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

Supplementary memorandum by the Pedestrians Association (WTC 30A)


  I am writing to thank you for giving the Pedestrians Association such a good opportunity to present our views at the oral hearing yesterday. We hope the Committee found our evidence useful.

  Despite the generous time given to the Association by the Committee, there was one issue where we felt we could have been more specific. This relates to the political and institutional barriers preventing the creation of walkable towns and cities.

  The debate on improving conditions for walking tends to focus on micro-issues concerning the physical environment. Are Pelican crossings better or worse than zebras? How long should pedestrians have to wait at a junction? How can we re-design crossings to people do not have to wait in "cattle pens" in the middle of the road? How wide should pavements be?

  These are all vital issues. But these physical problems are symptomatic of more fundamental political and institutional processes. Unless these wider issues are tackled, the debate risks being dominated by a host of technical detail and missing the big picture.

  The Association's view is that the unchallenged presumption that streets are for traffic has had a number of political and institutional consequences. These include:

    —  A failure to prioritise the creation and maintenance of a high quality street environment: Creating walkable towns and cities requires clear political leadership. Yet very few British politicians, either national or local, have seen this as a priority. There are some exceptions (York, Birmingham, London under Ken Livingstone), but these merely serve to highlight the low priority attached to this goal elsewhere;

    —  The allocation of funds by national and local government: Past investment in creating and maintaining a high quality street environment has been grossly inadequate. Even with the Ten Year Plan and the advent of LTPs, it is likely that the majority of public spending on transport will go on a small number of road and public transport schemes. To an ambitious local government officer, a £5,000 pedestrian crossing is a lot less interesting that a £50 million by-pass. City-wide planning for and investment in walking requires major investment (eg Portland's $120 million for projects in its Pedestrian Master Plan). But this presupposes a prior political commitment to improving walking conditions;

    —  Number and seniority of staff in national and local government: The DETR division dealing with walking has a very small number of relatively junior officials and a limited budget. Few local authorities have any senior staff commitment to the walking environment. Careers in the public sector are not made by promoting walking or a high quality walking environment;

    —  R&D and official guidance: Annual DETR spending on R&D on walking is derisory compared to research on other transport modes, including cycling. This is reflected on the near-total absence of official guidance on how to encourage walking and the lack of nationally approved technical standards for local authorities;

    —  Institutional structures and lack of integration: Walking is seen in official circles as a "transport" issue. As a result, there is almost no link between DETR officials working on urban regeneration and neighbourhood renewal and those working on walking in the Charging and Local Transport division. This problem is repeated locally. Walking is seen as a sub-set of cycling or road safety, missing the obvious links with town centre management or urban regeneration projects.

  Unless these problems are addressed, the debate will continue to focus on specific infrastructure issues. This risks missing the wider political and institutional barriers that need to be overcome in order to create walkable communities.

  We hope the Committee will feel able to refer to these issues in their final report.

Ben Plowden

1 February 2001

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