Following a very lively and well-attended launch event in May, Walking@Tea-time is back to discuss what we know about the pedestrian pound.
Active travel campaigners know that pedestrian spending is very important, and that an attractive public realm brings people in. Major landowners know this too. But many shopkeepers believe their trade depends on the passing motorist. There is now a considerable body of evidence on the subject both in the UK and internationally. We are delighted to welcome two speakers perfectly placed to discuss this evidence: Stephen Edwards, Director of Policy at Living Streets, and Anne Faure, President of Rue de l’avenir. They will also be well-placed to discuss developments post-Covid 19, and (with Anne’s insights) we will consider the likely consequences of Mayor Hidalgo’s recent election triumph in Paris.
Walking@Tea-time, is hosted by Tom Cohen and is supported by London Living Streets and the Active Travel Academy at University of Westminster. Co-ordinators: Tom Cohen, Emma Griffin and David Harrison.
Robert Molteno examines the risk that walking may continue to be overlooked as active travel is prioritised.
We are living in a moment of great expectation. Almost every day news comes that this or that borough is taking measures to widen pavements for pedestrians so they can keep proper ‘social distance’, or to take carriageway space and turn it into a protected ‘pop up’ cycle route, or even to exclude traffic entirely from some neighbourhood road prone to ‘rat running’ in order to make it safe for people on foot or cycling. The Borough of Croydon has even invented the novel idea of ‘exercise streets’; volunteer residents can get rapid Council permission to close a section of their street to traffic for a couple of hours a day in order to give people safe space to exercise.
And the hope is rising among some that today’s ‘temporary’ will be so enjoyed by people that it becomes tomorrow’s ‘permanent’. And that we really will, as Grant Shapps MP, the Transport Secretary said when introducing his Department’s Paper, Decarbonising Transport – Setting the Challenge, back in March “use our cars less, and public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities.” And six weeks later on 9 May, when his Department issued its Covid-19 Guidance to all local authorities on how they should act urgently, as the return to work accelerates, to support walking and cycling as the main way of making short trips, he was even more forthright: “We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities.”
But before we get taken over by a surfeit of optimism, let us ask the question:
Is Walking really the ‘poor relation’ of other transport modes?
Let’s think about it for a moment.
How many politicians get up and say things like ‘We must look after our residents on foot’? Or ‘we promise to spend £X billion on our country’s footways.’ Or ‘we will deliver benches on high streets and in town centres where people can pause and chat’. Do local councillors ever put in their election manifestos: ‘Countdown displays at all signalised crossings to reassure people of all ages and abilities they have time to get across the road safely.’ ‘Arrival indicators at every bus stop so even people without smart phones know how long they have still got to wait (just like on a train platform!)’.
Or try Googling ‘The UK’s national walking strategy’, and see what you get!Or, rather, don’t get. Successive UK governments have had Road strategies, and strategies for Rail, Air Travel, Freight, and so on. Even buses got promised a new National Bus Strategy in September 2019 though it hasn’t appeared yet. But Walking? – only in Scotland has this been thought of.
At local level, very few London boroughs have Walking Strategies, even as more of them, quite rightly, are developing explicit Cycling Strategies. These days many London boroughs do have Active Travel Strategies. But take a look, and you’ll find they are usually talking mainly about Cycling, certainly when it comes to projects (often with catchy names), or actual sums committed, or timetables for delivery.
How many local authorities even bother to count pedestrians? Counting people on overflowing narrow pavements. Counting people waiting way beyond 30 seconds at signalised crossings for the Green Man. Or, worse, counting commuters and shoppers having to thread their way through the traffic because there is no nearby crossing on the road at all. Transport for London (TfL) counts pedestrians in some places, but certainly doesn’t count any of these things. I remember only four years ago when TfL started its Better Junctions Review, its traffic modelling did not include pedestrian statistics as a relevant variable. Indeed has this really changed in the world of traffic modelling even now? Only the City of London makes a point of being consistently serious about actually counting us pedestrians, and making us increasingly the primary focus of its transport policy-making.
Walking remains the Cinderella of transport policy. And not just policy, but projects and spending too. The attitude to pedestrians of too many highway engineers, even transport planners, and their political masters seems long to have been: ‘Everyone walks, don’t they? Like we all breathe. Pavements exist. And what if people have to share them with cars parked on them, as happens everywhere outside London. So, job done. Or pretty much so.’
The hard evidence – how a century of car hegemony has transformed our urban road infrastructure
The evidence of the marginalisation of Walking in policymakers’ minds is the urban road system we are now living with. Let’s just consider:
The volume of motor traffic: One statistic will do. In the 1950s when I was a boy, there were only about four million vehicles on the road. Today in Britain, it’s approaching 40 million, and in London alone, 14% of households actually have two or more cars! In simple geometry terms, the authorities are beginning to realize that that number simply cannot fit into the ‘pint pot’ of our urban road space.
Collisions and Road Deaths: Another statistic! In the United States, that epicentre of the car culture, by the early 1970s, over 50,000 Americans were being killed on the roads every year – more than the entire number of US casualties during the Vietnam War. And the cause? The refusal of the car industry to design safety into their cars, and the issue of speed limits.
Speed Limits too high: When the first steam-powered vehicles appeared on the roads in this country in the late 19th century, Parliament required a man with a red flag walking in front of them! But almost immediately, a change was demanded: by 1903 the speed limit had risen to 20mph. And in 1930 the Road Traffic Act abolished speed limits altogether. Only the soaring number of road deaths that immediately resulted led five years later to a speed limit being reimposed, but this time 30mph in built-up areas, a limit that is still with us today. Over the past decade, the extraordinary 20’s Plentyfor Usnationwide campaign led by Rod King has begun to undo this damage, but there are still many boroughs, particularly in Outer London, which still do not recognise the incompatibility of urban living with 30+mph speed limits. It is pedestrians who are primarily paying the price – in 2018 in London, over 50% of all road deaths were people on foot.
The sorry story of speed bumps: Some local authorities, my own Borough of Wandsworth included, turned wholesale to building speed bumps as the method of speed enforcement, but an outcry from motorists gathered force. The height of bumps was often reduced, and their shape changed to allow vehicles a smoother ride! The result? Less adherence to speed limits; more deaths and injuries of people not actually travelling in the vehicle.
Carriageway architecture: This is a whole subject in itself. So just a couple of examples of changes introduced to facilitate drivers not having to slow down. At road intersections, the geometry of kerbside corners was loosened to enable motorists to turn into and out of side roads with less slowing down. And another intersection innovation – the roundabout. Great for drivers in a hurry, dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.
Pavements –the strange case of the disappearing space: The priority for decades has been ‘smoothing traffic flows’. One thing that meant was maximising carriageway space – wider traffic lanes, more lanes. And the only way to do that was whittling away pavement widths. And when that meant pedestrians on crowded pavements having to step out on to the carriageway, what did the engineers do? Introduce endless guardrails to hem them in. And that’s not to mention all the signage, speed limit notices and parking notices, and now Electric Vehicle charging points, all situated not on the carriageway, but on the pedestrians’ very own pavements!
Pedestrian Crossings –under siege: This is another whole subject! In London, back in 2010 we experienced Mayor Boris Johnson’s cull of signalised crossings, also in the interests of ‘smoothing traffic flows’; some 300 were abolished. Local authorities create a mountain of obstacles about installing any new crossing – in my borough of Wandsworth, residents have to prove that the number of people killed or seriously injured on a particular stretch of road must exceed a defined threshold before Officers will even consider building a new crossing. And Wait Times for pedestrians are another scandal – people on foot, including commuters in a hurry, can be made to wait up to two minutes at some signalised crossings before being allowed to cross.
And where to put all those 38 million vehicles? Here the authorities face an insoluble dilemma. Most owners of cars in built-up areas do not live in accommodation where they can park their cars off-street. Take the example of Wandsworth again, of the 90,000 registered vehicles, 65,000 of them are parked on the street. That’s an unsightly nuisance, on occasion a danger, for local residents. But the fact that Wandsworth’s parked cars take up 18% of the available road space is a very curse for drivers – more parked cars means less carriageway space; less carriageway space means slower possible speeds and more congestion. In many places, particularly outside London, the law has come up with an extraordinary ‘solution’ – pavements stop being only for pedestrians; instead they become shared space between them and parked cars. Allowing vehicles to park up on the pavement is a leading example of car-centric policymaking.
And all those human activities that no longer happened on our streets: Children playing football, cricket, or other games on traffic-free residential roads – a sight common in the 1950s. Street markets and barrows. The street being a place where people wanted to be, if only to socialize and chat.
All these dimensions and examples of car-centric urban road design and policy show just how marginalised walking has become as a mode of transport people want and can enjoy doing in our country today.
But we must not disable ourselves in a sea of pessimism.
Perhaps Covid-19 will transform the place of Walking fundamentally? Grounds for hope.
That is indeed the hope of some of us. And there are certainly straws in the wind that can raise our spirits.
Covid-19 has given us a glimpse of what the future could be like: Quiet skies over West London (Heathrow has even closed one of its two runways). No more purplish haze of filthy air hanging low over Central and Inner London for the spring sun to light up each morning. Above all, unbelievably peaceful, untrafficked streets, easy to cross, and much safer for everyone on foot or cycling (the tide of traffic, however, is flowing in again as the lockdown unwinds).
The Climate Emergency: That is simply not going to go away. The science in unanswerable. Action is embedded in law. Public opinion is engaged. The Department for Transport (DfT) has declared in March that it must now draw up an effective game plan to get to Zero Carbon across the whole transport sector – ie all modes of travel. The Department had intended, pre-Covid-19, to bring out the new national policy by the end of this year. Let’s see.
The sudden, very recent realisation that public transport can only move about 10-15% of normal commuter numbers if people are to be able to ‘social distance’ safely. And since the epidemic may have a long tail, many people will, quite rightly, fear using buses, trains, let alone the London Underground, for many months to come, perhaps even years. Once again, Grant Shapps MP, the Transport Secretary, has been centre stage. On 9 May he announced a hugely accelerated programme to make it possible and safe for many more people to walk and cycle to work, to school with their children, and the local shops. And so avoid public transport. And avoid the nightmare scenario of even more people using their cars to make short journeys than before the epidemic, or others now acquiring a car where before they didn’t have one – with unimaginable consequences for traffic gridlock, poisonous air quality, road danger, and the quality of urban life generally. ‘Over 40% of urban journeys are under two miles,’ Shapps pointed out. ‘The Coronavirus has had a terrible impact on [our] lives, but it has also resulted in cleaner air and quieter streets, transforming the environment in many of our towns and cities…. Millions of people have discovered, or rediscovered, cycling and walking…. When the country gets back to work, we need them to carry on cycling… [and] pedestrians will need more space….’
The Streetspace Planfor London: To give practical effect to what the Department for Transport is calling for, the Mayor of London and Transport for London have moved fast to develop the measures they will take on the roads that they manage, as well as setting up a Fund the boroughs can now apply to in order to do similarly on the roads they are responsible for.
The job ahead – making over our urban roads to enable Walking and Cycling again
The brutal reality remains. Only when our political leaders and the transport professionals really take on board how three generations of car-centric road building, road design, and transport policy have deformed what is by far the largest part of our public realm, will the era of the marginalisation of walking and cycling as transport modes in our urban areas begin to be ended. The task is no less than undoing that legacy of infrastructure and policy distortion that the past century of motor vehicle hegemony has wrought. Government and local authorities must invest serious money, year by year, in doing that. Only then will we be able to say that the marginalisation of walking and cycling is coming to an end.
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.