Walking is as natural as breathing – and it’s also the most democratic form of transport. Just about everyone can walk (and people in wheelchairs depend on good pavements), and it costs nothing.
However, the reality on streets throughout Britain is that pedestrians are usually second-class citizens – road vehicles dominate our environment, breaking speed limits and deterring the old, the young and more vulnerable citizens from walking.
That’s why the Edinburgh Living Streets Group – which campaigns for pedestrians – is delighted that Edinburgh City Council has issued a draft Street Design Guidance policy which recognises we need to put people and places before the movement of motor vehicles. This is a positive step forward in tackling the obesity epidemic, reducing our carbon footprint and revitalising the local economy by encouraging more people out on to the streets.
Despite difficult conditions on many of our streets, walking is still the main mode of transport for 33 per cent of all local trips by Edinburgh citizens – and the figures are even higher if you include tourists, who generally get around on foot.
Edinburgh’s economy depends on maintaining a top-quality walking environment for businesses and visitors.
The city benefits from a relatively generous provision of zebra crossings (which can significantly empower the walker if used correctly) and from a large number of demand-responsive Pelican/Toucan crossings which typically involve only short delays before the “green man” phase.
The city council has developed a progressive policy framework for walking – certainly the strongest anywhere in Scotland – but delivery on the street has been very patchy. There has been some progress on traffic calming and 20mph streets, particularly where engineering and education measures are deployed together, but lack of enforcement of vehicle speed limits and aggressive driving remain major deterrents to safe and comfortable walking.
Walking’s modal share has been under pressure for many decades – as a result of growing vehicular traffic, and dispersal of jobs, shops and leisure facilities to out-of-town locations, plus poorly maintained and increasingly cluttered pavements. Walkers remain firmly at the bottom of the pile, despite decades of theoretically being top of transport planners’ priorities.
The draft Street Design Guidance highlights key issues for pedestrians: existing streets need to be redesigned with the person on foot in mind, for example by narrowing street entrances at junctions, allowing pedestrians to keep walking safely and confidently. We’re very keen to see effective 20mph zones rolled out across the city, but the plans for some “shared use” pavements should be re-thought – pavements are for pedestrians, and space for walkers shouldn’t be given up for cycling. Cyclists deserve more space, but this should be provided safely within the road carriageway, not taken away from the most vulnerable street users.
Cycling groups have rightly been successful in securing a significant defined share (seven per cent) of the council’s transport investment budget – but it’s now time for the council to ring-fence a decent budget to help make our streets fit for pedestrians. After the car, it’s the most popular mode of transport in Edinburgh – and could play an even bigger role in creating a safe, sustainable and civilised city.
To join the Edinburgh Living Streets Group, e-mail email@example.com or go to www.livingstreets.org.uk/local-group/edinburgh-living-streets-group.
• David Spaven is convener of the Edinburgh Living Streets Group