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


Memorandum by Walk First in Lambeth (WTC 49)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

INTRODUCTION

  Lambeth is an inner London borough whose northern boundary is the River Thames between Vauxhall and Waterloo. The borough extends south as far as Crystal Palace, and demonstrates a range of inner city and inner suburban conditions. Walk First in Lambeth is a pressure group set up two years ago by local residents who wished to lobby their local authority for better walking conditions.

  Lambeth residents exhibit low car ownership, representing attitudes ranging from those who cannot afford cars but who would nevertheless wish to do so, to those who choose not to own or use cars because of the relatively dense network of public transport services.

  Despite low car ownership and dense public transport networks, Lambeth streets are dominated by vehicle traffic. The Council admits that much of this traffic is "just passing through". However it is powerless to do anything about such traffic, and those who use Lambeth's streets on foot are penalised for doing so through having to suffer the presence of vehicle users having no business in the borough.

  We have not attempted to specifically address all the questions posed, for others will have competently addressed these. Our focus has been to address issues relating to how local Councils can, despite expressions of intent to do otherwise, continue to ignore walking and its importance within local communities.

  For example, Lambeth accepted the report of the transport taskforce Feet First in February 2000, but have not followed this up with a strategy or targets; and the Interim Transport Plan has had sections on walking in both 1999 and 2000. Yet the voters of Lambeth will not have noticed any improvements.

Question (3): What should be done to promote walking...

Question (7): Whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking...

  Responsibility for the walking environment lies with many providers;

    —  Councils

    —  Public transport providers

    —  Retailers

    —  Police

    —  Contractors

    —  Utilities etc.

  In Lambeth consultation is sporadic and there are no laid down standards for obtaining users' views about their walking experiences. There is no regular forum for the public to raise walking issues. Town Centre Forums and consultations with local amenity and civic societies produce a focus on specific local areas, but there is no forum in which all those who contribute to the walking experience can come together to be questioned by users or to formulate joint proposals.

  No organisation sees itself as a walking champion, so that despite well-intentioned Council statements about improving walking, things actually get worse. The lack of any overall responsibility for co-ordination means that it is easy for one organisation to excuse itself for inactivity by blaming another. Even within the Council there are numerous teams who have some influence on aspects of the walking environment, and yet there is no co-ordination of their efforts, and of course no targets or yardsticks against which overall Council performance can be measured.

  Audit Commission standards are woefully inadequate and do nothing to reflect the quality of the walking experience, or its availability to different user groups like the young and old. Statements about the numbers of street lamps and pedestrian crossings in a borough say little that is meaningful.

  Nor are there any standards to use as a lever on providers to create better conditions. While legislation such as the Disabilities Discrimination Act is bringing about improvements to buses and trains, improving the means to access them (the street) appears to escape such legislation.

  It is all too easy for local authorities to excuse themselves from improving walking conditions while they are able to say that they have no money. The fact that this statement is made so often both confirms that local authorities share little real enthusiasm for improving walking, and justifies some form of ring-fencing for funds to maintain and improve the walking environment.

Question (5): Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  From our own experience we believe it to be quite clear that the relevant professionals do not have the appropriate skills and training, and that this applies at all levels in all organisations involved in providing some element of the walking experience.

  Ignorance can be found as much within the Police, seen to tolerate motorists' and cyclists' infringements of traffic laws affecting pedestrians; within public transport operators whose vision extends only to the in-vehicle elements of journeys; car park designers who do not provide for the walking elements of journeys made in car parks; as within local authorities who supervise or undertake the design, provision and maintenance of so much that affects the walk trip.

  Ignorance about walking and its importance to individuals and communities begins with senior people, and extends from them down through the various levels of personnel, to the young person appointed (possibly part-time) as "walking officer". The existence of such appointees confirms the officials' vision of walking as a "niche" subject, often seen as a road safety matter, which can be put into a corner and forgotten about.

  It is this official ignorance at all levels of the meaning and purpose of walking, which contributes so much to preventing meaningful improvements to the individual's walking experience.

Question (8): Whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published

  We believe there to be a strong case for a National Strategy which sets standards and lays down targets for improvement. The absence of targets for walking, when the Government has set targets for so many other aspects of transport provision, confirms a suspicion that the Government itself does not understand the importance of walking, nor the importance of focussing more investment on encouraging people to make shorter journeys.

  Such targets should be aimed not only at local authorities. They should require bus and train operators to make station, bus stop and train access improvements. They should require the developers of private land to which the public has access to provide minimum standards of pedestrian access, and they should set appropriate targets to enable judgements to be made about the relative performance of those who provide some elements of walking infrastructure.

Question (4): What can be learnt from good practice both in England and elsewhere

  We believe that real improvements will only start to flow once designers have come to grips with the major conceptual principle of modifying the behaviour of those who drive vehicles, and not concentrating their efforts only on those who suffer the by-products of vehicle dominance. When that change has been achieved, practitioners will begin to be able to understand why they have to change their professional practices. It is only outside England, in mainland Europe in particular, that designs based on the principle of controlling the source of danger, rather than those affected by the danger, are commonplace.

  Hence it is important to do two things:

    —  to promote the principle of road danger reduction, rather than that of road safety; and

    —  to show "walking practitioners" from all those professions involved, examples in cities and towns elsewhere that have practiced the principle for many years and which have shaped themselves accordingly.

January 2001


 
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