Monday, December 15, 2008

Walking in Bristol

My contribution to the current Bristol City Council consultation on walking policies for the city, inspired considerably by various Green manifesto's and policies which have long argued for walking strategies:

Walking should be given the highest priority in transport planning: it increases health and well-being, which no other mode of transport other than cycling does; it has the least environmental impact; it is available to use by the greatest number of the population, particularly children; it benefits the social environment in which it occurs, increasing contact between people; it enhances the vitality of our communities.

Three quarters of journeys made are still under 5 miles, and half under two miles - walking should, along with cycling, account for most short distance journeys made if we get conditions right and we need this to be so if we are to build a sustainable society.

Walking should not be in general decline given that it’s a very effective transport, health and environmental policy but even though its still a common mode of transport just look at the stats: the number of walking trips fell by 20% between 1993 and 2003; between 1986 and 2001 total distance walked per person per year fell from 244 miles to 189 miles; households with a car walk less than those in households without a car - 163 miles per year compared to 265 miles (men who are the main driver of a company car walk least of all - 131 miles per year on average); car ownership has increased from 30% of households in 1961 to 70% in 1998; the decline in walking is largely accounted for by trips that have transferred to the car.(DfT 2003, National Statistics National Travel Survey and Social Trends).

How do we reverse this decline and then increase the amount of walking? Well, walking facilities should be well maintained and cleaned and priority should be given to this, in funding and enforcement, including fines against those allowing dogs to foul the footway. All opportunities should be taken to maximise convenience, safety, security and comfort. Planning for walking should aim to provide both networks of routes and to ensure other areas are pedestrian-orientated. Priority should be given to providing a minimum standard of provision for walkers that would ensure that all networks are complete and usable.

Design for walking should always seek to provide for all needs, including: those with sensory disabilities, the elderly, children, those pushing or carrying heavy loads and larger groups of people. Some people are not able to walk and so improved access for the disabled by all transport types should also be a priority.

Crossings of roads should always be designed with walkers as priority one and follow consultations with pedestrians. All formal crossings should be designed to respond more quickly to demand from walkers than at present and give them more time to cross. Zebra crossings should be present at more frequent intervals in key places. Any barriers stopping informal crossing of roads should be identified and progressively removed.

The Highway Code allows for priority to walkers crossing at side road junctions and access roads. This should be effected in road design, education and enforcement.

Signing of walking routes should be given priority, with clear signs to those places that people actually wish to travel to, e.g. shops and public facilities, including public transport stops. The placing of maps at more regular intervals that give information that walkers need, such as surface barriers, road crossings and bus stops, is important.

Shared use of walking space with cyclists can be a source of nuisance and conflict to walkers. All efforts should be made to reduce these conflicts through increased safe provision for both walkers and cyclists. Where proposals are made for shared use, all other measures should first be studied to ensure that there are no other ways of making walking and cycling safe. Loss of road space from other vehicles to accommodate cyclists is preferable to loss of footway space for walkers.
Despite overall decline, walking is still a popular leisure pursuit, with the development of various paths/trails. Such activity can imply a dependence on a car to access these places. All publicity for these should show how these can be accessed by sustainable modes of transport, including public transport.

Developing a car-free city centre is a great idea. Walkers improve the attractiveness and commercial success of central areas, and pedestrian only zones mean a reduction in pollution, noise and car accidents.

Greater priority should be given to maintaining and signing public rights of way throughout all areas. New routes should be developed wherever there is a sufficient demand.

For information on walking in Bristol and useful links: