Saturday 18 July 2015

A Walk On The Wild Side

We are lucky in London, even if we don't know we are. I am talking about the often maligned Transport for London, which when not upsetting people by doing/ not doing something, undertakes an awful lot of research and data gathering.

Personally, London is better for having TfL trying to think strategically across the city and it is heartening to see other parts of the UK trying to go the same way. Perhaps if we could dismantle the borough structure and abolish The City, we might get somewhere (at least with cycling!). OK, I am digressing and being flippant again, this is a walking post! 

I was at CIHT HQ this week for a meeting of its "Walking and the Needs of Pedestrians Group" (the Walking Group for short) onto which I have been recently co-opted, where we received a presentation from the excellent Bruce McVean, who is working on updating TfL's walking strategy (which is for another day). He was giving us some background information from TfL's "Travel in London - Report 7, 2014" which looks at data for 2013/14.

One thing which struck me from the presentation was this map for the average time London residents spend walking each day. I don't think there is a single reason, but I don't think it is surprising that people in Outer-London are walking less than in Inner-London.

The core boroughs are compact and geographically, easy to walk around. It makes me smile to see that in pro-car Westminster more time is spent walking than in the supposed pedestrian-friendly Hackney. There is also the suggestion that with Inner-London, more people use public transport which itself is associated as being used by people who are more active as well. Of course, those walking in Outer-London could commuters traveling to their local station which would distort the averages against local walking as single-mode trip. 

Unlike cycling, walking generally has well-developed and mature networks, so lack of infrastructure is not a limiting factor. Of course, the quality of the infrastructure must play a big part in terms of the level of maintenance, safety (personal and threat from traffic) and opportunities to safety cross big roads. In Outer-London, there are many arterial roads and railways with limited crossing points which creates severance (as diversions are too far) and many town centres remain in thrall to motor traffic provision. There are also demographic considerations, Outer-London generally has an older population, especially in the suburbs which also have services provided in a low density way as the with the housing.

There is also a map for percentage of trips undertaken within the borough of residence. In Outer-London, it does perhaps reinforce the point that people may be commuters walking to the station! Newham does amazingly well for some reason, but Inner-London generally has less intra-borough walking trips which is suggested to be a consequence of good transport connections and smaller areas making trips outside of borough boundaries easier.

So how can we enable more people to walk further and walk more? I think we should start with our town centres and shopping parades - the areas councils fall over themselves trying to cram parking into, often cheaply and increasingly with free periods. Economically, pedestrians spend the most over time which is something which is always missed by businesses who have no idea who spends what and how they travel, but campaign for free parking. We also have councils who listen to the businesses and drivers who make the most noise and as usual, he car is seen as economic activity. Don't take my word for it, Living Streets has put the case far better than I ever could in this summary or full report

Of course, we also have the car-centric government pushing parking as a solution to the fall of the high street. This week's mouthpiece is so called High Streets Minister, Marcus Jones, who was reported to have suggested "that small town centres could become “parking meter-free zones” in an effort to save shops from closure". I think we need to start with these places because if they fail, there will be less reason to walk locally. Is your local town centre or shopping parade well maintained, or falling apart? Is is quiet and pleasant to walk around, or is it rammed full of through traffic going somewhere else? Would you happily sit on a bench watching the world go by, or have the benches been removed?

We also need to concentrate on the areas around our schools because walking is a habit to be learnt from a young age and covers so many areas such as independent travel, health and even just being sociable. All too often children walking to school have to run the gauntlet of other children being driven so that roads are hard to cross and footways are clogged with parked vehicles.

For our short trips of around a mile (about 20 minutes), walking has got to be the mode to prioritise and our politicians need to start waking up to it. When the free parking experiments at shops come and the shops go, when children no longer walk to school because it is not safe, where will we be? 


  1. "So how can we enable more people to walk further and walk more? I think we should start with our town centres and shopping parades..."
    Everyone always concentrates on the free parking at out-of-town (OOT) shopping centres and it's apparent closeness to stores. But, in reality, how often are you parked directly outside the shop you want to go in? And even if you are, the OOT shopping centres I've visited usually have very limited access - maybe only one or two main entrances to the whole mall - rather than each and every shop having it's own entrance. And if you're not there, ready and waiting, on a Saturday or Sunday morning you'll find you certainly have to walk from the parking space you've been lucky to find right on the periphery of the car park. So, what else is there about OOT shopping centres that differs from 'the high street'? Well I come in from left-field.

    First remove traffic, but then, roof the shopping streets. Yes. Really.

    I don't think it's coincidence that the bits of Leeds that were the first to experience the high-end shopping boom were the old Victorian arcades - essentially, ornately roofed streets - nor that the newest shopping 'experience' is Trinity Leeds - basically an arcade on steroids, putting a roof over what were several normal pedestrianised shopping streets.!/image/2933544743.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/2933544743.jpg

    Being protected (some might say insulated) from the elements must massively increase dwell times and make walking (grrr...out of my way...must get there now!), into sauntering (oooh...what's that...must buy one).

    (Now, where do I address my CV for Norman Foster's practice - if he bought the SkyCycle this is small beer).

    Andy R.

    1. As ever, great point, although I wonder ow many of these covered areas remain public and how many have eventually been stopped up and redeveloped into private shopping malls. What's wrong with rain!

  2. Yes, London is not the worst infrastructure for walking. At least pavement parking and blocking pavement dips is controlled; unlike in France - try wheeling a pram in France and you realise we have it good over here.

    But a lot could be done with desire lines. Most junctions are deliberately car-centric with walkers' needs barely tacked on. The mess that is Parkway, Delancy Street, Oval Road and into Regent's Park (NW1) can take twenty minutes to navigate on foot (if you have to observe the 'red man', when with a child is in tow) and it's only ±200 metres in desire line. Camden claim to put walking at the top of their hierarchy of needs and then subject us to this.

    Give walking priority. It shouldn't be the person under human power who is made to take the circuitous route, it should be the person with 200 bhp under their foot.

    It's also surprising how ignorant people are of distances. Taking the Tube as the default mode of getting around does excuse this lack of knowledge because one is divorced from the street but even bus users seem to be oblivious of how close places really are to each other. I can't think how we bridge this ignorance gap but there must be a way. Maybe reduced traffic noise would encourage more to walk.

    1. Absolutely, many crossings and especially crossings at junctions are dire and actively put people off from walking. We cannot ignore the noise. It is stressful and unpleasant.

  3. I live in an area that actually could be quite easily walkable and cycleable, but it has been wrecked because the terraced housing was built with large front gardens that are now crossovers. The pavements are terrible.

    It is not obvious to me that highway engineers are aware there are major issues, because brand new paving is repeating the same mistakes! This link is very instructive about how it might be!

    And just found a fascinating document by European transport ministers about transport that doesn't mention cycling!

    1. The trouble is that vehicle crossings end up being put in at different times and by different people, often with little or no design guidance. It should be so easy. Great link!