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


Memorandum by City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and Bradford Health Authority (WTC 68)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

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

  The contribution of walking towards Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reducing congestion is of great significance. The benefits of walking are well documented, reaching far beyond the traditional scope of transport planning, with significant health, environmental, social and economic impacts.

  Walking is the most sustainable form of transport, in both environmental and social terms. It has been described by public health experts as the "nearest activity to perfect exercise". It is a sociable activity which helps to reduce the fear of crime and is therefore central to the regeneration of urban areas.

  International research has identified the substantial health benefits of regular moderate physical activity like walking. Walking can contribute to protection against coronary heart disease, stroke, non-insulin dependent diabetes and osteoporosis and, through improved strength and co-ordination, helps protect against falls, fractures and injuries. Walking can play a part in weight control and the prevention and treatment of obesity, a growing problem in all age groups. In addition, people who are physically active have enhanced mood, higher self esteem, greater self confidence in their ability to perform active tasks and better cognitive functioning than sedentary people or those who are less active.

  In the UK about three quarters of the population do not take enough exercise to benefit their health. The recommended minimum level of activity for adults is 30 minutes of modest activity, most days of the week. Current consensus suggests that this should be integrated into daily life for example by walking or cycling all or part of the daily journey to and from school or work.

  A recent study has shown that in 1999 about 2.5 per cent of total direct health costs in Canada were attributable to physical inactivity. Increasing physical activity has therefore the potential to cut direct health care costs.

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

  The major reason for the decline in walking has to be the greater reliance on the private car, through increased ownership and use. Many factors, often inter-related, have led to this over recent decades—higher disposable incomes, provision of "car-based solutions" at the expense of other modes, dispersed land-uses, the fast pace of modern life. All these serve to marginalise non-car modes of travel. In addition there continues to be significant social pressure in favour of the car—an aspiration to ownership as a status symbol, continuously reinforced by powerful marketing.

  Obstacles to walking are many and varied, of both a psychological and physical nature. They centre on:

    —  Walking not being seen as a serious form of travel (except for leisure journeys).

    —  Unpleasant walking environments, often as a result of the presence of motorised traffic.

    —  Poor physical infrastructure for pedestrians.

    —  Fears over personal safety and security, for ourselves and our children.

    —  Dispersed land-uses, creating travel distances impractical for walking. This leads to more car use which in turn reinforces dispersed land use thus creating a vicious circle.

    —  Lack of recognition among policy makers and the general population of the health damage associated with our inactive lifestyles.

3.  What should be done to promote walking, including the creation of city squares, the role of pedestrianisation, Home Zones, additional measures to restrain traffic, the harmonisation of walking and public transport and improved safety and security for pedestrians

  All of these need to be undertaken, together with more general types of infrastructure improvement to make walking more attractive, such as dropped kerbs and pedestrian phases in traffic lights. In addition to improving the physical environment, action is urgently needed to alter the attitudes of the general public towards walking and to promote a change in individual behaviour.

4.  What can be learnt from good practice both in England and elsewhere

  Mainly that concerted effort, by the necessary partners, to promote walking as a sensible, acceptable and beneficial form of transport can lead to real increases in the number of people walking in certain areas.

5.  Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  The promotion of walking is hindered by the attitude of some transport planners and highways engineers who, like many members of the public, do not recognise the importance or benefits of walking. Walking schemes are often seen as small-scale, peripheral to "mainstream" transport planning. Many believe that involvement in walking promotion is not a good career move. Again, then there is a problem with the image of walking, but this time within the profession. Transport planners and highways engineers need to work more with (and be influenced by) professionals from other spheres such as health and social science.

  Health professionals, particularly those working in public health and primary care, have an important role to play. They need an understanding of the potential of walking as an excellent form of regular exercise. They need to develop appropriate ways of measuring and recording patients' physical activity levels and skills to help patients become more active.

6.  Whether all Government Departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPG13 and the Government Paper "Encouraging Walking" are adequate

  The key here is that a greater commitment to walking from central government is required. There is no national framework for action. The agencies and documents above may be "saying the right words" but are, without such a framework, insufficient.

  Although the Government Paper "Encouraging Walking" was welcome there was disappointment amongst professionals and others who are keen to promote walking that the document, envisaged originally as a national walking strategy, was in fact published only as guidance for local authorities. Of fundamental importance here is the lack of:

    —  National targets for walking.

    —  A commitment to the resources needed to achieve these.

    —  A strong and sustained publicity campaign at the national level.

  Without these, it is difficult to see how attempts to promote walking can be fully effective.

  It is noteworthy that walking has not been traditionally high in the priorities of local politicians.

7.  In particular, 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

  In context of what has been said in response to other points, greater priority must be given to both these. There needs to be a national framework for local authorities to undertake the re-allocation of roadspace. For instance, there are many locations in Bradford, particularly at intersections of radial and ring roads, where crossing facilities for pedestrians are wholly inadequate, yet nothing can be done without taking road space away from vehicular traffic (or demolishing a significant amount of property).

8.  Whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published

  Again, in the context of what has been said under other points, these are essential issues.

9.  Other matters . . .

  It is fitting to end by saying that in Bradford, as in lots of other areas, much good work is being undertaken towards the promotion of walking. A West Yorkshire Walking Strategy is in existence and a Pedestrian Action Plan for Bradford is to be published in the near future. However, this work could have much greater impact if the Government itself were to take a much more positive approach to the promotion of walking, in recognition of the health, environmental, and economic benefits this can create. Without such leadership it is unlikely that levels of walking will be increased significantly.

January 2001


 
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