Memorandum by the Pedestrians Association
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
Successful cities are walkable cities. Streets,
alleys and squares that are dirty, dangerous and unattractive
discourage walking and reduce the quality of urban life. This
is not just about walking as a means of getting from A to B. It
is also about sitting, talking, meeting neighbours, helping strangers
and allowing children to play. Failure to tackle problems such
as litter, graffiti, fly-tipping and social disorder can trigger
a cycle of urban flight and rising crime.1 DETR Ministers need
to ensure that the £60 billion for local transport in the
Ten Year Transport Plan is invested in making towns and cities
attractive and safe places to be, not just on moving people to
and through them.
Walking has been described by leading public
health experts as "the nearest activity to perfect exercise".2
Encouraging regular, brisk walking is a cost-effective way of
tackling health problems such as coronary heart disease and obesity.
There is strong evidence that the decline in childhood walking,
particularly to school, is storing up serious long-term problems
for adult health.3 The Government and health promotion organisations
need to emphasise the health benefits of walking as part of wider
publicity and education campaigns.
Reducing car dependence
Walking accounts for nearly a third of all trips.
This is second only to driving, three times as many trips as all
public transport modes and 16 times as many trips as cycling.
Walking accounts for 80 per cent of trips under a mile, a proportion
that has not changed for many years. The problem is that the overall
number of trips under a mile has fallen steadily, mainly due to
dispersed patterns of land use. Existing walking trips represent
a huge pool of potential short car journeys. The priority is therefore
to improve the conditions for existing walking journeys. This
would help prevent a further switch from walking to short car
journeys and convert short car journeys back to walking trips.
DETR should publish the national walking targets contained in
the draft National Walking Strategy, ie to halt the decline in
walking in the short-term and increase its share of total trips
in the longer term.
Walking is also the main way people reach buses,
trains and trams, a fact often forgotten by those involved with
promoting public transport. There is evidence that improving the
quality and safety of the walking stages in public transport trips
can increase patronage.4 All public investment in public transport
should be accompanied by an audit of how high quality walking
access will be provided to the resulting bus, tram and train services.
Political and institutional failures
The problems facing pedestrians are political
and institutional in origin. The public is very dissatisfied with
the state of the walking environment. The top three problems identified
in a recent National Consumer's Council survey were cracked and
uneven pavements (44 per cent of those responding), dog dirt (43
per cent) and too much traffic (30 per cent).5 Despite this dissatisfaction,
DETR remains equivocal about promoting walking. It has published
an Urban White Paper, central to which are policies aimed at improving
the quality and safety of the public realm. But Ministers felt
unable to publish the National Walking Strategy.
There are also serious deficiencies in the education,
training and skills of policy makers and technical staff at both
national and local level. The number and seniority of officials
in DETR working on walking bears no relation to the importance
of the issue. Recent research by Oscar Faber for the DETR revealed
that even local authority officers with specific responsibility
for walking lack basic skills and understanding.6 There is almost
no reliable local data on walking journeys, creating the false
impression that walking is not important.
Physical deterrents to walking
There are two main physical deterrents to walking.
The most important is increasingly dispersed patterns of land
use. This reflects the trend towards out- and edge-of-town developments
and decisions by public bodies such as health and education authorities
to concentrate services on large, remote sites. People who could
previously walk to local shops, library or the hospital now have
to travel by car, use public transport or not use the facilities
at all. Creating pedestrian-friendly settlements is essential
for encouraging walking. If things are too far apart, people will
not walk, even if immediate walking environment is immaculate.
A new approach is needed to land use planning and site development
to arrest the decline in walking.
The second reason for the decline in walking
is the deterioration of the walking environment over the past
40 years. This is a product of the political assumption that the
primary function of roads and streets is to carry as much traffic
as possible. This has had a number of effects:
Roads are classified solely on their
traffic function, ignoring their other functions as places for
social interaction, community life, play and relaxation.
Roads are designed and engineered
to give priority to vehicles, resulting in a brutal and ugly environment
and endless delays, detours and diversions for people on foot.
Footways are often too narrow for
their peak use, particularly in town centres.
Crossings are often not located where
people want to cross and are poorly designed, including long waiting
times and short crossing times at light-controlled junctions and
crossings where people have to cross in several stages while waiting
mid-road in "cattle pens".7
Footways are blocked by obstacles,
including road signs, traffic lights, phone boxes, bus stops,
shop signs, uncollected rubbish and poorly sited street furniture.
Cyclists ride on footways, due to
being too lazy or too frightened to ride in the road.
Footway space has been lost due to
the creation of shared walking/cycling routes.
Traffic is noisy, smelly and dangerous,
particularly where the speed limit is too high and/or people are
There is no information for pedestrians,
including a lack of legible information about where people are
and how to get to their destination on foot.
There is a lack of basic amenities,
including toilets and seating.
The street environment is grey and
ugly, with few trees and little or no public art.
Streets are badly managed and maintained,
including cracked and uneven pavements, utility works, litter,
fly-tipping, graffiti, dog mess and broken streetlights.
These problems are particularly severe for older
people and those with disabilities. An RNIB survey found that
over 75 per cent of blind and partially sighted people who go
out alone regard cycling on pavements as a real problem, 70 per
cent have problems with pavement obstacles and 65 per cent have
problems with pavement parking.8
Personal security concerns can be a more important
deterrent for some people than safety concerns relating to uneven
pavements or busy roads9. These concerns arise from poor urban
design and street management and from changes in policing priorities.
There has been a move away from the role of the police as enforcers
of public order in local communities. Yet US research suggests
that the withdrawal of uniformed officers from the street undermines
public confidence in the quality and safety of the local environment.
It is also associated with increases in serious crime such as
robbery and assault.10
Enforcement of road traffic law is not a police
priority, despite evidence from Crime and Disorder Audits that
local communities want dangerous driving to be tackled. This lack
of enforcement ranges from failure to prevent pavement parking
and pavement cycling to a lack of priority given to tackling speeding
and dangerous driving.
The low status of walking
Walking has a low status. People who would walk
miles in the countryside or in a shopping centre will drive two
hundred metres for a pint of milk. A campaign to change attitudes
to walking needs to take place alongside efforts to improve the
environment. This needs to be targeted at the public, politicians
Overcoming political and institutional barriers
A national policy commitment to encouraging walking
Recent government initiatives may encourage
walking. These include the Ten Year Plan for transport, Local
Transport Plans and revisions to national planning guidance. The
Urban White Paper includes a number of positive initiatives relating
to investment in, and management of, the walking environment.
But any encouragement to walking will be the accidental by-product
of these initiatives, rather than the deliberate outcome of policy.
The Government's failure to publish the National
Walking Strategy reveals its confusion over this issue. The document
eventually emerged as advice to local authorities, and contained
the immortal phrase that "[n]one of this will make much difference
to car mileage, air pollution or global warming".11 This
underestimates the importance of preventing existing walking journeys
becoming car journeys. It also underplays the wider social and
economic benefits of creating more walkable environments. This
would contribute to urban regeneration and crime reduction. It
would help reduce social exclusion, given the high dependence
of poor households on walking and public transport. Road casualties
and air pollution would be reduced. Public health would improve.
Creating more walkable environments should be
national policy goal. This should apply to both rural and urban
areas. It should inform policies in all relevant national departments
and agencies. These include DETR, the Home Office, the Treasury,
DfEE, the DoE, DCMS, the Highways Agency and the RDAs. New national
targets for walking should be linked to the funds allocated for
local transport investment in the Ten Year Plan and to the local
walking strategies prepared by highway authorities through their
Investment in the walking environment
There should be a significant increase in the
level of public investment in the walking environment. Local Transport
Plans and other initiatives such as the Neighbourhood Renewal
Fund will lead to an increase in spending. But most of new investment
from the Ten Year Plan will go into a few costly road and rail
projects. The amount spent on walking is likely to fall far below
what is required. Portland Oregon (population 1.7 million) has
recently published a Pedestrian Master Plan detailing all the
pedestrian improvements needed in the city. The estimated cost
of the new pavements, crossings and street furniture in the Plan
is $120 million.12 No British city is contemplating investment
on this scale. DETR and the Government regional offices should
use the review of Local Transport Plans and other spending programmes
to assess the expenditure on improvements to the walking environment,
both in cash terms and as a proportion of total spending. If necessary,
DETR should indicate the proportion of local authority investment
in walking improvements required where current plans are too modest.
Improving skills and professional development
To date, on one ever made a career in national
or local government by promoting walking. The lack of people qualified
and trained to create walkable environments reflects the historic
lack of demand for such people. Increasing the political priority
and funding given to a high quality walking environment would
encourage universities and professional bodies to produce people
qualified to deliver it. The Government should work with the universities
and the professional bodies to review current educational and
CPD opportunities around walking. A career development programme
entitled "The future's bright, the future's walking"
should be established for local authority personnel.
Overcoming the physical barriers to walking
Walking in the planning system
Walkable communities have lots of people living
and working in close proximity to shops, pubs, parks and leisure
centres. National planning policy (eg revised draft PPG13) has
recognised the need to curb dispersed development. The Government
now has a target that 60 per cent of new housing should be on
brownfield sites. But the emphasis in draft PPG13 is on ensuring
access to new developments by public transport, despite the fact
that walking accounts for three times as many trips as all public
The role of land-use planning in encouraging
walking should be strengthened. Walking access to, through and
within new developments should be a key consideration in planning
decisions. Developments that are inaccessible on foot should only
be permitted in exceptional circumstances. Accessibility criteria
should apply to the development's location in relation to existing
developments, whether roads or other barriers prevent walking,
whether rights of way through the development are provided and
whether the design of the development promotes an attractive and
accessible walking environment.
Such an approach has been successfully adopted
in Portland, Oregon. Housing estates and other new developments
that do not incorporate rights of way are not allowed. Whole areas
of the city are designated as Pedestrian Districts where walking
is targeted as the main way of getting about. These districts
are planned as compact, high-density neighbourhoods with local
shops and workplaces linked by fast, frequent bus and tram services.13
The city's urban design standards require developers to create
an environment that is safe, beautiful and interesting for people
walking past.14 US Money magazine has just named Portland
as the most attractive US city in which to live. The city's economy
is booming, with vacancy rates for commercial property at a nominal
3 per cent.
The accessibility of new developments to people
on foot should be a key consideration in the planning system.
This should apply at a strategic level (eg in RPGs, Structure
Plans and UDP Part 1s) and in development control decisions. Local
planning authorities should be required to develop pedestrian-friendly
local urban design guidelines. Compliance with these guidelines
should be made a material consideration in planning decisions.
Proposals by the NHS, education authorities
and local councils to concentrate public services on new sites
should not be taken until an audit of walking access to existing
sites has been carried out. The cost of providing equivalent access
via free public transport in perpetuity to the new site should
be calculated and offset against the efficiency savings arising
from economies of scale.
A new road classification
A new approach to the planning, design and engineering
of the road network is needed if people are to use and enjoy public
spaces. In Portland, roads are classified according to whether
pedestrians, public transport or cars have priority. This classification
then informs planning decisions and application of the city's
highway design guidance. A similar approach is evolving in some
British cities. Bristol City Council is developing a new road
hierarchy that aims to give greater weight to non-motorised users.15
The Government should work with local authorities
and the Highways Agency to develop a new road classification.
The current traffic hierarchy should be replaced with a new road
use hierarchy. This would incorporate all the functions roads
and streets are expected to fulfil, including traffic movement,
parking, shopping, social exchange and play. It would reflect
both current and potential use for different purposes. All roads
should be reclassified according to the new criteria, following
consultation with relevant stakeholders. In towns, this new hierarchy
should be the basis for new national highway design standards,
building on the approach in Design Bulletin 32 and its companion
Local authorities should undertake town- and
city-wide audits of the street environment and of the rural road
network in the light of the new Road Use classification. An assessment
should be made of whether the current engineering and design of
a road is consistent with its new classification. The audit should
include assessment of the quality of walking access to key pedestrian
attractors such as offices, shops, stations and bus stops and
the routes between them.
Reallocating space and re-designing roads and streets
Towns and cities that have created an environment
designed to encourage walking have reallocated space in favour
of pedestrians. This does not always imply full-scale pedestrianisation.
There is a spectrum of pedestrian priority. At one end is the
total exclusion of all traffic 24 hours a day. At the other is
the motorway network. Speed reduction, traffic restraint, wider
pavements, more pedestrian crossings, shorter waiting times, longer
crossing times and the removal of barriers all increase pedestrian
priority without requiring pedestrianisation.
The Strand in central London has been successfully
re-designed to improve pedestrian priority while still carrying
general traffic. Cities like Birmingham, York and Cambridge have
developed attractive pedestrian cores, although these allow limited
access for public transport and deliveries. Other cities allow
general traffic on some streets but restrict movement in pedestrian
priority areas. The centre of Gothenburg in Sweden is divided
into traffic cells that prevent people driving through the old
city. The Corporation of London has virtually eliminated through
traffic and is creating a high quality environment within the
"ring of steel". The Downtown Transit Mall in Portland
Oregon is designed to discourage through traffic while allowing
free movement of buses and trams.
Pedestrian priority areas should extend beyond
town and city centres. Portland's Pedestrian Districts are local
centres where the road network is designed round the assumption
that travel within the district will be on foot. Cities like Gothenburg
and Malmo in Sweden have adopted Home Zones outside residential
areas, to create walkable environments in local centres.
National government should introduce a new 20
mph speed limit as the norm for built-up areas. Following the
walking audits recommended above, local authorities should undertake
a phased programme of investment to reallocate space and re-design
streets to create a more walkable environment. Changes might include
new road layouts; footway widening; traffic restraint and speed
reduction (including creation of 20 mph zones and Home Zones in
both residential and non-residential areas); removal of safety
railings; re-design and re-phasing of existing pedestrian crossings
and installation of new ones; replacement of footbridges and subways
with street-level crossings; and removal of footway obstacles
such as traffic signs. Shared walking/cycling routes should be
phased out and replaced with safe cycle routes in the carriageway,
as occurs in cities like Copenhagen.
Creating a clean, beautiful, legible and safe public
Encouraging people to walk and spend time outside
in towns and cities requires the creation of a clean, beautiful,
legible and safe public environment. This needs to include places
for stopping as well as planned and well-signed routes for movement.
The elements of this environment will include lighting, seating,
signing, paving, public toilets, sculpture, fountains and trees.
These need to be planned and installed in a coherent way based
on local urban design standards. Creating such an environment
is expensive. The bus shelters installed in Portland Oregon's
new Downtown Transit Mall in 1974 cost $80,000 each at a time
when the median house price in the city was $60,000. But the shelters
were integral to the design concept of the Mall. 25 years on,
they are as beautiful and well maintained as ever. Local authorities
should identify priorities for investment in an enhanced public
realm as part of their Community Strategies.
Maintenance, management and policing are also
crucial. Capital spending on environmental improvements can be
wasted if resources are not allocated to maintain and manage the
public realm. The Government should build on proposals in the
Urban White Paper aimed at ensuring a high level of management
and maintenance of the public realm. A funded programme for maintenance
and management should accompany all capital funding proposals
for urban regeneration or public realm improvement. The police
have a crucial role to play in enforcing the laws that underpin
people's willingness to spend time out and about. This includes
public order maintenance and prevention of dangerous driving,
including speeding. Yet there is little reference to policing
in the Urban White Paper. The Government should clarify the role
of the police in maintaining and managing the public realm. The
Home Secretary should make traffic law enforcement a core policing
1 See The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, Little
2 "Walking to Health", J Morris and
A Hardman, Sports Medicine, May 1997.
3 The School RunBlessing or Blight? report
for the Pedestrians Association by the Institute for Child Health,
4 Personal Security Issues in Pedestrian Journeys,
5 Problems for Pedestrians, NCC, 1995. The other
problems mentioned were vehicles parked on pavements (30 percent),
bicycles ridden on pavements (20 per cent), no pedestrian crossings
(19 per cent), pavements being dug up (17 per cent), uncleared
snow/leaves (15 per cent), litter/fly tipping (11 per cent) and
narrow pavements (11 per cent).
6 Cycle Initiatives RegisterProfessional
Training Extension Report by Oscar Faber for DETR, 2000.
7 Many Roads to Cross, Pedestrians Association,
8 Within Reason, RNIB, 1998.
9 See for example Personal Security Issues in
Pedestrian Journeys, DETR, 1999, p 90-91.
10 Fixing Broken Windows, George Kelling, 1998.
11 Encouraging Walking, DETR, 1999.
12 Portland Pedestrian Master Plan, City of
13 Portland Pedestrian Master Plan, City of
14 Portland Central City Fundamental Design
Guidelines, revised draft, City of Portland, 2000.
15 Local Transport Today, 7 December 2000, p