Memorandum by The London Walking Forum
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
Walking is, without question, the most popular
activity in Britainboth as a leisure pursuit and way of
getting about locally. Surveys, such as the General Household
Survey, London Areas Transport Survey, UK Day visits Survey and
Mintel lifestyle survey; confirm this and it would be perfectly
possible to fill the remaining space allowed with impressive facts
and quotes from distinguished people who, particularly over the
last four years in the UK, have recognised the valuable contribution
walking makes to the quality of everyday life.
It is more important however to concentrate
on the trends and patterns that successive surveys are suggesting.
While the cup is still very much half full, which should be recognised
with far more positive pedestrian priority policies, it is also
half empty and it is clear that people are walking less distance
and walking less often. Only relatively recently has the importance
of this become appreciated at a strategic level regionally and
nationally as slowly, and often somewhat reluctantly, the measure
of decline in walking is being accepted as a key indicator of
a more congested and polluted environment and a less healthy and
content population. (An even more important justification for
having more pro walking policies).
In order to find the solutions to stopping and
preferably reversing this trend, walking must be understood in
the context of the different disciplines that are involved with
walking matters. The London Walking Forum has been creating a
dialogue with, and developing best practice and joint working
across these disciplines in earnest for the last three years.
Walking is of relevance to a number of traditional policy areas
as highlighted in a manual of best practice titled "WalkingMaking
it Happen" published by the Forum in 2000. In the London
Borough of Croydon, for example, the Authority identified 53 officers
with a remit for walking initiatives in their job description
from all over the authority. Croydon's response was to pool the
diversity of skills and projects into a strategy for the Borough
joining up a number of policies and identifying gaps at the same
time that were subsequently dealt with to enhance the "walkability"
of the Borough. The three most significant disciplines that deal
with walking are leisure, health and transportThis is reflected
in the Forum's growing membership.
In the last 20 or so years, walking has been
regarded as a leisure activity and not something which needed
specific planning for, apart from the provision of signs, pavements/surfaces
and crossings to distinguish priority on the highway, at a more
functional level. Public Rights Of Way (PROW), ironically originally
formed as a connecting functional network for walkers, have been
promoted almost entirely as a "rambling" leisure resource
and often been the total of any walking initiatives and policy
at both local and national levels. It could be argued that this
has been very successful in servicing and encouraging a demand
for leisure walking which continues to grow. It should be noted
however that local authority investment in the public rights of
way network has been typically very poor, despite the legal responsibilities
placed upon them, and this culture has been allowed to develop,
with little regard for demand, watched with an apparent apathy
from Central Government which has been disappointing.
The Health Education Authority recognised walking
as a key "acceptable" exercise which could be promoted
to encourage more physical activity in their "Active for
Life" campaign three years ago. The monitoring of the campaign
suggested it was making an important long-term contribution to
influencing and changing attitudes and behaviour but it was unfortunately
dropped from the agenda of the new Health Development Agency.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has set up its own specific
health walk programme across the UK in the last two years, with
the support of lottery money and the Countryside Agency, which
is proving popular. The BHF initiative needs to be supported with
other similar projects targeting different segments of the population
in different ways and national physical activity campaigns need
to be embraced as a key role for central government in order to
benefit people's well being and grasp the opportunity of being
able to reduce the burden on the health service in the longer
Transport professionals, pressed into recognising
the survey trends, have boxed "walkers" as "vulnerable
road users", "soft traffic" and "alternative
transport". These are not particularly positive terms and
reflect that, despite impressive modal share statistics, only
very small amounts of time and money have been committed to walking
initiatives by authorities locally and nationally in the context
of more car orientated policies. Surveys by DETR and others have
highlighted a huge lack of professional understanding and available
skills about walking issues and a significant gap in the training
provision open to staff to improve the situation. Of even more
concern, the Forum recognise a reluctance from professional staff
to get involved and develop walking initiatives both at a national
and local level due to the poor perception of walking as a discipline
relative to other engineering fields. Walking is sometimes even
seen by some professionals as embarrassing, which has not been
helped by central government's open public nervousness to actively
promote and encourage walking within current policy.
Having identified the importance of walking
and recognised the growing concern at the impact of the negative
trends on the quality of every day life, the above brief assessment
highlights an alarming lack of prepared policies and a yawning
gap in support and guidance available to professionals in order
to do something about it.
More could be done for walking if authorities,
led by a positive example set by central government, recognised
waking as an activity carried out by individuals, thus the solutions
to encouraging more of it are tied up with people, getting to
know their behavioural habits, travel motivations and preferred
experiences. In other words, walking policies and priorities need
to stem from the needs of individuals which, in turn, should be
the anchor point for all investment in physical environmental
improvements. PROW networks, health walks, walkways, pedestrianised
areas, pavements etc all need to be considered primarily as a
utilised, functional resourcetheir future provision, management
and maintenance should be governed by a thorough understanding
of what need they are serving and how they are being utilised.
The Walker is the priority not the walkway and if it is recognised
that environments need to be created so that people choose to
walk in them we must identify first what factors influence that
choice and make that the start of any future investment.
A National Walking Forum should be established
as soon as possible to combine the best skills and experience
from around the country to deal with this. The Forum should be
given a clear remit for promoting walking at a national and regional
level and it should be asked to advise on ways that existing policy
statements can be strengthened into achievable, targeted policy
and give a practical way forward for overriding the political
unease around walking by promoting solutions which secure and
enhance the quality of public life.
There appears to be a tendency to seek "solutions"
to a more walking friendly environment with technical pilots and
often over complex projects. Walking should not be treated as
a "new", "emerging" or "alternative"
scienceall red crossings, homezones, inflatable speed humps,
pressure pad crossings etc have proved quite expensive experimental
tools which, yes, it can be argued have all contributed to more
"walkable" areas, but the needs of walkers can be catered
for with quite traditional and often relatively cheap investment
too. Pedestrian audits are (somewhat amazingly) still in their
infancy in this country, and an understanding of why people walk,
their likes and dislikes is quite well documented in the tourism
and leisure world (used to direct for example international campaigns
by the British Tourist Authority to promote Britain as a walking
destination), yet proposals to extend similar research across
other disciplines, to be co-ordinated by DETR, have disappointingly
been put on hold due to a lack of staff time.
Solutions should not be segregated based on
people's primary motivations(a health trip, education,
work, shopping or leisure trip all need providing for) we need
to start managing people's experiences, considering their involvement
and relationship with the environment and managing it positively.
Champions are needed at every level to raise
the status of walking and to place it in the context of current
management structures and policies. To make walking happen we
need to create "walkable" environments where people
choose to walk. Walking needs to remain everyday and acceptable,
natural and obvious without questioning its validity or the status
of its image. It is recognised that promotions which don't talk
specifically about walking but which link all the factors, which
combine to make up the walk experience, are most effective.
In support of priorities jointly developed with
the Pedestrian Association, the Forum specifically support the
The Government needs to strengthen
still further the requirement for development to be accessible
The Government needs to develop a
new road classification for all roads that takes account of their
non-traffic functions (eg shopping streets, residential streets,
play areas etc). All roads should be reviewed on a rolling programme
and changes made to their design and management to ensure the
non-traffic functions are properly accounted for.
The Government should strengthen
the existing Best Value Performance Indicators (BVPI) relating
to maintenance and management of the public realm. These should
require local authorities to report on their performance across
a range of street management functions, including street sweeping,
rubbish collections, graffiti removal and clearance of fly tipping
and dumped cars.
The Government should make accessibility
on foot a key criterion in the planning system, so that new developments
will only be allowed if they are fully accessible on foot. This
needs to include access to, through and within developments.
Government should require local authority
compliance with tougher standards for street maintenance and management,
monitored through new BVPIs.
Government should introduce a 20-mph
speed limit as the norm for built up areas, with higher limits
having to be justified case by case.
Working with universities and professional
bodies, the DETR should set in train a systematic review of existing
skills amongst key professionals and develop a plan for re-skilling
the appropriate staff. This should include those at the top of
their profession, as well as those just starting out.