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


Memorandum by CSS (WTC 83)

WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES

  In response to the request for written evidence for the inquiry into "Walking in Towns and Cities" the CSS would like to make a number of points. This information is informed by the experience of local government in providing and maintaining the majority of the road and pavement network in the country. Local authority officers who were involved in, and contributed to, the development of the Government Paper "Encouraging walking" have also contributed to this evidence.

  Before commenting on the specific questions posed by the committee it is necessary to make the general point that the problems faced by pedestrians will vary both between individual towns and cities and also within each urban area. The problems will depend on factors such as size, geographic layout and topography of the area and also on the local availability of public transport, the type of journey being made, the age of the pedestrian and even the time of day. For instance problems on a shopping trip in the town centre may differ from those on the journey to school through a housing estate. An older person may find pavement unevenness more difficult to cope with than a younger person and problems during the day may differ to those at night. The range of problems means that there are no simple or universal solution to the issues. Different actions will be necessary to encourage walking at different locations and for different types of pedestrian journeys.

  With regard to the specific questions posed by the committee, our views are as given below. (The questions asked cannot all be considered in isolation and the evidence should be read as a whole. Some questions have been combined to avoid repetition in the evidence)

THE CONTRIBUTION OF WALKING TO THE URBAN RENAISSANCE, HEALTHY LIVING AND REDUCING 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

  For many people a private motor vehicle is essential to enable them to access essential services and lead a normal life. This is especially true if they live in a rural area or if they live away from their work (a more common occurrence today when both partners in a relationship are likely to be working). Often in these instances it is not economically feasible to provide public transport services for all the journeys people may need or want to make.

  For the majority of the population the car, if not essential, does make it easier and more pleasant to access both essential and leisure services. A visit to the Doctors can become an ordeal if you are unwell but face a long walk to get to and from the surgery. A trip to the shops or the cinema is usually pleasurable but not if you need to carry your purchases a long way home or if the weather is bad or if the night is dark and you are worried about being mugged or if you have a long wait for public transport.

  There are undoubtedly a range of reasons for the decline in walking; busier lifestyles; longer distances required to reach essential services such as schools or shops; a greater desire to travel for leisure purposes etc. However these could not on their own bring about a decline in walking. The decline in walking is caused by the fact that the car is, in many circumstances, a better alternative.

  The drawbacks to the rising numbers of cars and car journeys are:

    —  Increasing congestion.

    —  Increasing numbers of accidents.

    —  Increasing air pollution.

    —  Increasing carbon dioxide emissions adding to global warming.

    —  A decline in social interaction, especially in residential areas.

    —  Lower personal fitness for these who take less exercise.

  As a result of these problems it must be true that both the economy and individuals suffer through longer journey times and the costs and problems associated with accidents and poorer health. In addition the environment in many residential areas and town centres has changed so that the streets are dominated by both moving and parked cars and are no longer areas where children are allowed to play or in which people interact.

  The question is at what stage do the disbenefits of cars outweigh the benefits and, if action needs to be taken, what will be the least disruptive changes for the public as a whole. The CSS believe that this is a question for local people to answer. Improving conditions for pedestrians may be part of the answer but so to might be improving conditions for cyclists, improving public transport and in some circumstances improving the road network. It is the responsibility of local authorities, and especially local highway authorities, to ensure that, where problems exist, they involve local communities in the development of changes required to address the problems. It is the responsibility of Central and Regional Government to ensure an adequate legislative framework and sufficient finance is available for any changes and improvements required.

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?

Pedestrianisation and City Squares

  People enjoy walking in a pleasant environment. This can be achieved with clean pleasant even paving and with trees, statues, fountains and other street art. In the right environment people also like to be able to linger, to enjoy the air and to watch the world go by. For this they need seats, toilets and to feel safe both from traffic and from other people. Our town centres are appropriate places to create the environment which people want to visit and where they are encouraged to linger. This is a potential benefit that the town centre shops have over the out of town shopping centres.

  For pedestrianisation to succeed there is a need to ensure that access to the area is convenient for those walking, travelling on public transport or travelling by car. There is also a need to ensure that the area is safe and is perceived as safe by the public at all times. Many pedestrianised areas which are felt to be safe during the day are seen as no go areas by the public at night.

Home Zones

  Existing legislation allows the introduction of home zones designed to create an environment where vehicles are catered for but are not the dominant feature. Until last year legislation did not permit the designation of pedestrian priority over vehicles within these areas (as is the case in some other countries) but provision has been made within the Transport Act 2000 to enable this to change.

  In most residential areas it must be right to ensure that vehicles are not the dominant feature. However this will only be achieved where it is supported by local residents and where the home zone environment can be "defended and policed" by the residents themselves. This will not be easy to achieve. Experience with traffic calming, and initial experience with home zones, indicates that some vehicle users are unwilling to slow their vehicles in residential streets even when the highway layout makes faster speeds dangerous. We believe that, for the maximum benefit from home zones, it will be useful to have the ability to introduce measures to allow pedestrian priority where this is supported by the local authority and local residents.

Safer routes and school travel plans

  The peak period for congestion and accidents are during the morning and evening weekday travel to work and travel to school periods. Action to reduce travel by car during these periods should have a high priority. Safer routes and school travel plans are designed to reduce congestion and identify actions to be taken to make non-car travel on the journey to and from school safer. These initiatives do not just concentrate on walking but also deal with cycling safety and parking issues. For some schools improved bus transport is appropriate.

  Initial indications are that these schemes have the potential for reducing car travel. However the changes rely on changing attitudes and on providing safe alternatives to travel by car which can be costly. For maximum benefit it would be appropriate to consider this to be a longer-term issue. It is considered that funding may well be required for such schemes for at least the next 20 years.

Travel to work plans

  As with travel to school initiatives travel to work plans have the potential for reducing car travel during weekday peak periods. In general improving conditions for pedestrians is unlikely to play a major part in such schemes. Adequate provision of public transport and car share schemes are more likely to have an effect in reducing car travel. This is not to say that we can ignore the need to ensure that adequate safe walking routes are available to industrial estates and other major employment sites.

WHAT CAN BE LEARNT FROM GOOD PRACTICE BOTH IN ENGLAND AND ELSEWHERE?

  In recent years information has become more readily available and is easier to access, especially through the Internet. This means that good practice and new ideas are now more readily disseminated than in the past.

  What is essential is that local government is able to try out new ideas and initiatives without being hampered by legislation which imposes restrictions. Some of the details in The Transport Act 2000 (such as the clauses on home zones and on school crossing patrols) shows that there is a willingness to remove restrictions. Other legislative restrictions which, it has been suggested, can delay pedestrian improvements include the electricity company monopoly on street light connections and the DETR approval required for non-standard signs.

WHETHER THE RELEVANT PROFESSIONALS HAVE THE APPROPRIATE SKILLS AND TRAINING

  It has to be acknowledged that there are examples of new developments constructed in the past (some in the last ten years) which have been designed primarily for vehicular access and which do not provide good facilities for pedestrians. It has been suggested that failures to adequately provide for pedestrians on new developments could be taken to indicate a lack of expertise on behalf of the designers and those who granted the necessary permissions. We believe that the problem is not simply one of lack of expertise, it is more to do with the general culture which has put such great emphasis on car travel. This culture has supported out of town shopping developments and industrial estates which can only realistically be accessed by car (and to a lesser extent by public transport) and has allowed the car to take greater precedence in more and more areas. Any fault for this must be shared by the public at large, by Members who represent the public, and by Government policy makers as well as by local authority professionals.

  This being the case the training required to resolve the problems goes beyond the training of professionals. There is, more importantly, a need to "train" the public to ensure they understand the issues to be resolved. Traditionally training has involved road safety activity, particularly with young people, but we need to do more. We need to train all road users.

  Examples of this approach are the activities carried out as part of the TravelWise travel awareness campaign. This can involve national promotions, such as the Don't Choke Britain campaign, and the National Walk to Work days, and also local activities. We believe that local activities are valuable because, unlike the drink drive problem, travel issues tend to vary in different parts of the country and local initiatives can be tailored to local conditions. Some of these local initiatives are included in the best practice examples at the end of this report.

  Another example of an approach which involves an element of training is the use of consensus building to develop a project. The aim of consensus building is to ensure that those with an interest in an activity are able to put forward their views and that they see or hear what others think and arrive at a solution based on a fuller knowledge of the problems. Often in the past, with highway schemes, one or a number of alternatives were put forward and a "best" scheme was chosen. With consensus building the starting point is a discussion of the problems and all those taking part help to develop the solution. At present the numbers of people who have been involved in this type of approach are limited and this is an area where some training of professionals will undoubtedly be required.

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.

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.

  It is undoubtedly the case that very few actions can be taken to improve conditions for pedestrians unless the finance is available. If insufficient money is allocated for road improvements and road maintenance then existing conditions will not change.

  It needs to be recognised that there are many instances where improvements for pedestrians will only be achieved by diverting vehicular traffic. This may require the construction of by-passes or other lengths of new road, thus pedestrians will undoubtedly benefit from many of the road improvements which are considered to be undertaken primarily for vehicular traffic.

  The recent Government announcements about Transport Plan allocations are welcome. These will undoubtedly enable valuable improvements to be made to the facilities for pedestrians. We believe that funding for improvements will be required over a substantial period (at least 20 years) if all of the potential work to improve conditions for pedestrians within urban areas is to be carried out.

WHETHER NATIONAL TARGETS SHOULD BE SET AND A NATIONAL STRATEGY PUBLISHED

  We believe that the Government was right not to set national targets in the document "Encouraging walking". The targets which were considered were—increasing the proportion of journeys made on foot and increasing the average distance walked. The problems with such targets are:

    —  They are not targets which, if achieved, will necessarily show benefits for the community (for instance, increasing the average distance walked may improve fitness levels but it may also increase the number of road traffic casualties given that pedestrians are about five time more likely to be injured per kilometre travelled than a car driver).

    —  Given the different levels of walking around the country a national measure of walking is likely to be of little use to individual highway authorities who will be the main players in improving conditions for pedestrians.

  We do see a benefit in encouraging local authorities to set local targets for specific journey types, such as journeys to school, and perhaps for aspects of footway condition such as cleanliness or surface regularity. Such targets could be included in local authorities best value performance plans.

  Local Government contributed to the development of the Government Paper "Encouraging Walking". It was initially expected that this would be published as a National Strategy. At this stage it is difficult to see what new information might be available to justify the publication of a separate National Strategy. This approach should be kept under review as new initiatives may identify sufficient examples of best practice to justify a National Strategy document to be produced in future years.

OTHER MATTERS (INCLUDING EXAMPLES OF GOOD PRACTICE).

  Many examples of good practice by local authorities are contained within the DETR document "Encouraging Walking". We also expect that local authorities will have made their own submissions to the inquiry giving examples of their activities. Some recent actions which we would bring to your attention are:

Consultation and involving people

  It has already been emphasised that, in the future, schemes designed to improve conditions for pedestrians will need to be developed through consensus building in conjunction with local people. Other forms of consultation are also appropriate and need to be developed. A recent MORI survey carried out in one county council shows that residents are less happy with the state of the footways in the urban areas than they are about the state of the carriageways. Such results indicate that the public would support more maintenance money being spent on footways. It is suggested that such information should be collected more widely and further work carried out to identify the reasons for the higher levels of dissatisfaction. This approach comes within the "consultation" area of the best value legislation.

Mercia safer Routes Tool Kit document

  This document, supported by LARSOA, in intended as an easy to use reference guide for all those involved in a safer routes project.

Walking buses in Staffordshire

  In February 2000 Staffordshire County Council commissioned CAST (The Centre for Sustainable Transport) to analyse the benefits of walking buses. The report produced clearly shows the health, social and transport benefit of these initiatives. Staffordshire have subsequently commissioned two Walking Bus Co-ordinators and have set a target of establishing 50 walking buses by December 2002.

CSS (formerly County Surveyors Society)

January 2001


 
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