Memorandum by D Paul Cullen (WTC 60)
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
I am a professional transport consultant whose
specialisms include walking. I gave evidence on behalf of the
Pedestrians Policy Group to the Inquiry of the House of Commons
Transport Committee into Risk Reduction for Vulnerable Road Users
during its 1995-96 session.
This submission is made from the perspective
of the user of the walking environment, rather than from that
of the supplier or the policy maker.
Question (1): The contribution of walking to the
Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reducing dependency on cars
Walking is popular and continues to be so. This
fact is demonstrated by the large and growing membership of organisations
like the Ramblers Association; and by the fact that magazines
devoted entirely to recreational walking can be purchased from
What has declined is not the desire to walkamong
the changes have been the growing dominance of motor traffic and
its by-products on urban streets. The urban walker experiences
ever increasing noise, air pollution, driver aggression, road
danger (including a disproportionately high level of death and
injury), threatening streets and stress. Standing at the roadside,
delayed and diverted, breathing in noxious gases, it is easy to
watch drivers passing by with apparent indifference and conclude
that the way to go is by car.
Parents with cars have responded to these conditions
by denying their children independent mobility, replacing walk
journeys with car escort journeys.
The fact that people will travel long distances
to enjoy recreational walking underpins not only the recreational
and well-being benefits of such exercise, but demonstrates just
how great the potential for improving urban environments is, through
reducing the dominance of motor vehicles and re-establishing the
pleasure of going about one's business on foot.
Clearly walking in towns and cities is not,
and should not be, simply about transport. Conditions should encourage
people to undertake recreational and health walking locally.
Question (2): The reasons for the decline in walking,
and the main obstacles to encouraging walking and increasing the
number of journeys made on foot
The reasons for the decline in walking include
those described above, but also the dispersal of homes and businesses
away from towns and cities has made it much more difficult to
fulfil all one's needs locally. Some local journeys have been
replaced by vehicle journeys; but many people without access to
cars have found that they can no longer make certain journeys.
Local facilities may have been closed or relocated, but there
is no satisfactory means to access their replacements. Elderly
people may find that they no longer go out.
The main obstacles to encouraging walking are:
the continuing acceptance that car
use should be largely unconstrainedthat wherever possible
the car trip should be door to door; and
the absence of public transport services
that people want or are prepared to use in order to replace some
Question (3): What should be done to promote walking...
Walking needs greater status. Its value is tremendous,
for everybody can walk or make journeys in the company of others
who are on foot. No other mode is as socially inclusive. It is
cheap to walk, so even the least well off can use it to gain access
to opportunities. It deserves to be promoted. Unlike motoring
or cycling, there is no strong commercial thrust to promote walking.
Its promotion must come from the public sector.
People respond to promotions when they see that
there is a benefit for them to do so.
People who walk for part or all of their journeys
deserve encouragement and praise, for their chosen method of travel
requires little in the way of capital or revenue funding, does
not pollute, is not environmentally threatening and is not dangerous.
It is the most sustainable of all travel modes. Yet the roadside
experience can feel like a punishment.
Walking and public transport are intertwined.
Public transport depends extensively on the ability of its customers
to walk to and from it. The promotion of walking entails:
Identifying popular walking champions
and giving them prominence
Emphasising the value of reducing
the dominance of motor traffic in towns
Improving the quality (and status)
of public transport
Increasing the status of walking
Showing people how walking more can
improve their lives.
Question (4): What can be learnt from good practice
in England and elsewhere
The biggest lesson to be learnt is that promoting
walking requires a different philosophy for the use of urban highway
space to that which has become the convention. The philosophy
for giving precedence to motor traffic simply does not work in
towns. Two changes must occur:
Motor-traffic engineering needs to
be replaced by people-traffic engineering, and the capacity of
roads and junctions needs to be measured in people, not in vehicles.
The road safety approach, whereby
people on foot are diverted, delayed and contained in order to
keep them away from the danger of motor vehicles, must be replaced
by an approach to reducing road danger by controlling the source
of danger and not those who are threatened by it.
These lessons are understood in many European
towns and cities. There have been worthy attempts to introduce
them in England, especially in York and Avon, and in the Gloucester
Safe Cities demonstrations; but while there have been some notable
improvements to streetscape (ie to the appearance of streets)
in some towns, there is little to demonstrate what can be achieved
through city-wide people-traffic engineering.
Question (5): Whether the relevant professionals
have the appropriate skills and training
At all levels of seniority, the appropriate
skills and training are largely absent. There are individual exceptions
to this of course, but it is largely true of all the professions
involved in the complex task of providing and maintaining the
walking environment. Also absent is an understanding of the reasons
for the need to acquire new skills. This will remain the case
while the functions of walking are misunderstood, and while the
design objectives of traffic engineers remain for the most part
to accommodate vehicles, without necessarily considering the effects
on people walking beside and crossing roads; and while many among
the Police see their complementary task as being "to keep
the traffic moving".
Question (6): Whether all Government Departments...
are taking appropriate measures... and whether ... Encouraging
Walking are adequate
No. If they were, walking in towns would be
increasing and not continuing to decline.
Question (7): Whether greater priority should
be given to measures to promote walking...
Yes, greater priority must be given; but it
must be given by all concerned with some aspect of providing the
walking experience. Although much Government funding is disbursed
via local authorities, many other organisations receive some form
of Government funding. These organisations must also be directed
to increase their efforts to improve the walking experience. This
includes rail companies and the Police. Reallocation of road space
to improve walking experiences involves not only local Councils,
but also their contractors, utilities and other organisations
that undertake streetworks. All must be involved in moves to improve
people's experience of the walk elements of their journeys. Planning
guidance must direct developers and others to whose space the
public has access, to provide walking facilities in accordance
with best practice.
Such moves need to be accompanied by proper
procedures to consult (rather than to notify) users about their
walking experiences and needs.
Question (8): Whether national targets should
be set and a National Strategy published
Yes. Professionals will not change their approach
without a national thrust to do so. Targets are an acknowledged
way of achieving this, for they help focus minds. At present walking,
despite its importance in everybody's lives, remains without any
Government targets. This sends a strong message to the professions,
that the Government has no serious intent to increase the role
Question (9): Other matters
The New Roads and Streetworks Act militates
against efforts by Councils to control companies undertaking streetworks.
This needs to be remedied.
Footways and paths, zebra crossings and other
essential components of the walking infrastructure are in poor
condition in many towns. The quality of the walking surface is
a critical element of any walk journey. Among those who walk are
the elderly and others who find it difficult to get about. They
deserve consistency in the application of funds for the maintenance
of footways and other walking facilities. Footway condition and
funding targets must be covered by a national Strategy.
Driver crime and cyclist crime, for example
ignoring red traffic lights and footway cycling, must be attended
to. Recent statistics have shown a substantial increase in pedestrian
deaths and injuries in London. Much of this increase will be attributable
to those in charge of vehicles.
4 January 2001