Memorandum by the Civic Trust (WTC 31)
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
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.
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.
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.
Problem 1 Indirect or unclear routes through
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
Problem 5 Awkward road crossings
Provide more pedestrian crossings, preferably
with a quicker response to button presses and a generous crossing
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
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.
Problem 7 Fast traffic intimidates and endangers
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 RoadSafer 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.