Organised by London Living Streets and the Active Travel Academy at University of Westminster, this is the first of a series of speaker meetings intended to enable discussion of policy issues relevant to walking. At our free launch event, we are asking two questions: Why is walking the poor cousin of transport policy? And what can we do about it? To help answer them, we’ll be joined by: • Maria Vassilakou, of the Austrian Green Party, who is former Vice-Mayor and Deputy Governor of Vienna, where she did impressive things to promote walking • Phil Jones, Chairman of Phil Jones Associates, who has worked extensively on both designing for walking and developing the surrounding policy • Steve Gooding, who is Director of the RAC Foundation and, as a former DfT Director General, is very knowledgeable about transport policy.
Following the groundbreaking announcement from Grant Shapps of the DfT’s support for active travel and the Mayor of London’s Streetspace Plan, London Living Streets sets out the key measures for walking that will be essential for the revival of London’s economy and quality of life.
On Saturday 9th May, transport secretary Grant Shapps MP, outlined unprecedented government support for active travel in the UK, making it clear that this is “a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities”.
This followed the mayor of London’s announcement last week of a Streetspace plan to accommodate a possible five-fold increase in walking and ten-fold increase in cycling in London as lockdown restrictions are eased.
The scene has been set by politicians. Now it is down to the highway authorities that control London’s roads (the 33 boroughs and Transport for London (TfL)), to take this opportunity and respond with radical programmes for real change.
While there has (rightly) been a focus on the transformations that will enable more cycling, less has been said about what the millions of Londoners who walk every day need. It is important to remember that even before the lockdown, a quarter of all trips in London were made on foot. A third of trips made by Londoners as a driver or passenger could also be walked in less than 25 minutes.
Walking holds the key to London’s recovery from this crisis. People will continue to rely on local shops and will need more space to queue outside them. When cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars start to open this summer, they will need more street space for tables in order to survive. As Londoners return to work, they will walk further as part of the daily commute to avoid buses, Underground and trains. They will also choose to walk in order to retain the health and quality of life benefits they enjoyed in lockdown. Maintaining current air quality will also be critical.
All of these changes require a context of slow vehicle speeds to help people be and feel safe. Where boroughs have not already introduced a default 20mph speed limit, now is the time to introduce them or at the very least ensure that they are widespread across town centres and all residential areas.
Our proposals, listed below, enable Londoners to get to where they need to be and help us recover from the terrible crisis we have all faced together.
1. More space for local shopping, eating and use of local services
Enabling safe social distancing for local shopping trips is key as many people continue to work from home as the lockdown ends. This is vital to support the local economy and to provide the many Londoners who do not own cars with safe, easy and frequent access to their local shops.
London’s restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars will also need more street space when they start opening, possibly in July, to allow them to survive in a new era of social distancing.
A wide range of interventions are possible here and include:
Kerbside car parking removal
Key corridors for bus and cycles only (buses limited to 10 or 15mph as on Tottenham Court Road)
Removing the need for pedestrians to initiate “green man request” by pressing buttons at light-controlled junctions with pedestrian phases
Reduce/eliminate the wait time for pedestrians at light-controlled crossings; increase the ‘green man time’ on crossings
Filtering streets (and surrounding streets) to improve the pedestrian environment (such as on Broadway Market in Hackney)
Removal of pedestrian guard rails, especially at crossings to avoid crowding
Pedestrianising streets (lunchtime to 10pm?) where there are concentrations of cafes, bars and restaurants to use more of the public realm to facilitate good social distancing, keeping staff and customers safe and supporting the revival of the local economy.
2. Walked and run commuter journeys
London needs connected, quiet streets so walking and cycling become the natural, safe, healthy option both for short and longer distances. We’ll need to walk more as part of the daily commute and we’ll need safe space to access local shopping streets and parks for exercise as we work more from home.
The fastest way to achieve this is with low-traffic neighbourhoods (more here). These are being delivered across London, but we need more. They can be delivered at a fraction of their usual cost with a few well-placed planters to create 1-1.5km cells, bordered by main roads.
This is not about encouraging walking, but enabling it with a vast amount of new space. It’s also a choice between opening the flood gates to a huge increase in cars on our residential streets, directed by SatNav, or opening them to forms of transport that all Londoners can do and that won’t damage our health.
Walking networks will also help Londoners consider longer walked journeys in Central London, taking pressure off public transport when they return to work
The Central London Walking Network (CLWN) connects transport hubs with safe, healthy and enjoyable walking routes. TfL has funded London Living Streets and Urban Good to produce a beautiful map of the network, to be published later this summer.
This network relies on rapid delivery (using temporary measures) of improvements both on the TLRN and borough roads to provide safer crossings and more space for people walking along these routes.
A priority will be improvements at mainline stations to ensure walking is the natural option for onward journeys. Barriers to overcome include:
Euston and Kings Cross Stations – fundamental changes on crossings on the Euston Road to enable safe pedestrians flows south to the City and West End. In addition, the closure of Pancras Road (between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations) at its junction with Euston Road. Taxis and other traffic would enter and exit from the north.
Marylebone Station. Crossing the Marylebone Road.
Victoria Station. Eastwards movement across the Inner Ring Road.
London Bridge Station. Safe social distancing crossing London Bridge.
Liverpool Street Station. Ease of crossing Bishopsgate to the Eastern Cluster. Bishopsgate cannot continue to function as a major arterial road in the present circumstances.
Waterloo Station. Crossing York Rd; safe social distancing crossing Waterloo Bridge.
Charing Cross Station. Improved crossings of The Strand.
TfL’s Strategic Walking Analysis identifies a significant number of areas in Central London which feature both current high pedestrian density and high walking potential, and are a high priority for improvement.
Across London We also propose extending London Living Streets’ walking network concept to Inner and Outer London to make walking the easy and safe option between town centres, workplaces and transport hubs.
Longer walked commuter journeys are eminently possible and many people have taken up longer walks and running during the lockdown. But improvements such as fairer allocation of space between people and vehicles, wider footways, car parking removal, improved crossing facilities (see above) and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods must be delivered for these to be enabled.
London boroughs should prioritise work using TfL’s Strategic Walking Analysis (see below) that identifies a large number of transport hub and town centre locations outside Central London which combine high pedestrian density and walking potential with relatively low levels of active trips per day.
The following are ten locations (identified from the SWA) which are candidates for the rapid development of walking networks: Romford (Havering), Ilford (Redbridge), Edmonton (Enfield), Wimbledon (Merton), Croydon Town Centre, Lewisham Town Centre, East Sheen (Richmond), Hounslow Town Centre, High Barnet (Barnet), Wandsworth Town Centre and Sutton Town Centre.
3. Walking to school, colleges and other childcare settings.
We propose the low-cost roll out of School Streets wherever possible across London, with pavement widening outside those schools sited on main roads. There is also the potential to extend this approach to wider networks of streets adjacent to schools and to tie them into the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods as well as linking them in with behavioural changes programmes such as Walk to School.
4. Walking for daily exercise and leisure
Increased walking during the lockdown is something that we do not want to lose. Research shows that regular moderate exercise reduces the risk of viral infection and the likelihood of dying from such an infection.
The key to maintaining the levels of walking could be removing barriers to safe access to local or major parks and other green and open spaces (an example of addressing this is the initial work of Lambeth Council at Herne Hill). Again, there is the potential to tie this in with early delivery of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods or other street filtering.
If the visitor economy is to return safely, the existing unfair allocation of space in locations such as Westminster Bridge needs to be addressed. More pedestrian capacity can also be delivered with widened pavements and bus/cycling/emergency vehicle-only streets. Proposed improvements, for example at Parliament Square and the Strand, should be implemented, potentially initially using low-cost temporary measures.
Is there also an opportunity for an iconic summer streets intervention to give people large amounts of street space in Central London, for example a weekend closure of the Victoria Embankment between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge?
Next Steps. We need to show that there is widespread support for these measures. You can help ensure they are introduced:
Pollution – exhaust from cars, motorbikes, vans and lorries – affects us all. But some of us more than others.
I had asthma when I was a very young child, it went away and I forgot about it. It suddenly came back when I was 32, just over a year ago.
I went from being someone who had finally got really fit and cycling everywhere, to struggling to breathe just walking down a street.
I noticed immediately that if I was walking along pavements on busy streets it felt so much harder to breathe – just walking as I normally would, let alone cycle.
This pandemic has been an awful thing, but one silver lining that everyone seems to agree on is how much fresher the air feels, that we can hear birdsong all day, and that people are taking to walking around the part of the city they live in and even getting out a bike for the first time in years.
Some people are scared to cycle in traffic, some people can’t breathe when they are in traffic. And if there’s one thing we could take away from this terrible time is that we can choose to have cleaner, safer streets and have the cleaner air all the time. It has huge health benefits for everyone, not just people with lung disease.
I commend the building of cycle superhighways, but for people with lung issues, it’s not enough as these superhighways are all placed along the roads with the worst traffic. It’s not enough for children, and it’s not enough for people who feel a bit nervous about cycling.
What we need is a network of car and pollution free roads across London which allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross the whole city without breathing in dangerous fumes and being afraid of cars.
As we rebuild our lives after Covid, it seems that there is support for this network to prevent gridlock on the roads and dangerous overcrowding on public transport. Let’s build upon the ideas in the Mayor’s StreetSpace Plan and London Living Streets’ Central London Walking Network to make this a reality.
David Harrison, vice-chair of London Living Streets argues that councils should discharge their statutory duty and powers to keep socially-distancing pedestrians safe by restricting traffic and closing roads.
Pedestrians using busy urban streets, or narrow pavements, are having to walk in the road to comply with the Government’s advice on maintaining a two-metre distance. There are streets where people’s lives are being put in danger owing to the speed and weight of the traffic and the narrowness of the pavements. The situation is particularly difficult for elderly people, those with disabilities and children. With motor traffic volumes once again increasing, stepping into the road will become even more dangerous.
This is an important issue. Some local authorities have responded to the situation by restricting motor traffic. Brighton and Hove City Council have closed Madeira Drive. They used their powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (as amended) and all other enabling powers to issue an Emergency (Prohibition of Traffic) Temporary Notice 2020 on 20th of April to introduce temporary closure measures with immediate effect for a period of 21 days. The notice said ‘the closure was necessary to maintain public safety due to an increase in speeding vehicles and to provide a space for exercise’. It made an exception for vehicle access for local businesses.
Others want to take action, but have been advised they cannot. Hackney mayor, Philip Glanville and Jon Burke, the councillor responsible for energy, waste, transport and public realm in Hackney wrote to the secretary of state seeking clarification of the powers available to local authorities. They wrote: “we have been informed by the London Borough of Hackney’s Chief Executive that, following legal advice from officers, it is his view that emergency powers do not allow [Hackney] to implement temporary modal filters and other measures, and that any attempt to do so would be ‘abuse of those powers and be open to challenge’”.
Why have authorities come to different interpretations of the legislation and what powers do local authorities (or other traffic authorities) have?
The key piece of legislation is the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Section 14 (as amended in 1991) states:
“Temporary prohibition or restriction on roads.
(1) If the traffic authority for a road are satisfied that traffic on the road should be restricted or prohibited—
(a) because works are being or are proposed to be executed on or near the road; or
(b) because of the likelihood of danger to the public, or of serious damage to the road, which is not attributable to such works; or
(c) for the purpose of enabling the duty imposed by section 89(1)(a) or (2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (litter clearing and cleaning) to be discharged,
the authority may by order restrict or prohibit temporarily the use of that road, or of any part of it, by vehicles, or vehicles of any class, or by pedestrians, to such extent and subject to such conditions or exceptions as they may consider necessary.”
Of course, it is understandable that officers in LB Hackney are reluctant to use the legislation since it has not been used in this context (a pandemic which requires social distancing) before. However, looking at section 14, it is difficult to understand how Hackney came to its opinion, and that there is not a danger to the public arising from the need for pedestrians to keep 2m apart on pavements that are usually narrower than this.
We ask local authorities to consider three relevant questions:
Is there any relevant case work?
The closest we can find relates, not to section 14 of the 1984 Act but to section 122. This is the case of Trail Riders Fellowship vs Hampshire County Council in 2019, where similar principles apply, namely that in imposing a temporary restriction or prohibition, the traffic authority should look at factors such as the number of pedestrians, the width of the pavement, the volume of traffic and the danger to pedestrians. Thus, it could be deemed unreasonable to close the Euston Road, but not a street which is not a key part of the traffic network and full of pedestrians doing essential shopping. It looks to us (though we are not lawyers) that an authority might reasonably make such an order. The Court summarised:
It may be helpful to summarise the approach which should be adopted by traffic authorities in considering whether to make a TRO:- 1) the decision-maker should have in mind the duty (as set out in section 122(1) of the 1984 Act) to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic (including pedestrians) so far as practicable; 2) the decision-maker should then have regard to factors which may point in favour of imposing a restriction on that movement; such factors will include the effect of such movement on the amenities of the locality and any other matters appearing to be relevant which will include all the factors mentioned in section 1 of the 1984 Act as being expedient in deciding whether a TRO should be made; and 3) the decision-maker should then balance the various considerations and come to the appropriate decision. As I have already said, this is not a particularly difficult or complicated exercise nor should it be.
Who might challenge the authority?
a. A resident or a company located in the street subject to the restriction – but this could be addressed by permitting access only. b. A motoring group – which would probably be unwise for them from a public relations perspective.
What would be the consequences if they were challenged?
a. The local authority could lift the closure order or restrictions. b. The complainant could refer the authority to the local government ombudsman. c. The complainant successfully challenges the decision in court as being illegal – either because the section of the act cannot be interpreted to cover this situation, the correct procedures have not been followed, or the decision is unreasonable in the circumstances (such as the closure of a dual carriageway where there is no pedestrian traffic). If the court were to overturn the decision, the council would then have to re-open the street to motor vehicles.
There is no duty to exercise a statutory power, except possibly under a circumstance where it would be wholly unreasonable not to exercise that power. If people are having to step into the carriageway to the danger of their life, and the risk of further burdening the NHS, it might be deemed wholly unreasonable for a highway authority not to exercise its powers.
In fact, section 122 of the Act actually imposes a duty on an authority. It states:
122 Exercise of functions by strategic highways companies or] local authorities.
(1)It shall be the duty of everystrategic highways company and] local authority upon whom functions are conferred by or under this Act, so to exercise the functions conferred on them by this Act as (so far as practicable having regard to the matters specified in subsection (2) below) to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic (including pedestrians) and the provision of suitable and adequate parking facilities on and off the highway or, in Scotland the road].
It seems that in the present situation authorities may not be performing their duty to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of pedestrian traffic. So, there might be a case that authorities have a duty under section 122 which could lead them to issue a section 14 order.
Of course, London Living Streets are not lawyers and cannot be certain what the law is. But this is an important issue and will become more so as traffic levels continue to increase, especially if vehicle speeds remain high. It cannot be put on the back-burner or ignored. Lives depend on it.
It would be helpful if the secretary of state were to reassure local authorities as to their powers and duties, but this may not happen for some time. In the meantime, we urge local authorities to think carefully about the powers, which can, as a matter of law, be used in these circumstances, and the duties that they have towards pedestrians.
It is important to remember that those who are least affluent rely most heavily on local shops and services and are the least likely to have access to a car. As a result, they shop frequently and have the highest need for streets that are safe for social distancing and for walking to local shops and services.
The unprecedented changes on our streets, and public realm generally, in the face of Covid-19 have prompted many people to think about how our public realm could support Londoners in responding to this public health crisis. We have discussed possible interventions with our friends at RunFriendly and outline them below. We ask decision makers to urgently consider innovative and agile ways to adapt our public realm during this episode. If you would like to download this blog as a pdf please click here.
TfL has today published its first Strategic Walking Analysis which was to be launched at a joint event with London Living Streets on 16th March. The document and its associated datasets provides analyses of levels of walking , walkable trips and barriers to walking, mapping out at a granular level where the walking experience could be improved and where more people could walk.
London under lockdown has become a very different place from the one we were familiar with. The need for restricted movement and social distancing has already resulted in the postponement of a huge number of events including the launch of Transport for London’s Strategic Walking Analysis that we were due to host on 16th March.
While we are all struck by the damage that the virus is causing, we have seen a dramatic fall in air pollution as a result of the greatly reduced volume of motor traffic since the lockdown started. However, the need to maintain a safe distance has highlighted just how little of our street space is given over to walking. Narrow pavements and frequent obstructions mean that when we make our essential journeys we are often having to move into the carriageway to avoid passing close to other people. Even with less motor traffic on the roads, this can feel very uncomfortable and unsafe. Detective Superintendent Andy Cox of the Metropolitan Police along with his team of officers is doing a fantastic job to communicate that they have no tolerance for drivers who speed or break the law. We would like to see all authorities re-enforce this with a message that drivers should look out for people on the road and share the space cheerfully and with good grace.
The national Living Streets website has comprehensive advice on when and how to walk with support for those who are wanting to walk to make those vital daily trips.
It is clear that the benefits of walking are huge. Walking as part of regular travel is the best way to stay healthy. Switching from motorised travel to walking reduces road danger, air pollution and noise. If more people walk and consequently fewer drive, the result is streets and neighbourhoods that are more pleasant and connected communities.
The goal of the London Living Streets Fairer Pedestrian Crossingsproject is to rebalance the way in which London’s network of signalised road crossings is operated to give the best possible service and experience for those travelling on foot.