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


Memorandum by Rob Wheway Esq (WTC 79)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

INTRODUCTION

  I am a children's play consultant. The comments in this Report are based on significant observational and interview research of children at play both in play facilities and in the streets and roads of a wide variety of areas of housing.

  I have 30 years experience of work in children's play. Presently I act as Principal Consultant—Children's Play for ILAM Services (the consultancy arm of the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management). I have regularly undertaken contracts for Local Authorities and commercial organisations on behalf of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, the National Playing Fields Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The views expressed in this memorandum are my own.

  I undertook research on 12 housing estates (with Dr Alison Millward) on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the subsequent Report was published jointly by them and the Chartered Institute of Housing and is "Child's Play: Facilitating play on housing estates".

  In addition I have carried out similar research for Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, London Borough of Lambeth, Milton Keynes Council, Oxford City Council, Waltham Forest Housing Action Trust and William Sutton Housing Trust. Each contract concerned a variety of different locations eg in areas of Council, private, and social housing and in types ranging from terraced to semi-detached, high rise, low rise etc.

  As a parent I returned to bring my children up in the area of Coventry in which I spent my childhood. I was therefore able to witness the reduction in children's freedom to walk to school, cubs/brownies and to other local facilities which has occurred during the past 30 years.

  Also as a businessman I use public transport and walking or cycling as a matter of policy whenever possible and hire cars when the distances between sites are too great. I have therefore significant experience from a business point of view.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

  In all observations in different parts of the country there has been a consistent finding that, where traffic cannot travel through an area unrestricted (whether by accident of design), children are out travelling around their own neighbourhood.

  Where cars can travel through residential roads at fast speeds, that is up to 30 miles per hour, then parents restrict their children and keep them in the house.

  This is not a result of computer games keeping children in, as the differences do not appear to alter with levels of income. In fact the arguments used regarding computer games are exactly the same as were used for the television in the fifties, yet more children played out then.

  Typically, where traffic cannot travel fast along roads, parents allow children at a young age to sit on the front step or go into the front garden; as they gain in confidence and ability parents let them travel along the same side of the road to a next-door neighbour. This range then develops as their parents' confidence increases and they travel to friends, relative's houses, shops, play areas etc.

  In the Joseph Rowntree research we found that children were "instinctively active", that is where they could play out they did and undertook a large amount of active play and many short journeys. In our observations of children in their neighbourhoods 40 per cent were of children "moving purposefully in a direction". The majority of these were on foot, the remainder being on bicycles, or occasionally other wheels eg skates.

  Our calculation on the amount of travel is best described in the following brief extract from the Report:

    "Children spend approximately 40 per cent of their play time travelling from one place to another. These places may be relatively close to each other (30-100 metres) and although the children tend to spend only a few minutes at them, the journeys between them are important for the children. In one hour we therefore estimate that a child might make five journeys.

    If we then take a population of 100 children and assume that only half of them play out and for only one hour after school on school days, this generates 250 journeys per day. As school days account for half the days in the year, this generates approximately 45,000 journeys per annum.

    If in the same population only 50 per cent play out for an average of two hours on each holiday and weekend day, this generates a further 90,000 journeys per annum.

    Finally, if we assume that in addition to all these journeys, each child is likely to make four journeys each day of the year (to school, the shop, a friend's, or the ice-cream van, and back again) this generates 146,000 journeys.

    Added together this gives us 281,000 journeys per 100 children per annum. Now this may prove to be an over-estimate when tested by further research. On the other hand, having witnessed children at play outside on some estates from 9 am to 10 pm in the summer holidays, it may prove to be a serious underestimate, and the true figure might be nearer 300,000 or even 400,000.

    Nonetheless, whether on some estates it is 200,000 or 400,000 journeys per 100 children per annum, these are vast numbers of journeys which are vital for children's freedom to play. They are also journeys which are non-polluting and give healthy exercise."

  This travel is almost entirely ignored by those responsible for planning for transport. There is no system for including these within any overall transport figures, yet they are vital for children.

  Whilst my research did not cover other pedestrians, eg parents with pushchairs, the elderly, and those who cannot afford a car, it is likely that they are also adversely affected by the failure to recognise walking within a neighbourhood as a form of transport.

REDUCTIONS IN CHILDREN'S RANGES

  The committee will have received evidence from Mayer Hillman on the reduction in children's ranges. I will not repeat this but merely confirm that the conclusions he made in his Report "One False Move" are consistent with my research findings, and also my experience as a parent.

  I considered his research with other information on children's ranges and concluded that the reductions in ranges had more serious repercussions than were generally realised. This is because if the average child's range at a particular age is reduced to half of what it was previously, then the area of their neighbourhood with which they are able to interact will reduce to as little as a quarter. If the range reduced to a third then the area of the neighbourhood reduces to as little as a ninth, a quarter to a sixteenth etc. (Area relates to the square of a radius).

  Research in Zurich by Hüttenmoser, Degen-Zimmerman "Lebensra­ume für Kinder" compared children who could play freely outside their own homes, with those who could not. It found that "At the time they began kindergarten, those children who did not have the possibility to play freely and without danger near their home showed a considerably less advanced social and motor development, and they were less autonomous."

  They also found that both children and their parents felt they had less friends and acquaintances.

  It should be emphasised that these changes are apparent by the age of five years.

  Together all these findings tend to confirm that if children cannot walk and run around outside within their own neighbourhood they are likely to be less fit. What is probably more surprising is that it may also significantly contribute to the dramatic rise in fear of "stranger danger". This rise is contrary to all evidence. It would appear that neighbours meet each other, and get to know each other, through their children. When the children's ranges diminish, so people know each other less well. A much higher proportion of people are therefore strangers and the fear increases exponentially.

  Where they have the freedom to travel, the significant development for children is between the ages of three to eight years. There is therefore a new generation every five years.

  Whilst I support the concept of Home Zones, it is clear that the benefits to the vast majority of children in this country will not happen until it is too late for them.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  Children's unaccompanied travel on foot (or bicycle, skates etc) is, and should be, considered an important form of transport. It should be considered on a par with all other forms of transport.

  Residential roads are for living in, not for driving through. Priority in residential roads should therefore be given to the pedestrian with motorists restricted to very slow speeds (in most cases this will only be for the last 50 or 100 yards of a journey).

  To achieve this there should be a new designation for residential roads. Where the local residents wish it, there should be an assumption that this new designation will be granted unless the road serves a necessary distributory function.

  As with 30 mile per hour in urban areas, this should not be dependent on extensive engineering works.

  As part of the driving test motorists should demonstrate that they can recognise, and drive slowly and safely within this type of road ie where pedestrians will have priority.

CYCLISTS AND PEDESTRIANS

  Some concern has been expressed about cyclists on pavements and the adverse effect this may have for pedestrians. I make the following comments.

  This phenomena has occurred because the roads have become dangerous, not because cyclists have become more uncaring. In the 1950s it was usual for runners from athletic clubs to run on the road and as a child my scout group paraded on the road; both of these were done to leave the pavement free for pedestrians. With increasing traffic these were both driven on to the pavement, and with further increases in traffic, cyclists have been driven on to the pavement.

  Whilst naturally any reckless disregard by cyclists of pedestrians should be rightly criticised, it is my view that addressing the problems that cyclists face would have more of the effect of leaving the pavements free for pedestrians, than going down the route of increasing penalties.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

  If people are to walk more they will need to use public transport for some of the longer distances. Buses are generally very inadequate in giving people the feeling of security for their journey. The difference between a tube or metro system and a bus is instructive. With a tube or metro the passenger usually knows:

    —  The route the vehicle is travelling.

    —  When they have reached their particular stop.

    —  How long it is likely to be before the next vehicle arrives.

    —  They will be able to get on in reasonable comfort it they have children, pushchair, shopping bags etc.

    —  The journey will be relatively smooth (cup of tea test).

    —  How connections with other routes can be made.

  This is almost never the case with buses and therefore people are discouraged from using them. Significant changes to reassure potential customers are needed.

  If people are walking, to say a train station, and arrive back during particularly inclement weather, or late at night, they may wish to know that they can use a taxi. Unfortunately the taxis are geared to private use by an individual. Many people do not require this luxury, what they do need is to know that they will be taken to their home in safety. Sharing relies on making an agreement with a stranger over costs, which is potentially embarrassing.

  A system which enabled people to pay a known fixed cost to ensure they reached home safely (or dry) would, I believe, give many more the confidence to walk and use public transport knowing there is a good fall-back position.

Rob Wheway
Wheway Consultancy

January 2001


 
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