Memorandum by Martin Schweiger Esq (WTC
Walking in Towns and Cities
I hope you will be able to accept these few
observations on your very important inquiry into Walking in Towns
One of the best definitions of health, promoted
by Professor Rex Fendall of Liverpool University (now retired)
was that health was being in a state of harmony with yourself
and the world around you. It is the promotion of health in that
sense that makes walking so worthwhile in our urban areas. It
is the chance to look, listen and learn, processes that are far
more difficult from a car. The physical health benefits of walking
are well known, what is less well known is the physical dis-benefits
of sitting in slow moving cars with poorer air quality inside
the car than outside.
Time, there is a perception that journeys by
car will be quicker than by foot. This is not always so for urban
journeys of two kms or less. Many cities are laid out for the
car to pass smoothly, it is the pedestrian who has to walk around
the roads and take detours through underpasses or footbridges.
This adds to the time taken for the journey and the effort required
to make them. More importantly it adds to the perception of time
Fear of personal safety. Particularly on dark
evenings. Muggings do take place on our city streets and this
frightens people away. Our town planning needs to address this.
The current move towards encroaching on the pavements for shop
expansion, parking or street furniture makes the problem worse.
Crossing roads is also a perceived hazard and is a justification
used by parents who take children to school by car.
Unpleasant experiences for the walker include
exposure to dog faeces and broken paving.
It is unfortunate that the weather in the UK
is not always good. Travel by car is drier and warmer than travel
Older people or those with infirmities need
places to rest along their route. There are too few seats available
for those who need them. Equally there are too few public toilets
for those who need them.
Whilst it is accepted that one to one consultations
with doctors are good ways of influencing behaviour, few doctors
have had any training about the health benefits of walking, even
fewer regularly walk themselves. Nurses are in a similar position
as regards their training.
Many people are wearing unsuitable shoes, which
make walking tiring or even painful. Women in particular may find
it fashionable to wear raised heels that push the forepart of
the foot against the front of the shoe and force the meta-tarsals
to take too much weight too often. Narrowed or pointed footwear
will also make walking uncomfortable. Encouraging sensible footwear
should be part of any comprehensive strategy for increasing the
proportion of the population who walk regularly.
(NB: I should declare an interest. My father
was a shoemaker, my brother is one and I am a non-executive director
of the Orthopaedic Footwear Company, 4 Paddington Street, London,
Member of the West Yorkshire Transport and Health
Study Group Chair of the Leeds Air Quality and Health Interest