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

Memorandum by Oxford Green Party (WTC 56)


  Oxford Green Party has campaigned for the rights of pedestrians for over 12 years, and with our experience in Council we have gained valuable experience in some of the political barriers at both councillor and officer level to improving the pedestrian environment. In this submission, we have followed the order as suggested in Press Notice 62, dated 2 November 2000.

The contribution of walking to the Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reducing dependency on cars

  1.  Urban Renaissance: There is ample evidence from many cities that cities where people walk are safer, more lively and more inclusive. Oxford's main shopping street has a footfall of over 50,000 people per 12 hours. Walking is the most democratic and inclusive of all forms of transport—open to 97 per cent of the population. The popularity of urban malls, with their high quality pedestrian surface and environment, attests to the fact that where the pedestrian environment is built to 21st century standards, rather than a degraded 19th century standards, people are happy and willing to walk.

  2.  Health: There is ample evidence that people, including children, are getting fatter and less healthy. The usual suggested remedy—taking exercise, such as sports or jogging, does not fit in with most people's motivation, time or lifestyles, and in many cases has negative effects in terms of damage to tendons and muscle wear, and often engenders more car travel on the way to the sports hall. Regular exercise needs to be embedded in people's lives. Few jobs are now manually demanding and urban home life and leisure is to a large extent (unless gardening!) also without physical exercise, eg with washing machines. That leaves only the window of opportunity between work/school and home, so what is needed is to construct society around the use of physical activity on the way to work or school. There is ample evidence of the medical benefits of brisk walking (second only to cycling and swimming) as forms of exercise to sustain physical health. The costs are measured in trip falls (because of weakened leg muscles and balance), increased heart disease etc. What is striking is that medical conferences refer to all these, but the topic is almost completely absent from transport circles.

  3.  Reducing dependency on cars: There is ample evidence that walking reduces the need for short car trips. There is a need to examine two kinds of journeys—work journeys and other journeys. In a highly specialised labour market, with specialised employment skills it is likely that balancing local employment with population numbers will have only limited effects in containing travel. The experience of Oxfordshire's policies is that in the four market towns, housing and jobs are balanced, but the towns are characterised by very long work journeys, almost exclusively by car, to the London fringe. We believe that the Dutch policy of matching employment centres ("mobility profiles" depending on number of employees and visitors) with different locations ("accessibility profiles" depending on overall accessibility by non-car modes) should be followed, along with an improvement in public transport. This will only have marginal effects on walking.

  In contrast to work journeys, there is little need to travel beyond the nearest school or shop or leisure centre. For these journeys, non-car access, mostly walking and cycling, should become the norm. It is noticeable that in Oxford, where no location is further than three miles from the centre, 41 per cent of all car traffic to the centre originates within Oxford. What is needed is to create really safe and pleasant travel for walking and cycling and to provide local services. It is interesting and to be welcomed that the Co-op has recently increased its local shopping capacity in Oxford, opening or expanding three new supermarkets in district shopping areas, without any dedicated parking. It is to be decried that school selection procedures have weakened the link with local catchment areas, which has been further exacerbated by the consequent desire to send to the "best" and avoid the "worst" schools. This process will be made worse by the proposed reorganisation in Oxford into a two-tier system, with fewer schools, making it harder for children to walk or cycle to school—a good example of "non-joined up" thinking.

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

  1.  Reasons for the decline: This could fill a book. Important reasons are:

    —  macro-economic trends with the closure of large centralised industries and the increasing diversification and specialisation of employment

    —  Counter-urbanisation trends with increasing wealth, fuelled by first expanded public transport then more importantly car ownership and use

    —  The historical decline in the cost of running a car, compared to public transport, along with the expansion of incomes. The failure of government to include or tackle the safety and environmental costs of car use.

    —  The increase in car ownership and car use, which is inversely related to the number of walk journeys.

    —  50 years of planning for increasing car use, in terms of the huge expansion of the inter-urban routes and maximisation of capacity and convenience of car use within most cities.

    —  The lack of investment in or planning for the pedestrian environment over the same period.

  2.  Policy obstacles: The walking environment is extremely poor. Whereas a huge research literature and weight of policy guidance requires proper consideration of the travel comfort and safety of car drivers, even to the extent of minimising harm to the occupants of illegal and dangerous practices, what little guidance on walking exists is advisory and is always subservient to the (very demanding in terms of valuable space) needs of the car. One recent example in Oxford will demonstrate this: a heavily used pavement has recently (thankfully) been professionally resurfaced at great expense, however, where two (never used) college garage doors abut the pavement, a dropped kerb has been installed. The resulting crossfall will inconvenience 1000's of pedestrians every day, and probably make the route impossible for independent wheelchair use, as well as possibly resulting in slip falls for the elderly, in order to marginally facilitate the access of a possible vehicle in the next 10 years!

  3.  Physical obstacles: Pedestrians, like all other forms of transport, have their own needs as they move through planned physical space. Whereas car drivers are enveloped in a protected, heated cocoon and the road layout has over the last 50 years increasingly been designed to meet the particular needs of motorised travel, the urban pedestrian environment is to a large extent an inheritance of the 19th century, but further eroded by the huge increase in the volume and speed of motorised traffic, the incursions of parked vehicles etc. What is needed are 21st century design service standards that match our (much heightened) expectations of life in terms of comfort and pleasant environment.

What should be done to promote walking

  Ensure that walking is incorporated in local government institutional thinking and procedures. A notorious recent example was a promotional leaflet distributed to several thousand residents by Oxfordshire County Council, showing a pie chart "how people travel to the city centre", which excluded pedestrians, when in fact 17 per cent of all journeys to the centre are on foot. Measures should include:

    —  A walking officer high up and well-paid in the officer hierarchy, to oversee all local government provision and policies, and external projects, and to act as a counterweight to entrenched internal (car) lobbies—eg road maintenance and safety. The research "Stepping Out" by Oxford Brookes showed how convoluted were pedestrian responsibilities. The existence of such jobs would also feed back into university transport education programmes.

    —  Better pedestrian consultation (with official pedestrian committees or scrutiny committees). It took a three-year battle to get a "Pedestrian Sub-Committee" in Oxford City Council; there are still no means open to the public of influencing County Council policy.

    —  Mandatory pedestrian audits of all road "improvements" and maintenance.

    —  Quality pedestrian corridors.

    —  Pedestrian audits of all new significant planning developments, with minimum pedestrian accessibility standards/modal share plans, with refusal or commuted payments if these cannot be reached (to be incorporated in Local Plan/Structure Plan policies and PPGs).

    —  Instigate a programme of pedestrian audits of all major existing developments, eg schools, hospitals, universities, businesses, local shopping centres.

    —  Prioritise maintenance of urban pavements, including clearing of snow and fallen leaves, above that of vehicle roads. Again there is a bias towards vehicles in that STATS 19 are analysed and vehicle collisions recorded, whereas trip/slip falls are not recorded, and yet are estimated to cause one million injuries a year (Age Concern).

    —  Make parking on the pavement illegal with proper enforcement. In Oxford many pavements are now unusable by wheelchairs and pedestrian groups because of pavement parking. In London it is already illegal. The law of obstruction is regarded as unenforceable by Police authorities (private communication). Sections 1 and 2 of the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act empower Highway Authorities to pass Traffic Regulation Orders prohibiting footway parking, but most lack the political will. In Oxfordshire the response to a formal motion was a policy of "do nothing". ["It therefore needs to be recognised that in some cases to do nothing will be the appropriate way forward". (Highways and Road Safety—13 May 99)].

    —  Programme of pedestrian monitoring.

    —  Enforce Air Quality Standards, especially that NOx hourly rate of 21 ppb—most of Oxford's main inner urban roads, which are heavily used by pedestrians, exceed this level.

    —  Set and monitor noise level standards.

  Ensure that the physical walking environment encourages and allows walking. There already exists a body of guidance (eg IHT Disability and Pedestrian Guidelines) but in all cases of conflict of interest, other guidance or policies override these, eg the desire to remove cyclists from the road, ensure "minimum" vehicle lane widths, avoid traffic congestion at junctions, allow for residents' parking etc. So policy and officer priorities need to be changed first, but here are some important physical measures that are not generally followed, but need to be:

    —  Continuous uninterrupted networks of pavements to all major transport destinations from all major residential areas.

    —  Priority over minor road side junctions reinforced by raised pavement extensions with Give Way lines put back before them (not dropped kerbs which fill with water and do not allow independent wheelchair access, and still mean the pedestrian is forced to walk into the road)—Oxfordshire County Council has adopted this as a policy, but, for many of the reasons stated above, it has yet to be implemented anywhere.

    —  Timed priority over all intersections by light controlled pedestrian crossings.

    —  Reduction of wait times at pelican crossings. Unfortunately, a proposal to implement a 20 second vehicle green phase (30 seconds is typical in Oxfordshire) was defeated because of fears of traffic congestion, even though research shows it increases "Green Man" compliance by pedestrians from 60 per cent to 70 per cent with no increase in traffic congestion in most locations, and significant reductions in pedestrian casualties. Extend Green Man time to allow older/disabled people to cross in Green Man time, either by smart technology or simply extending period.

    —  Install (raised) zebra crossings (which give pedestrians better priority) as standard in urban areas, unless volume or speed of traffic require pelicans.

    —  Ensure level payments, in particular assess the need for any dropped kerbs for garage access, and use only designs which affect the outer kerbs rather than the whole surface.

    —  Reduce overall urban speeds. Require all Councils to implement 20 mph zones progressively over all residential areas.

    —  Ensure minimum 2 metre wide obstacle-free pavements and group all street furniture either against the wall or in extra space outside pavement.

What can be learnt from good practice in England and elsewhere

  Oxfordshire is a good example of where the publicised policies, eg in the LTP, are excellent but implementation is opposed by vested interests within the transport department and to a lesser extent by councillors, though in most cases as the council is hung, decisions are officer-led. Several examples have already been given where policies, even those supported by the Government are not acted on. Another example was a motion to introduce a modal "hierarchy" putting pedestrians first, as recommended in the LTP Annex D advice, which senior transport officers recommended for refusal, in spite of other officers promoting it.

Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  From our experience, the answer is definitely no. The principal problem however, is the unconscious or conscious bias of senior officers to cater for car use, or at least concentrate on the problems of traffic congestion and vehicle collisions. Often, even measures that benefit pedestrians are accidental rather than planned, where the greater concern is traffic management. An example is where pavement extensions along a busy shopping street were put across some of the side roads, but not all, because their purpose was to deter crossing traffic, not to encourage and make walking easier. There is a need to tackle these unconscious or conscious priorities, rather than primarily the actual skills of providing for pedestrians.

Whether all Government Departments ... are taking appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPG 13 and the Government Paper, "Encouraging Walking" are adequate

  Local Transport Plan: The change to LTPs has generally been beneficial in re-ordering policy priorities. Oxfordshire Walking Strategy and LTP walking strategy, notably put together by younger officers, is excellent in its policies. What is as yet lacking is implementation on the ground. All too often the measures that are implemented do not follow or are even contrary to the policies—an example is the proposed cycle lane along the Woodstock Road pavement. From our experience, this is because senior officers, who wield the power and decide on financial allocations are generally much more retrogressive.

  Revised PPG13: Although it is generally better than the current PPG13, we have not had time specifically to analyse it as regards pedestrians.

  Encouraging Walking: As a whole, this document is better than any previous advice issuing from the Government. To summarise its good and bad points:


    —  Sets national lead in guidance

    —  Focuses walking guidance in one document

    —  Identifies key players

    —  Lists actions and policies

    —  Supports 5 C's (Connected, comfortable, convenient, convivial and conspicuous)

    —  Supports local targets

    —  Backs up health policies

    —  Balance towards pedestrians, including restrictions on car use/capacity.


    —  Not a strategy, as in the National Cycling Strategy

    —  No national targets

    —  No changes in law

    —  No statutory duties

    —  Eg Parking on pavements allowed

    —  No mention of Zebra crossings

    —  No support for pavement extensions

    —  Policy based on "This is what we'd like, but you're the ones to do it and take the stick".

Whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share of the Government budget and the re-allocation of road space

  Promoting walking helps everyone, but especially some of the most disadvantaged groups who rely most on walking: old people, the disabled, the mentally ill, children, the unemployed and the poor. In contrast car use is essentially exclusive.

  Budget: More public money should be invested in walking, in proportion to its role as the second most important mode of transport. In 1980, it was calculated that five times more was spent per mile travelled on cars than on pedestrians and 50 times more on cars per journey than on pedestrians (Hillman). Our experience is that measures to improve walking are almost entirely dependent on Planning Gain, which distorts the picture and does not allow a strategic vision.

  Re-allocation of road space: To a large extent, this is misinterpreted. It is not taking small chunks away from carriageway, which has only marginal benefits to pedestrians, except in some locations (eg where no footway exists, or footway extensions across side roads or Zebra crossings) but as a reallocation of timed road space priority, eg at signalised junctions and Pelican crossings. Here, there is always the well-worn argument that it is impossible to put in a crossing or pedestrian phase, because "it will lead to unacceptable traffic congestion". In terms of moving people, a survey of one very congested radial road into Oxford shows how inefficient cars, especially single occupancy cars, are at transporting people. People, along with goods, make up the lifeblood of our cities, where space is always at a premium. Policies to promote walking are nearly always impossible without policies to restrict car use—but it is car use that uses up space, not walking.

Whether national targets should be set and National Strategy published

  We believe if there is a political will to arrest the decline in walking and improve conditions for walkers and to raise the health and fitness of the population, a National Strategy should be published. The National Cycling Strategy, which is languishing in the doldrums of policy, does not necessarily augur well, but perhaps it would be possible to re-invigorate the former with a political push on both fronts. We should make it clear that walking and cycling are very different modes, but the experience of Holland shows that the two can work together in people's travel patterns as viable means for short journeys. As for the question of national targets we therefore support combined non-car mode targets, supported by real reduction targets for car use, in line with the spirit of the Road Traffic Reduction Act.

Other matters

  Legal: There are a number of issues where the present legal framework works against the safety and encouragement of walking

    —  Pavement parking should be declared illegal and be enforceable by Councils/SPA wardens and not the police.

    —  Collisions in urban areas between motorists and pedestrians should automatically lay the blame on the motorist, unless the motorist can prove the pedestrian was reckless, as now applies to Zebra crossings and to Home Zones in countries such as Holland. The advantage at the moment rests with motorists, backed up by insurance companies. We have many examples of pedestrians and even children who have been knocked down by drivers and are then sued for damage to the vehicle by the driver.

    —  The Highway Code should be amended to assert a pedestrian's right across side roads. At the moment, the code is unclear, referring only to turning vehicles. Even this is rarely adhered to by motorists.

  Roadworks: Many of the most dangerous situations that pedestrians are exposed to are road works, through a lack of adequate alternative provision when pavements are dug up, but even more importantly by the obstruction of roadwork signs in the pavement. This is not just a question of lack of Council enforcement, but because Government Guidance, which contractors follow, illustrates signs placed on pavements. The degree of warning given to motorists is more suitable for unlit 60 mph rural roads than busy urban streets.

January 2001.

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