A key measure for creating a low traffic future is to redesign our roads, streets and junctions to be people-friendly places, where children can play, neighbours can socialise, people of all ages and abilities can get around safely and easily by walking and cycling, and where high-streets and street-life can thrive without being choked by exhaust fumes.
This section considers what needs doing to create a safe and attractive environment for walking and wheeling [N.B. “Wheeling” includes the use of any mobility aid which can be used without requiring a driving licence], then for cycling, then what both groups need to benefit from safe streets and lanes, and concludes with behaviour change measures to boost walking and cycling, particularly among the groups who could most benefit from the physical activity but who are least likely to take up cycling and walking without encouragement and support. [N.B. This para may not be needed depending on whether there is another navigation route to the subheadings]
Walking and wheeling
Walking networks in towns need to connect people safely and conveniently from their homes to nearby schools, shops and other key facilities – for more, see local cycling and walking network plans.
Pavements need to be well-maintained and clear of clutter. Features such as waymarking, seats, street trees and planters are essential for enabling people to navigate, for older people to rest, to reduce pollution and create safe and attractive places where people want to spend time. However they need to be placed where they will not obstruct wheelchair users or create hazards for visually impaired people. Tactile paving is vital for visually impaired people to know where they can walk safely.
Road crossings need to be located to maximise the convenience of using them. Crossing-points across more minor side-roads should be on raised tables, to indicate to drivers that pedestrians going straight ahead have priority over vehicles turning into and out of those side roads. Signalised pedestrian crossings need to provide plenty of crossing time for pedestrians, allowing older and disabled people also to use them without danger or stress. For the fastest and/or busiest roads, bridges or tunnels are needed. These should be step-free and with gradients minimised, to make it as easy as possible for disabled people to use them. Where tunnels are provided, they should be wide and straight to provide natural light and good visibility right through the tunnel wherever possible.
Cycling networks, like walking networks, need to be safe, direct, coherent, comfortable and attractive – see local cycling and walking network plans.
Cycle facilities along fast or busy main roads should be physically segregated from the motor traffic: the faster and busier the traffic, the greater the level of segregation that is needed (but see also the section on safe streets and lanes for solutions where segregation is not needed). Cycles should also be kept separate from pedestrians, unless there is plenty of space and/or usage is light (e.g. on a path next to an inter-urban road), allowing both groups to mix safely and without stress.
Safe and secure cycle parking should be provided in new residential developments and at key destinations such as schools, shops, workplaces, public transport stations and interchanges, and other public facilities. In addition to cycle parking, public transport services should make provision for cycling to and from stations and interchanges, with space on trains, trams and longer-distance bus or coach services, and cycle reservation systems on any train services where seats can also be reserved. See also cycle hire schemes.
National and local government should support the use of non-standard pedal cycles, such as child trailers and cargo-bikes (whether for households or businesses), trikes and hand-cycles (these can be crucial mobility aids for the many people who find walking difficult but who can cycle), and electrically assisted pedal cycles (or ‘e-bikes’). Dutch evidence shows that the average journey on an e-bike is about 60% longer than on a conventional bicycle. E-bikes can therefore substantially increase cycling’s contribution to tackling climate change, enabling people to replace car-use for longer or hillier journeys in rural areas, as well as enabling older, less healthy or disabled people to take up cycling who might otherwise find it difficult or impossible.
Cyclists also need good signing and waymarking.
Safe urban streets and rural lanes
The majority of roads and streets in built-up areas should be subject to 20mph speed limits, with similar reductions (e.g. to no more than 40mph for quieter rural lanes). Exceptions can be made for faster and busier main roads, though these should be provided with separate cycle facilities. There is a mistaken view that 20mph limits should be concentrated around school gates. However this simply reinforces the idea that children will normally be driven to school and that they only need to get safely from their parents’ car to the school gate. Instead, we need 20mph schemes to keep children safe near their homes and throughout their walking and cycling journeys, whether to school or to visit friends or anywhere else. For more information, see the 20sPlentyForUs website.
The Welsh Government and Senedd (i.e. the Welsh parliament) have approved plans to make 20mph the ‘default’ speed limit for built-up streets in Wales by 2023 – allowing exceptions as above – acting on feedback from a Public Health Wales evidence review, a Task Force Report and extensive consultation. Transport Action Network urges the governments for England and Scotland to follow suit.
Another solution for reducing car use for school journeys is to create school streets, where driving is prohibited at school arrival and drop-off times. This helps normalise walking and cycling to school, so that parents no longer feel they have to drive their children to school because of the dangers created by other parents’ cars. Monitoring has shown that these schemes reduce traffic and are popular.
Another approach is to introduce traffic-filters which cut off rat-runs through residential streets but allow cycling, giving it an advantage for local trips. This type of scheme has recently come to be known as a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN), though it is not a new technique. These schemes need careful design and good consultation to ensure local community support, though their introduction should not be derailed by the vocal minorities which have sprung up to oppose them in recent years. They generally attract high public support, both in principle and in practice after they have been introduced. LTNs can improve road safety, increase walking and cycling and reduce car use for local journeys – though wider measures may also be needed to ensure they reduce traffic overall.
Traffic calming features (such as road humps and speed cushions) and/or zonal speed camera systems can reduce speeds and improve safety (see review of evidence), and may be useful where the layout of a street (or a street network) does not naturally keep most drivers’ speeds down to around 20mph. Still, it is generally preferable to design streets to feel like safe, people-friendly places, with attractive surfacing and street furniture (e.g. seating and planters) which enable and welcome people of all ages and abilities to walk, cycle and wheel safely and easily.
Local cycling and walking network plans
The UK Government has encouraged local authorities in England (outside London) to draw up Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), while Welsh authorities are legally required to adopt Active Travel Network Maps (ATNMs), in accordance with the Welsh Government’s Active Travel Act design guidance. However the principles, and the steps needed to create a LCWIP or an ATNM, are similar:
- Define the geographical area to be covered (including any cross-boundary issues).
- Identify the most important start and end-points of journeys (e.g. residential areas, schools and colleges, employment locations, shopping areas, healthcare, public transport and other facilities) that need to be connected by safe, convenient and direct walking and cycling routes.
- Prioritise the corridors with the greatest potential to unlock increased cycling and walking if provision is improved – the Propensity to Cycle Tool (http://pct.bike) can assist with this.
- Identify the actual route alignments where walking and/or cycling conditions can be improved most cost-effectively to maximise the increases in walking and/or cycling.
- Consult and seek support for the route proposals (including from neighbouring authorities etc where cross-boundary issues arise, as well as from the wider public), adapting them as required in the light of feedback received.
However national governments and councils alike need to do more to integrate the planning and funding of LCWIPs (or ATNMs in Wales) and Rights of Way Improvement Plans (RoWIPs). LCWIPs and ATNMs are widely seen as being mainly for day-to-day walking and cycling in urban areas, while rights of way are often seen as being for recreational walking (and, to a more limited extent, cycling and horse-riding) in rural areas. Yet this distinction is not, and should not be, hard and fast. On the contrary, joining up the planning and funding of these networks would make it easier, for instance, for children to walk or cycle from outlying villages to schools in nearby towns, or for families in those towns to get out for recreational walks or bike rides without feeling the need to jump in the car to get there.
Road and path maintenance
Poorly-maintained roads are the bane of drivers’ lives. But pedestrians, cyclists and people with disabilities are far more seriously affected by poor maintenance than drivers. Potholes, obstructions and trip-hazards can cause serious and even fatal injuries, while poor winter maintenance can trap older and disabled people indoors, unable to get to the shops for fear of a dangerous fall.
Yet road maintenance budgets are increasingly skewed towards maintaining motorways, trunk roads and other A-roads. That is despite evidence that funding cuts to minor road maintenance have significantly higher economic costs than those affecting trunk road maintenance. This is probably because walking and cycling account for a greater proportion of the traffic on minor roads, while pedestrians and cyclists’ maintenance claims are much more likely to involve serious injuries, not just property damage. The average maintenance-related legal claim made by cyclists is 13 times higher than those made by drivers.
Councils therefore need to give greater priority to inspecting and maintaining minor-roads and off-road paths, including winter maintenance and vegetation clearance of off-road paths and tracks. From a cycling perspective, they also need to focus more on the area of the road nearest the kerb, on potholes which run parallel to (rather than across) the line of cyclists’ travel, on hills (where they will be travelling at higher speeds) and on junctions (where cyclists will be turning and watching out for other vehicles’ movements rather than the road surface).
Behaviour change programmes to boost walking and cycling
Besides creating a safe and attractive environment for walking, wheeling and cycling, councils should also provide opportunities to try out walking and cycling. They need to focus particularly on groups such as women, older people, people from minority ethnic backgrounds, health patients, . People from these groups are particularly prone to thinking that “cycling and walking aren’t for people like me”, yet they are exactly the people whose health, wealth and well-being has most to gain from discovering the joys of walking and cycling!
The old Cycling Proficiency scheme has been replaced by the Bikeability cycle training programme. It is designed for adults and teenagers as well as younger children, taking people from learning basic balance and control skills (level 1) through to being able to handle busy roads and junctions (level 3).
Cycle training should be provided not just in primary schools but also in secondary schools and colleges, cycle-friendly workplaces and in a range of community settings. Women, health patients, people with disabilities, and people from ethnic minority groups (especially women and teenage girls) are much more likely to take up cycling if they do so among peers. This has been well demonstrated by Cycling UK’s Big Bike Revival, Cycling for Health and other community outreach programmes, which have all attracted significant participation from these under-represented groups. Living Streets’s programmes for diverse communities and older people, and the Ramblers’ Wellbeing Walks programmes have similarly impressive results in terms of boosting walking among less active groups.