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


Memorandum by Age Concern (WTC 48)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  Age Concern England (the National Council on Ageing) brings together Age Concern organisations working at a local level and 100 national bodies, including charities, professional bodies and representational groups with an interest in older people and ageing issues. Through our national information line, which receives 285,000 telephone and postal enquiries a year, and the information services offered by local Age Concern organisations, we are in day to day contact with older people and their concerns.

  1.2.  We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's inquiry into "Walking in Towns and Cities". We have felt for a considerable time that a much better balance needed to be struck between the interests of pedestrians and those of motorised road users. Older people have been disproportionately affected by this imbalance. Until relatively recently the majority of older households did not own a car. Even today, 43 per cent of those households with people aged 65 and over do not have access to a car and only 38 per cent of those aged 70 and over hold full driving licences.

  1.3  As well as any wish to reduce traffic pollution and the use of the car, it should also be remembered that walking plays an extremely important role in promoting older people's health and sense of well-being. Walking is one of the most effective ways to counter the development of osteoporosis,[4] as well as promoting general good health.[5] A key message in the DTI's current three year campaign "Avoiding slips, trips and broken hips", aimed to reduce falls in the home, is that older people who keep mobile are less likely to fall. Access by foot to shops, libraries, doctors surgeries and other local facilities can also play a vital role in enabling older people, as well as other sections of the population, to fully participate in their communities.

  1.4  In recognition of the important link between health and walking, the Age Concern Ageing Well Network has several projects which include walking programmes. They are also currently working on a scheme under the Walking the Way to Health initiative to have people trained to become volunteer walking group leaders. Local Authorities and Health Authorities should be encouraged to sponsor similar schemes.

  1.5  Although welcoming the Government's Integrated Transport Policy and the £180 billion investment package to support the "Transport 2010—The 10 Year Plan", we are concerned at the number of new road schemes it included. We are now worried that, despite being relatively cheap to implement, funding to promote improved walking facilities will be a low priority for local authorities compared to vastly more expensive road and public transport schemes. Yet improved conditions for pedestrians has high public support. A Mori poll for the Commission for Integrated Transport found that public support for improved conditions for pedestrians was second only to that for improvements in road maintenance (88 per cent and 91 per cent respectively). We would like to see the Government give local authorities specific targets or budget allocations that they should spend to improve the safety and quality of the streets for pedestrians.

2.  ACTIONS NEEDED TO PROMOTE WALKING FOR OLDER PEOPLE

Improved condition of pavements

  2.1  We receive many complaints from older people with regard to pavement conditions. A major concern is the incidence of cracked and uneven pavements. People with poor balance control are more prone to fall. The ability to control balance decreases with age and falls can result in more serious injuries for older people than younger ones. Loss of balance control can also lead to an increased fear of falling. This can be reduced if, in the case of pavements for example, they are kept in a well maintained condition. Even very small edges and protrusions can cause tripping.

  2.2  A study into the incidence of falls of older people found that the falls occurring in public places commonly reported were as a result of "  . . .  pavement cracks and misalignments, gutters, steps, construction works, uneven ground and slippery surfaces."[6] In addition to better pavement maintenance and adequate provision for pedestrian access when roads or pavements are being repaired, pavements should be cleared of obstructions such as freestanding advertisements.

  2.3  Local authorities should be encouraged to make the condition of pavements a higher priority. There is some concern that local authorities see the cost of paying compensation in the event of the condition of the pavement causing an injury, a low risk. Age Concern thinks this is short sighted. Older people injured by falling on pavements are likely to be a significant cost to the National Health Service, since the injuries they sustain are likely to be sufficiently serious to require hospital treatment.

  2.4  In addition, any cutbacks in pavement maintenance result in avoidable admissions to residential care for which local authorities may be financially responsible under the current system of paying for care. The Audit Commission's report "United they stand: co-ordinating care for elderly patients with hip fractures, 1995" clearly established that older people experiencing falls sustained a fracture of the neck of the femur which meant they had to be admitted into care homes. We consider the DETR should pay the same attention to preventing falls outside the house caused by uneven surfaces, as the DTI is currently doing with regard to falls in the home.

  2.5  Another principal cause of complaints is cycling on pavements. Although this is illegal the law has always been poorly enforced. We are now increasingly concerned that, ironically as a result of policies to encourage more cycling, this problem will increase. One of the Government targets recently announced as part of the "Transport 2010—10 Year Plan" is to treble the number of cycling trips by 2010. The Government sees the National Cycling Network, currently being set up by Sustrans, as a major factor in achieving this target. We are concerned that already, some of this Network relies on shared use routes, which have been created by merely painting a white line down the middle of an existing footway, which are totally unsuitable for shared use. In such instances, not only have pedestrians lost half their pavement space, but they also have the hazard of having to share it with cyclists.

  2.6  Whilst one can be sympathetic to those who argue that the roads are too dangerous for cyclists, especially children, the answer is to make roads safer for cyclists rather than allowing cyclists to use pavements. This should be done by the creation of cycle lanes on the roads and cyclists being given more priority at junctions. However these measures are more costly and complex to implement, and we are concerned that, all too often, local authorities will resort to the cheaper option of dividing existing pavements.

  2.7  The Government is currently updating its advice to local authorities on shared use facilities. We do not think this will alleviate the problem since we are aware that their current advice relating to shared use is ignored by local authorities. We would like the advice to be mandatory. Local authorities should be unable to institute shared use schemes unless the pavement is wide enough to ensure there is sufficient space for both users, and suitable barriers between pedestrians and cyclists (in accordance with the proposals in Chapter 5 of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) "Guidance on the use of Tactile Paving Surfaces" 1998) are provided.

Improved road safety

  2.8  We would like to see the number of pedestrian casualties reduced since older people are disproportionately affected in such accidents. Whilst children account for 40 per cent of pedestrian casualties they only account for 11 per cent of the fatalities; however those over the age of 60, although only being 14 per cent of casualties, account for 46 per cent of the fatalities.[7] We regret that the Government's 10 Year Road Strategy did not include reduction targets for older people as well as for children. Since the vast majority of road accidents occur in built up areas, any attempt to encourage walking in towns and cities will need to instigate measures that will reduce the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured.

  2.9  We consider that vehicle speed is a major contributory factor in causing pedestrian road accidents. We think this view is supported by the alarming fact that on 20 mph roads 69 per cent of cars, 63 per cent of motorcycles, over half the HGVs and 41 per cent of buses and coaches exceed the limit.[8] There should be stricter enforcement of speed limits and the penalties should reflect the seriousness of the offence better than they do now.

  2.10  An increase in the numbers of operating speed cameras would improve enforcement. We are pleased the Government has agreed that income from fines engendered from speed cameras be kept by the local authority. We think this will encourage them to install more, and make more of them operational. In addition, we are in principle supportive of the general thrust of the proposals in the latest Government consultation, which propose tougher penalties for drivers who speed.

  2.11  We also consider the speed limit should be reduced to 20 mph for all urban residential areas. There is sufficient evidence to support the fact that injuries and fatalities are less severe for pedestrians when in collision with a car travelling at 20 mph than one at 30 mph. However, given the extent to which drivers are currently disregarding speed limits in urban areas, any reduction in speed limits will only be successful in the short term if it is accompanied by road calming measures.

  2.12  There is clearly a need to change driver attitudes and behaviour if the incidence of speeding is going to be reduced. This will be difficult to achieve, and is only possible in the long term. Drivers need educating on the consequences of speeding. The "Don't Drink and Drive" message has been successful and a similarly consistent campaign on the social, environmental and safety aspects of speeding needs to be undertaken. We would also like to see an analysis of deaths and injuries caused by speeding, similar to that currently provided for drink driving, included in the annual Casualty Report on Road Accidents published by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions.

  2.13  We consider that increased acceleration speeds in cars have made it more difficult for pedestrians to judge when it is safe to cross the road where there are no pedestrian crossings. This is a particular problem for older people who are less mobile. For the same reason, the time given for older people to cross at Pelican Crossings is completely inadequate and should be increased.

  2.14  It is also important that crossings are located where pedestrians want to cross and near bus stops where they are easy to get to. For too long the freedom of movement of motorised traffic has taken precedence over that of the pedestrians who have been subjected to barriers, subways and bridges in addition to inconveniently placed road crossings and bus stops. These obstacles have encouraged many people to cross roads at unsafe points rather than use proper crossings.

Car Parking

  2.15  Parking restrictions in urban areas need to be properly enforced if walking is to be encouraged. Two parking practices are of particular concern to older people. They dislike the widespread habit of parking cars on pavements, often necessitating pedestrians having to step out into the road to circumnavigate them. It is also costly for local authorities who have to repair the damage this practice causes. Age Concern would like parking on pavements to be made illegal and enforcement made a high priority.

  2.16  The 1994 Living in Britain Survey found that, although 49 per cent of people over 65 did not have a car, 30 per cent of these did not use public transport either. This accounts for 15 per cent of people aged 65 and over. The major reason older people gave for not using public transport was because they were unable to get on or off. Whilst we welcome the introduction of low floor buses, their point will be completely negated if cars continue to park at bus stops. We welcome any proposals aimed to reduce this. Apart from making all bus stops 24 hour clearways, enforcement of parking restrictions, including parking in bus lanes, should be given a higher priority. For this to be a realistic prospect, given all the other police priorities, we think responsibility for enforcement of parking regulations should be given to the local authority.

Environment

  2.17  As they get older people have increasing difficulty in walking distances without having a rest. The Institution of Highways and Transportation research has found that only 5 per cent of those using a stick and 20 per cent of people who have difficulty in walking but do not use a walking aid, can walk 360 metres without needing a rest. If older people are to be encouraged to walk more it is important that sufficient seating is provided to enable them to rest when they need to. Seats need to be provided along the route as well as in parks or pedestrians precincts. Similarly seating and a well maintained shelter should be provided at bus stops.

  2.18  Pedestrians must also feel safe when out walking. All women are more likely to feel unsafe when walking alone at night despite the fact that men aged 16 to 24 years have the highest chance of being victims of violence. Although people aged 65 and over are the least likely to be victims of violence, they are more afraid of walking alone at night than any other age group of their gender.[9] To counteract this fear, streets and bus stops should be well lit and subways avoided.

Policy Unit

December 2000


4   National Osteoporosis Society, 1999. Back

5   Independent inquiry into inequalities in health. Chaired by Sir Donald Acheson. The Stationery Office 1998. Back

6   "Falls in older people: Risk factors and strategies for prevention." Stephen Lord, Catherine Sherrington, Hylton Menz. Cambridge University Press November 2000. Back

7   DETR "Road Accidents Great Britain: 1999. The Casualty Report." Back

8   Vehicle Speeds Great Britain 1998. DETR 1999. Back

9   The 2000 British Crime Survey National Statistics. Back


 
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