Walking is right at the heart of every single mode of transport, because we are all pedestrians for at least part of every journey we make. In the UK, we do at least have a reasonable network of pavements which make most pedestrian journeys possible, but the environment is often unsafe or sometimes just deeply unpleasant. Despite well-meaning policies, walking routes are often added as an afterthought, and we are still building housing estates which fail to connect to some of their closest neighbouring streets and green spaces, simply because we are not putting a road in at that location.
Walking is often lumped together with cycling, when it often needs to be considered in its own right. Some public realm schemes, particularly here in central Coventry, have tended to concentrate on widened pavements instead of providing segregated cycling paths. This is the worst of both worlds – failure to provide safe cycling space merely encourages cycling on the pavement, and this is often a nuisance to pedestrians, and especially to more vulnerable users. For similar reasons, trunk routes in urban areas, especially around major shopping areas, hospitals, railway stations and educational institutions should always be properly segregated so that a clear distinction is made between pedestrian space and space for cycling.
Although the pedestrian environment has become more accessible in recent years with the widespread addition of dropped kerbs, dimpled paving and refuges, al these measures merely improve the interface between the pedestrian environment and the roadway. As more and more cities adopt 20 mph as the default speed limit, more consideration now needs to be given towards making pedestrian crossings more attractive, through the removal of unnecessary staggered crossings and reduction of crossing wait times to an absolute minimum. The combination of more 20 mph limits and the relaxation of rules which are previously prevented cyclists from using them should make the installation of zebra crossings a great deal more easy. Zebra crossings always have a huge advantage over toucan crossings, as they don’t require buttons to be pressed, they don’t have long wait times and they don’t encourage motorists to speed through the orange signal. Zebra crossings are also significantly cheaper to install.
However, for the walking environment to become truly attractive, residential streets and major shopping areas should restrict traffic to local access only, so where possible, through traffic is removed. This typically involves blocking some access points off completely so that through traffic cannot pass, and making other streets one way, ensuring that the network provides access, but prevents shortcuts from being taken. This overall strategy is known as filtered permeability, and it is also extremely effective in helping to make local streets more liveable and attractive, whilst also promoting cycling.
Pedestrianisation was a popular move in many shopping areas in the 1990s, but it has led to concerns about streets becoming “sterile” or even magnets for crime after dark. Many of these concerns are unfounded – in the absence of motorised traffic, the attention turns to even the slightest element of antisocial behaviour, whereas streets which are left open to through traffic can remain unpleasant throughout the day. One of the major problems with pedestrianisation is that it is only usually applied to a limited area, and it does nothing to promote walking as a mode of transport to and from town centres. This is why filtered permeability measures, where motorised vehicles are allowed in for local access, but only at very low speeds, can be much more effective than pedestrianisation alone. Filtered permeability measures can still include sections of street which are closed to through traffic, or which are only open to buses, but when these are applied across a large area, they can enable a pleasant walking environment for the whole trip, whilst also significantly encouraging cycling, so that overall traffic levels are reduced.