, jobs and services, the taxation of transport and measures to improve public transport.

  Measures to improve the walking environment improve the general attractiveness of urban areas as places to live, discouraging migration to the urban edge or countryside. Ease of walking is a good proxy measure for urban health. For example, the steep decline in children walking unaccompanied to school since the early 70s is a symptom of urban decay. A hostile walking environment not only causes parents to restrict their children's ability to make journeys independently, removing opportunities for physical, social and educational development, but spurs out migration because parents want a safer and more fulfilling environment for their children.

ENCOURAGING WALKING—PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

  Each route along which people want to walk must be assessed to determine whether it is convenient, safe and comfortable. We list below a series of common problems that make routes inconvenient, unsafe and uncomfortable. These problems need to be systematically eliminated. The remedies we propose should help.

Convenient Routes

Problem 1  Indirect or unclear routes through new developments

  Every development should be connected to the existing street network by an obvious and simple pavement or footpath. The use of traditional perimeter blocks with buildings that front the street should be restored as the standard development pattern. It minimises walking distances and windows overlooking the pavement increase feelings of personal safety. If car access to a site is required there should be a common entrance and exit so pedestrians do not need to cross two access roads. Car parking other than along a street should be behind a store, not in front, so pedestrians do not have to walk across a large car park to reach the entrance.

  Need a firm statement in planning policy guidance that the opportunity to create new pedestrian routes presented by applications for development should be seized.

Problem 2  Designated walking routes that do not go where people want

  Short cuts across grass and dirt are often worn into the ground by people who ignore inconveniently routed official paths. In many cases this "desire line" should be properly surfaced and the official path removed. The redesigned Peace Gardens in Sheffield, which won a Civic Trust Award in 2000, allows people to use the gardens as a route from one place to another rather than simply a place to linger.

Problem 3  Underexploited historic routes

  York's Snickleways form a fine network of picturesque walking routes that thread between buildings and are often more direct than the road alternative. They are a tourist attraction as well as a useful way of shortening journeys on foot. Other towns with ancient alleyways should open and publicise them. They can be incorporated into walking trails, which are often produced by Civic Societies and can lead to an appreciation of the local (particularly historic) environment. There is the added advantage that these inquisitive visitors are more likely to spend money in small shops that are hard to access by car. Walking allows people to appreciate the fine grain of a place.

Problem 4  Lack of linkage between open spaces

  Establish urban trails such as the Green London Way that link open spaces and corridors. There should be an equivalent trail established in all large towns. The many opportunities to link existing open spaces to provide attractive routes for pedestrians and cyclists, often using watercourses and tree belts, need to be exploited.

Problem 5  Awkward road crossings

  Provide more pedestrian crossings, preferably with a quicker response to button presses and a generous crossing time.

  Many busy urban roads can only be crossed using bridges or underpasses. These are threatening and inconvenient. They should be replaced by surface level crossings where traffic is halted or road undergrounding. Birmingham is using this approach to repair some of the severance caused by the inner ring road.

  Crossing points are often equipped with barriers that corral pedestrians into pens and prevent them crossing where they choose. Such arrangements should be used sparingly. The improvements to the Strand are a good example of where barriers have been removed and pedestrians liberated to cross the road where they want.

Problem 6  River and railway present an obstacle to pedestrians

  Bridges that are exclusively for the use of pedestrians and cyclists can provide these groups with a distinct advantage over the car when they open up a more convenient and safe route. For example, the Myton cycleway has created a crossing of the River Avon between Leamington and Warwick that links housing areas on one side of the river with three schools on the other thereby cutting school traffic.

Safe Routes

Problem 7  Fast traffic intimidates and endangers pedestrians

  The fact that pedestrians crossing side roads have the right of way over cars turning into them is not well known and needs to be publicised.

  Government guidance on road design has resulted in roads that have sweeping corners that encourage fast driving. This is particularly problematic at junctions where side roads meet main roads because pedestrians have a much longer distance to cover when crossing the neck of the side road during which time they are exposed to the danger of fast turning traffic. Remedial work should be undertaken on these junctions to create tighter radii. Another measure that helps pedestrians is raised surfaces at the entrance to the side road. These force the driver to manoeuvre more slowly, signal to them that the status of the road has changed and allow pedestrians to cross on a level surface.

  Home Zones are residential areas where measures such as reduced speed limits, traffic calming, reallocation of road space and changes in design have been employed to reduce the safety threat posed by vehicles to pedestrians. They have successfully tamed traffic in the Netherlands and should be adopted here. The nine two year pilot tests have delayed the introduction of this proven concept to our streets; and the last minute introduction of a clause into the Transport Bill giving them statutory weight was weakened by the refusal to make motorists automatically culpable for collisions with pedestrians as in the Netherlands.

Problem 8  Pedestrian safety threatened by strident roadside advertising that distracts drivers

  Roadside advertising designed to attract the attention of motorists is bound to lessen their concentration on the task of driving and compete with official road signage. The proliferation of obtrusive signage is dangerous. It appears that applications for advertisement consent are not refused on the ground that they undermine highway safety because of the lack of empirical evidence of their danger. RoSPA are keen to conduct research on this subject but have been unable to obtain funding. Adverts on traffic signal control boxes will soon be pilot tested in four London Boroughs prior to an expected national rollout. This is a worrying development and local authorities should resist the lure of advertising revenue in the interests of pedestrian and road user safety. The visual impact is a further reason to halt advertising proliferation.

Problem 9  Inappropriate road hierarchies

  The DETR announced in its road safety strategy "Tomorrow's Road—Safer for Everyone" (2000) that it plans to examine existing road hierarchies. Any new designations should take full account of who uses and lives beside roads and whether walking would be easier if speeds were lower.

Problem 10  Counter-productive casualty measurement

  The Government measures road accident casualties per 100,000 population. By this measure an absolute reduction in the number of people walking leading to a reduction in the number of pedestrian casualties can be claimed as a success. A measure that would reflect the actual level of danger would be the number of casualties by distance walked. Accident figures that can be "improved" by deterring vulnerable road users from venturing out are misleading and result in the curtailment of their freedom.

Problem 11  Fear for personal safety deterring walking

  Community Safety Strategies required by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 should contain policies for ensuring personal safety in the street. Adequate lighting, clear views and police patrols are important in reassuring vulnerable groups that it is safe to walk.

Comfortable Routes

Problem 12  Obstructions on the pavement

  Streets are cluttered with inappropriately located and redundant signage, street furniture and utility boxes. They reduce the space available for pedestrians, impair navigation and present a hazard to people with poor sight. Local authorities need to conduct street clutter audits and removal programmes. They can collaborate with Civic Societies as suggested in PPG15 (although audits are not only applicable to historic areas).

  Sandwich boards outside shops are illegal clutter that most local authorities tolerate. Their stance needs to toughen. We suggest that after a warning and a period of notice, local authorities should simply confiscate them.

  Phone boxes obstruct pavements. Until recently this has not mattered since phone boxes were a well-used public facility. The popularity of mobile phones has reduced demand at a time when competitors to BT have installed new boxes. This has resulted in a huge oversupply of phone boxes. The reduced profitability of the business has led BT to install full-face adverts on their boxes. We are concerned that rather than removing their redundant phone boxes, the companies will retain them because the new advertisements are so lucrative. The removal of excess phone boxes should be encouraged.

  The problem of commercial waste left on pavements for collection has worsened as a result of the huge increase in disposable packaging. It is hoped that waste reduction initiatives will mitigate the problem. In the interim waste collection authorities should increase the frequency of collections to prevent obstructions developing.

  Wheelie bins can be a problem in terraced street where the houses lack front gardens. Householders often leave them permanently in the street to avoid hauling them through their houses. Residents of these houses should be allowed, or even encouraged, to dispose of rubbish in bags.

  Pooling of water on the pavement after rain causes discomfort. Highway engineers can tackle it by surveying immediately after a rainstorm. Remedial engineering work should be a greater priority.

Problem 13  Lack of space for pedestrians

  Where pedestrian movement is constrained by lack of space on the pavement the first remedy should be to remove any street clutter that is creating bottlenecks and obstacles. If more space is required to facilitate smooth flow, pedestrian priority can be granted by widening pavements and narrowing the carriageway.

  The pavement should be treated an inviolable space for pedestrians. Shared use footpaths should not be used. They pit pedestrians against cyclists, who should be natural allies. Space for safe cycling should be taken from motorised vehicles not pedestrians. Car parking on them should also not be tolerated.

Problem 14  Engine noise

  In many places it is impossible to converse with a walking companion due to engine noise. The DETR publication, "Encouraging Walking" should have mentioned engine noise reduction as a contribution the motoring industry can make to the promotion of walking.

Problem 15  Encumbrance

  The need to carry purchases back from the shops is a deterrent to walking for those with an option and a strain on frail people. Retailers selling bulky goods insist that they need a peripheral location for their store and high levels of car parking because people cannot carry their goods home on foot. If retailers provided goods delivery services they would have less justification for the "big box" retail format. LPAs should insist on a goods delivery service through S106 agreements and planning conditions.

CHANGING TRANSPORT PRIORITIES

Government

  Investing in walking represents fantastic value for money. It is cheap and benefits most people. Unfortunately too much of the money made available through the Ten Year Transport Plan will be directed towards big infrastructure projects that benefit inter-urban travellers. Investment in the walking environment was given a low priority.

  The refusal of the Government to endorse European Car Free Day, making it the only Government not to do so, is a further indication that it is not sufficiently concerned about the walking environment.

  The Government has decided not to adopt national targets on the ground that they are difficult for members of the public to relate to their everyday behaviour. In a climate where almost all aspects of public policy are subject to targets and performance indicators, this decision gives the impression that the Government does not place a high priority on encouraging walking. It is also odd that the Government has singled walking targets out as inappropriate. The argument that the public cannot relate to them could apply to most targets for improved performance and is not particular to walking.

  The review of Best Value Performance Indicators dismisses the Audit Commission's recommendation that signposting and ease of use of footpaths "are matters of varying local priority, which are more suitable for the use of local indicators". We consider that signposting and particularly the ease of use of footpaths are universally important and therefore warrant the BVPI status. These issues are of no lesser importance than the percentage of pedestrian crossings with facilities for the disabled, which the Government has accepted as a new BVPI.

Employers

  Green Travel Plans are an effective tool for altering travel choices so that more people walk, cycle and use public transport to get to work. All organisations that employ more than 500 people at a single site should be required by law to produce and implement a Green Travel Plan. Each year the threshold size should be reduced until all organisations with over 20 employees have a plan.

  The Government's advice document "Encouraging Walking" fails to mention trade unions as potential partners in initiatives to encourage walking. They often defend the right of their members to a company car, dedicated parking space and driving allowances. Green Travel Plans can be perceived as an erosion of workers' benefits. Trade unions should work with Government and environmentalists to facilitate a change in their members' travel behaviour. They should also recognise that they are neglecting the interests of that section of their membership that does not own a car.

  Travelwise/Green Travel Plan officers should be sufficiently well funded to both persuade through educational work and police the compliance with Green Travel Plans that have been required as a condition for the grant of planning permission. The emphasis is currently on the former role.

Individuals

  Householders need to regard the pavement in front of their house as an extension of their home to be monitored and cared by, for example, regularly sweeping and picking up litter. Councils should not bear the entire responsibility.

January 2001


 
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Prepared 2 February 2001