Memorandum by Coventry's Agenda 21 Transport
Working Group (WTC 61)
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
Coventry's Agenda 21 Transport Working Group
is one of several making up Coventry's Agenda 21 networka
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
The pedestrian infrastructure should form a
coherent entity, linking all trip origins and destinations; routes
should be continuous and consistent in standard.
Routes should be as direct as possible, based
on desire lines, since detours and delays will deter walking.
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
Designs should minimise casualties and perceived
dangers for pedestrians and other road users.
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.
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.
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.