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


Memorandum by the Royal Town Planning Institute (WTC 69)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has resolved to undertake an inquiry into "Walking in Towns and Cities". In particular, it wishes to examine the following:

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

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

    —  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;

    —  what can be learned from good practice both in England and elsewhere;

    —  whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training;

    —  whether all Government Departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPG 13 and the Government Paper, Encouraging Walking, are adequate;

    —  in particular, whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share of the Government budget and re-allocation of road space; and

    —  whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published.

  2.  These terms of reference are extremely wide-ranging, but there is also considerable overlap between the different elements. In this submission, after some general comments, the Institute attempts to follow the broad structure suggested by the terms of reference of the Inquiry.

GENERAL COMMENTS

  3.  In looking at the ways in which the role of walking in towns and cities might be enhanced, we are starting from a very low base. Historically, walking in urban areas has never been given "strategic" consideration. Probably for much of the last century, as public transport developed, and then was overtaken by the private car as the favoured mode of transport both to and within towns and cities, walking was regarded as the poor relation—simply the means of starting or finishing the journey, or joining the bits together.

  4.  The exceptions may have been a number of "historic" towns or cities, where the heritage features—the walls of York or Berwick, medieval Chester, or Georgian Bath—could only be appreciated effectively on foot. But even in those cases, tourist "trails" have rarely been incorporated into a wider walking strategy.

  5.  Culturally, we have arrived at a situation where walking is often a last resort. Integrated transport is seen not to work if walking between other modes is involved; and customers are likely to defect to a neighbouring town if car parks or public transport are perceived not to be conveniently close to shops and other destinations.

  6.  Different sources quote different statistics, but there is a consensus that a large proportion of urban car journeys are very short—to school, the fast food outlet, or the newsagent. These journeys used to be, and still should be, made on foot, for a whole variety of reasons. They might again be, if the right conditions can be created.

  7.  The Institute is firmly of the view that national templates and a search for national solutions are not the way forward. The Government has a role in creating a supportive and enabling climate, and in disseminating good practice. But success will only be achieved at the local level, where local authorities and developers succeed in producing an environment where walking is a pleasant experience, is the obvious way to get around, and is something that people want to do.

  8.  This raises a key issue that the inquiry may wish to dwell on. Do we actually know what people want? Do people want to walk more? Would they do so if the right conditions could be created?

DETAILED COMMENTS

The contribution to the Urban Renaissance, healthy living, and reduced car dependence

  9.  The Institute suggests that the Committee's terms of reference for its inquiry here view things through the wrong end of the telescope! Walking will not promote the Urban Renaissance, but the converse should be true. Some of the issues are addressed later in this submission.

Reasons for the decline in Walking

  10.  It is probably difficult to find hard data to support any of the following assertions, but it seems clear that the historic decline in walking, as a mode of transport rather than as a recreational pursuit, can be attributed to a variety of factors:

    —  culturally, we appear less inclined to take exercise as part of carrying out other functions, exercise has become an almost separate activity with the phenomenal growth of fitness and sports facilities to which few people walk!;

    —  we pursue more frenetic life styles, with a perception that walking "takes too long";

    —  the love affair with the car, which means we continue to use it when it is patently both uneconomic and unhealthy to do so;

    —  increased fears about personal safety; and

    —  a climate that, for much of the year, does little to encourage walking where there are viable alternatives.

  11.  Equally important, though, has been a progressive reduction in the attraction of urban areas as places in which to walk:

    —  increased atmospheric pollution, largely from motor vehicles;

    —  increased conflict between pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists;

    —  increased fear of crime;

    —  physically unattractive environments that make walking a less than pleasant experience and

    —  pedestrian routes that are constrained or made longer or steeper by the priority given to road users.

  12.  While changes in lifestyle, and public education programmes, may take a generation or more to produce results, the physical shortcomings of the urban environment as a place to enjoy walking can be addressed much more rapidly through sound planning and attention to detail in good urban design.

Promoting Walking

  13.  The key is to allow walking to promote itself—to produce places and spaces where people want to walk, and where walking is the easiest way of getting around, at least over relatively short distances. It is inappropriate to be too prescriptive. All towns and cities are different, and have the potential to develop their individual character and ambience. Historic towns have a head start, and can build on a sound base, but recent developments in parts of northern industrial cities, for example, demonstrate that much can be achieved from less promising beginnings.

  14.  Imaginative land use planning—expressed through development plans and planning briefs—is central to the process. Mixed use developments, or the juxtaposing of homes, jobs and other facilities, can be used to create a framework in which journey distances are reduced to a level where not only can they be undertaken easily on foot, but where walking becomes the obvious, and quickest, form of travel. The essential additional ingredient is good urban design. Walking routes should be designed so that they:

    —  are segregated from routes used by vehicular traffic both motorised and pedal, and certainly from main roads;

    —  avoid abrupt changes in level, and are generally accessible;

    —  are environmentally attractive, with careful attention to the choice of materials;

    —  link places of activity and interest along the route;

    —  can be maintained easily and efficiently;

    —  are visible at all times and particularly well lit at night; and

    —  are perceived by users as being safe, convenient and direct.

  15.  Development Plans and Local Transport Plans (LTPs) have a key role in setting out a strategy and securing the funding for its implementation. Opportunities have been missed in the past. Pedestrianised shopping centres have been a feature of our towns and cities for many years, but their associated access routes rarely extend further than the adjoining car parks, bus or railway station. Few urban local authorities have approached walking strategically. Where new forms of development (as described above) can be used to "show the way", they must be linked quickly to other parts of the urban area. The availability of a strategic network of attractive pedestrian routes would give residents, and visitors, the option of walking as an effective mode for travelling short distances.

  16.  There is an irony about the place occupied by walking in an integrated transport strategy. Almost all journeys—from home to the office, or home to the shops, for example—both start and end on foot. Yet, in the quest to provide the "seamless" journey, the need to walk between other modes is seen as a major disincentive when attempting to encourage greater use of public transport. Thus, good practice stresses the need for inter-modal interchanges (car/train, train/bus, etc) to be designed in such a way that access is quick and direct, and walking distances are minimised.

Lessons from good practice

  17.  From the anecdotal sources available to it, the Institute would not attempt to compile a catalogue of good practice. Clearly there must be lessons to be learned from good practice, both in the UK and in mainland Europe. This would be a good candidate for inclusion in the forthcoming roll-forward of the DETR's research programme, perhaps concentrating on the UK and those countries in north west Europe which share our less than hospitable climate for much of the year.

Professional skills and training

  18.  The Institute does not see any problem in the availability of the necessary professional skills. The planning, design and implementation of attractive areas for walking in towns and cities are not separate tasks, but part and parcel of delivering the Urban Renaissance. The provision of routes for walking is inextricably tied up with the design of buildings and urban spaces, and patterns of movement by other modes. Planners, engineers, architects and landscape architects all have a role to play. The trick, as well rehearsed in the 1999 report of the Urban Task Force, is to bring together the right mix of professionals, and to ensure that inter-professional working becomes the norm.

Government priorities and action

  19.  Walking, above all else, is a local experience. By definition, the distances to be covered are short, and the success of any strategy to encourage walking will be rooted in local action—in providing the facilities and in attractive surroundings. National policies—a greater share of budgets, or reallocation of road space, as suggested in the terms of reference— are likely to be of limited effect unless they are locally applicable and backed up by appropriate local action. Clearly, it would be desirable for all the proposals for walking that come up through Local Transport Plans to be funded, but it is improbable that walking will be promoted simply by throwing money at it. Similarly, a national policy to turn over a percentage of roadspace to walking will be ineffective unless it is tailored to reflect local circumstances.

  20.  Apart from ensuring that LTP proposals are funded, the key role of Government in promoting walking is one of enabling and encouraging. Central to this is the dissemination of advice and good practice (see paragraph 16, above).

  21.  Government Offices in the Regions are consulted on development plans and LTPs. They can use this role to ensure that local authorities' plans include appropriate policies and proposals to promote walking, and seek alterations where this is not the case. These might include a strategy for the development of a network of routes throughout an urban area, and detailed proposals of its implementation over the plan period. The latter is likely to be achieved by a mixture of direct action by the local authority (to be funded through the LTP), and provision by developers, to be secured through development briefs and planning agreements.

Targets and a National Strategy

  22.  As implied above, the Institute does not consider that national targets or a national strategy would be particularly helpful. All places are different. A national strategy could say little more meaningful than that the aim in all places is to increase the proportion of all trips that is undertaken on foot.

  23.  However, it would be productive to require local authorities to include hard-edged local targets in their Local Transport Plans, in support of bids for funding for those schemes that seek to achieve the targets. This would have the added advantages of providing some much needed data on walking, and provide a basis for future monitoring.

CONCLUSIONS

  24.  The Institute's principal points in connection with the Committee's inquiry might be summarised as:

    (a)  there is a need to establish what people want, and whether more journeys would be made on foot if the conditions were right;

    (b)  all towns and cities are different, and walking is essentially a local activity, so it is likely that national schemes and strategies will have little direct impact;

    (c)  the Government's principal role, beyond ensuring funding can be made available for those local schemes which come forward, should be one of enabling, encouraging, and disseminating good practice;

    (d)  we have the technology to address the environmental improvements that are necessary to promote walking, in the short term, but public education programmes and changes in lifestyle will take longer.

  25.  The Institute would be happy to expand on this submission if this would be helpful to the Committee.

January 2001


 
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