Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Greater Manchester Transport Resource Unit (WTC 45)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

INTRODUCTION

  The inquiry into walking in towns and cities is very welcome. Within the context of the detailed matters for examination, the Greater Manchester Transport Resource Unit would submit that pedestrian space is systematically undervalued or devalued in relation to road space. Our evidence for and arguments in support of this claim are documented in the following paragraphs. Some suggestions for improvements are made.

Contribution of walking to urban renaissance, healthy living and reducing dependency on cars

  A central issue arises in relation to this first area of study, that of the relationship between walking and driving. In terms of urban living, a need to reconcile the conflicting demands of motorists and pedestrians will be at the heart of any solution. We would content that, in the main, the real difficulties do not arise where clear priorities have been established. A pedestrianised town centre or a clearly defined ring road are generally used as intended (even if there is abuse or issues around the severance effects of a major road) and recognised as providing priority for different modes of travel.

  However, the majority of space for travel is contested. The divisions between road and pavement may exist but the need to accommodate different patterns of movement is not well met. A local shop or school will require most residents to cross a road and we have allowed a situation to develop where the only safe way for pedestrians to treat roads is to endow the motorised users with the priority for use, except in very clear and exceptional circumstances. This has become the default position in places where there is any doubt about priority. Walking cannot make the contribution it should to urban renaissance and healthy living when it is in this position of structural and psychological disadvantage.

  It is an accepted policy aim in all Greater Manchester authorities that walking will be encouraged because of the contribution it makes to urban renaissance and healthy living, well documented in the Local Transport Plan. A busier pedestrian street scene with more opportunities for local community interaction or the contribution that exercise such as walking makes to health and fitness are good examples of the rationale that underpins the policy stance. Of some concern is the extent to which the implementation of these policy aspirations will be given as much priority as the delivery of larger, more capital intensive schemes.

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

  There are a number of local experiences which can easily illustrate the practical and physical obstacles to the encouragement of walking. These are symptomatic of the difficult conditions which pedestrians have to work with on a daily basis. They make the advantages of walking less apparent and harden attitudes against it as a mode of choice. It is recognised that other reasons for a decline in walking are also worthy of consideration, including simple matters such as the perception that alternatives are more convenient.

1.  Impact of the road network

  This is the principle factor which limits the amount of walking. Roads are such a dominant part of the urban environment and the expectation that they will be permanently open to all traffic clearly determines the levels of tolerance given to pedestrians. Barriers and formal crossing points can adversely affect walkers, even where they have been included in broader schemes to, for example, relieve town centre traffic congestion. A local member of the Pedestrians Association has determined that an additional three minutes has to be built into the walking time between Chorley town centre and the railway station because of the local relief road. A great deal of road investment in the past has been justified on the back of individual time savings of less than three minutes for drivers. It is not apparent that negative impacts on pedestrians' time have been included in these calculations.

  There is no obvious reason for motorised traffic to retain this pre-eminent position at a time when the pressure for urban space is becoming ever more acute. More residential settings could include areas where pedestrian movements were given clear priority, with the backing of law, over car movements. Time restraints could ensure that the traffic priority outside schools was for pedestrians when large numbers of children were using the local roads—this could extend as far as a simple "walk only" zone system within a specified distance (100-200 metres) for two half hour periods each day.

2.  Pavement Parking

  One of the most frequent problems affecting walking movements in towns and cities is that of parking on pavements. This is action by motorists who have often internalised a decision making process that will favour clearer traffic movements and the shortest walking distance for themselves over clearer pedestrian routes for more people. It is also the case that the Police may take the view that an obstruction of the pavement is of less concern than an obstruction of the carriageway.

  Road space is also favoured over pavements by drivers in many residential settings where street patterns may limit the space available for parking. Drivers will systematically and regularly park in ways which can effectively block the passage of people with mobility impairments or prams on footways. In areas where the population of car owners living in terraced housing continues to rise there is real pressure on the amenity area of the street and pavements and often no room for additional parking spaces.

3.  New development conditions

  A less obvious, but equally effective, form of barrier can occur when new road layouts are introduced. At a local ASDA store, recent permission to relocate a petrol station to the part of the site bordering a main road (A666 in Astley Bridge, Bolton) resulted in an entrance widening to facilitate the movements of tankers. Despite the provision of dropped kerbs and tactile surfacing, the desire lines of pedestrians walking to the store were not taken into account. In reality, many ignore the marked routes and risk crossing a vastly increased area of tarmac, in conflict with more traffic, to reach to the shop door.

4.  The role of public open space

  Public open space in the form of, for example, a town square, free from conflict with traffic, is an attractive asset which should be valued. It is expensive to create and keep and the example of a £1 million plus project to refurbish Bolton's Victoria Square makes the point well. This focus for town centre activity is at the civic and commercial heart of the Borough and maintained as a key meeting place for the population. However, a decision to place a large temporary ice skating building on the square for five weeks until early January 2001 has revealed an unfortunate willingness to devalue this major area of public open space for free public use. It reveals a tendency to appropriate pedestrian space for other activities in ways which would not apply to road space. Other major centres of pedestrian activity in the town are clearly the focus of commercial activity and are closed to the public when the shops shut.

  Of course, there are problems with public open space. There is a real battle in many towns to preserve the parks and garden features which suffer from vandalism and neglect. As many more people are now mobile enough to drive out of town, or able to enjoy plants and flowers in their own "private" garden space, the demands for colourful, local, public parks are arguably less. The car based mobility of much of the population also makes it harder for parents to feel confident to let their children play out. The demands made on public open space, like parks, in these circumstances are reduced as the freedom of children to explore and use their wider local environment is curtailed. A spiral decline in the quality of public open space for walking and other activities needs to be guarded against.

5.  Specific pedestrian routes

  Alleyways and paths which may be critical for pedestrian movements through estates can also be closed and restricted because of a decline in overall usage and through an association with crime. The "designing out crime" approach which receives much praise can also lead to a "fortress" approach to new development which clearly disadvantages people who choose or need to walk, including, for example, children who end up being driven rather than walk to school. The safer lighting and better maintenance of paths which only accommodate walking movements is not promoted as a solution to particular problems as often as the closure of these important routes.

6.  Role of utility companies

  Finally, the actions of utility companies can be clearly detrimental to pedestrians. In particular, frequent routes and important, off road links, can be closed or blocked without any serious consideration given to the provision of information or the detailing of alternatives. This is a major issue for those with mobility impairments, where the benefits of independent movement may be of particular importance.

  The references to different issues and problems faced by pedestrians which are referred to above do have a common thread. They are linked to considerations of attitude and psychology of the urban environment. The dominating position of cars in society and the (perceived) political power of motorists continues to severely disadvantage pedestrians. Pavement parking is rarely seen as anti-social; development decisions rarely turn on pedestrian considerations despite the high prominence given to other highway matters; the removal or disruption of pedestrian routes by utility companies is too easily tolerated. Decision making is usually undertaken by those with access to cars and issues about the mobility needs of those without private transport are not often critical factors in their own thought process.

What should be done to promote walking

1.  Strengthen the contribution of Local Transport Plans to walking solutions

  Walking needs to be given a more prominent role in Local Transport Plans because the fundamental solution to the transport problems facing the country will be linked to small scale local interventions, minor works programmes, and changes to the everyday experiences of the population in travelling around their local area. These will have the potential to break the journey chains which determine that car use is a preferred alternative, and to promoting walking as the easier and more pleasant way of making short trips. The evidence of effective public involvement in discussions about transport issues in Greater Manchester has consistently revealed strong support for this approach in the past two years. We would contend that people may not like the experience of congestion and delays on long journeys but recognise it is possible and even likely to happen on those occasions when they need to travel by motorway, as commuters, or on the rail network. But given a choice, sorting out the local impacts of traffic, and improving the urban fabric of local estates, pavements, and children's play space seems to be the priority.

  Its is recognised that the situation is complex—some communities strongly favour local bypasses, which there will probably be further battles over in the future; others are concerned about local air quality and the impact of pollution. However, the focus of concern among these groups is also linked to a much stronger concern over the local impact of traffic than the need to facilitate smoother strategic movements.

  The Local Transport Plan process, now embodied in the Transport Act, should be used to build on the Government Paper Encouraging Walking, and it is still not clear to us why the expected national strategy for walking was not delivered at the time. As the Local Transport Plan settlement does determine the shape of local investment programmes, it should be used to collate and define progress in the promotion and development of walking. This could be done through the monitoring process and one encouraging example of a performance indicator contained within the Greater Manchester Local Transport Plan is the percentage of residential streets which have been traffic calmed.

2.  Strengthen the possible contribution of Government initiatives, such as the multi-modal studies work

  Even such things as the compilation of statistics about travel, and the modelling techniques used to justify new transport investment, undervalue or ignore the contribution of short journeys. It is hoped that the New Approach to Appraisal that now needs to be applied to transport investment decisions will help to redress the balance and it will be important to note how the current Multi-Modal Studies (especially in, for example, complex urban areas such as South East Manchester) address the role and contribution of walking. As it is likely that improvements for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users will form part of any solution emerging from the South East Manchester Multi-Modal Study, and as the 10 Year Plan envisages spending to respond to the study outcomes, it would be appropriate for the Government to consider the establishment of a Special Intervention Fund to meet the needs of pedestrians in multi-modal study areas as an "early win".

3.  Incorporation in regeneration strategies

  Another way of more effectively bringing walking solutions to the fore would be to incorporate it and value its significance in the overarching strategies for regeneration which are critical significance to towns and cities. One of the failures of the work of the Social Exclusion Unit to date in developing a National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal has been to adequately address the transport issues in their widest sense. For example, the importance of improving local services is clearly and correctly highlighted. However local services come to be defined, a clear criterion around access to them could be consideration of which services are within easy walking distance of the residents they need to serve, and which of them require travel by public transport. If there are services which need to be addressed by bus, then a subsequent question would be the nature of the walking and waiting environment between local homes and the public transport network.

4.  Standard approaches to the definition of routes

  A good way of raising the profile of walking solutions to local problems could be linked to the production of a definitive pedestrian map(s) for local areas.

  For example, the principle walking routes to all major centres of activity, to a distance representing an average walking time of 15 minutes, could be documented as a responsibility of those controlling that centre of activity. This could be a feature of any travel plan associated with new development or a condition of planning approval where appropriate.

  If this was applied to the rail network in Greater Manchester as part of the process of refranchising, then about 50 per cent of the population would be covered by a walking map to their nearest station. This would also encourage other partners in the transport industry to think more actively about walking as a contributor to their own development plans.

  If used as a tool by local authorities to plan for a uniform standard of pedestrian provision, then policies and practices would emerge to increase the reliability and effectiveness of walking routes to different key destinations. Pedestrians would become more confident about walking routes where a consistent standard of provision for walkers applied. Consideration could be given to accommodating the desire lines of walkers and to the systematic use of mainstream budgets to maintain and light important paths over time. The impact of barriers to pedestrian movement (whether temporary, such as pavement clutter or utility works, or permanent, such as the placing of road signs on pavements) could be objectively assessed and ameliorated.

5.  Role of "sticks" to promote a change in attitudes towards walking

  Walking should be seen as making a positive contribution to urban life which is worthy of positive support. This will partly be achieved through measures which may appear to be "sticks" rather than carrots by some people. Stronger enforcement of pavement parking offences, more stringent conditions on utility companies who need to disrupt walking routes, and the tighter control/removal of pavement obstructions, especially on walking routes of major significant would be examples of the measures required.

  It is also the case that some other major policy changes in the transport field may need to be considered in the light of the need to support walking. One of these would be the need to levy parking charges on out of town centres. Real incentives are needed to promote and support town and local centres as the focus for more commercial and employment activity. In the long-term it is these which will help to reverse the decline in walking as the difficult issues linked to the dispersal of economic and social activity are tackled. The natural compliment to such incentives may also include selected measures which make it less attractive to focus action in out of town locations.

CONCLUSION

  It is hoped that this inquiry will, in part, draw attention to the practical issues which have contributed to the decline in walking in recent years. These are often mundane but require a large scale programme of small scale interventions to be effectively tackled. We believe that the climate of public opinion would support an enhanced focus on minor works which make a positive impact of the everyday quality of life in towns and cities. There are also a number of levers and opportunities, linked to the desire for more integrated thinking across different areas of policy, which could be used to raise the significant part that walking will always have to play in the life of urban communities.

Stuart Murray

Development Worker


 
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