Supplementary memorandum by the Pedestrians
Association (WTC 30A)
POLITICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL BARRIERS TO WALKING
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
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
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
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.
1 February 2001