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


Memorandum by Coventry's Agenda 21 Transport Working Group (WTC 61)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

INTRODUCTION

  Coventry's Agenda 21 Transport Working Group is one of several making up Coventry's Agenda 21 network—a multi-agency partnership of private, voluntary and public sector organisations and individuals. The network is working to make the city more sustainable both by taking into account our impacts on the environment and by involving people in decision making.

  Over the last four years the Transport Working Group has engaged in a range of policy development and practical activities to promote sustainable access and movement in Coventry. The requirement for a strategic and coherent approach to walking has emerged as fundamental in all areas of our work and on the basis of this we are pleased to contribute to the national debate on walking in towns and cities.

SUBMISSION

  The Group would like to see a framework in which direct and convenient pedestrian routes are promoted. We would also like to see the protection of existing pedestrian routes, which should not be blocked by developments or other obstacles.

  In policy and planning, people without cars are often identified as being those most likely to walk after all other options (car travel, public transport, cycling etc). While it is important to provide facilities for people with no choice, we would like to see the promotion of walking as the natural and fundamental means of human locomotion. Walking should be a quality first choice wherever practicable, not just as a last resort for those who cannot do anything else. We believe that this will require a different approach to town planning in general and in particular, to road planning.

TOWN PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT

  In new developments, we observe a tendency to assume the primacy of access by motor. This causes a loss of "human scale" in low-density developments, in which large, often bleak, areas are devoted to car parks. Routes and vistas seem determined by considerations of traffic flow and volume, pedestrian access appears to be added as an afterthought is often indirect. The environment is not conducive to walking, where this kind of development takes place we often observe pedestrians cutting through belts of shrubs, or across central reservations for the sake of a direct route. The assumptions and methods that lead to this sort of situation need to be revised.

  In town centres, pedestrianisation obviously encourages walking but more thought needs to be given to how modes of travel can better be integrated so that, for example, walk+ bus+ walk journeys become easier.

  Some members have expressed concern at the tendency in present developments to convert open-air pedestrian precincts, or even streets, into enclosed shopping malls, or simply the construction of large shopping malls. When these are closed after shopping hours, pedestrians can be forced to make detours at night when the perception of threat is greatest.

HIGHWAY PLANNING

  As suggested above, the criterion for past and present highway planning seems to be maximising capacity and promoting traffic flow. Pedestrians are characteristically treated as "second class citizens", having to defer to the motorist (who is usually sheltered from the weather) at light controlled crossings and junctions, or having to ascend to bridges and descend to subways, usually adding distance to be walked and increasing exertion. Splashing from cars in wet weather is a frequent cause of complaint from pedestrians and adds to the sense of having low priority in the scheme of things. Pedestrian safety is too often engineered by restricting movement with railings, raised central reservations or the like.

  The Group has noticed the frequent conflict between what is safe and what is convenient. The result of present planning for pedestrians is often that while routes may be safe they are anything but convenient. A new culture of "pedestrian first" needs to be applied in policy and planning to encourage walking.

  In our experience, the needs of pedestrians are often referred to in policy documents without being clearly defined. A series of requirements should underpin all planning for pedestrians which could be based on the well understood priorities for cyclists, covering:

Coherence:

  The pedestrian infrastructure should form a coherent entity, linking all trip origins and destinations; routes should be continuous and consistent in standard.

Directness:

  Routes should be as direct as possible, based on desire lines, since detours and delays will deter walking.

Attractiveness:

  Routes must be attractive to pedestrians on subjective as well as objective criteria, lighting, personal safety, aesthetics, noise and integration with the surrounding area are all important.

Safety:

  Designs should minimise casualties and perceived dangers for pedestrians and other road users.

Comfort:

  Pedestrians need well-maintained surfaces, regular sweeping, good drainage and gentle gradients in the topography permits. Routes must be convenient to use and avoid interruptions.

WALKING AND HEALTH

  Statistics in our possession suggest that obesity in adults and children is increasing rapidly, causing concern about the level of future health care provision and the loss to the economy through working days lost due to illness.

  Central Government could have a significant role in funding advertising and education campaigns stressing the benefits of walking as gentle, regular exercise that can be built into the working day.

"TRAVELWISE"

  The Group has initiated two major projects in Coventry, which continue under this banner. The first was a "Green Travel Plan", which is being developed in one Directorate of the City Council and encourages walking as well as sustainable car use. The Second is a school travel initiative with similar objectives, for which a School Travel Officer is now in post. It is hoped that through the development of School Travel Plans, children will develop a "walking habit". Again, we see a role for central Government in supporting projects of this general nature where the encouragement of walking is a clear objective.

January 2001


 
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