Building better places for walkers

Think about the places you walk everyday – to work, to shops or to the park. Do you alter your route to avoid streets with narrow pavements? Are there particular roads you fear because the crossing points are in the wrong place or non-existent?

people walking in winter

At some point, most of us will have been put off walking because of the design of the built environment. Walking is a popular form of transport in urban areas, but there are still too many short journeys being made by car which could be made on foot. For example, research from Transport for London revealed that Londoners make 2.4 million daily journeys by motorised transport (mostly car or bus) that could be walked, increasing pollution, congestion and danger to people who do walk or cycle.

So how can we persuade more people to walk for short journeys? We think the answer, in large part, is to shape the built environment to make it easier to do so. To better understand how we can achieve this, we’ve partnered with the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) to investigate how local authorities – who have significant influence over built environments in towns and cities - work with developers to make new developments more ‘walkable’.

People walking along Thames

This research found that the vast majority of local authorities are keen to create better walking infrastructure in new developments, and sometimes manage to do this by having clear policies and targets for walking; good relationships and early discussions with developers; and having confidence to use the planning tools at their disposal.

Local authorities also cited barriers to creating better places for walking, including lack of resources in council planning departments and the need to clearly establish the economic value that connectivity can bring to a development, to challenge developer claims that improving the walkability of a development is too costly to undertake.

People walking in city

Over the next few years, we can expect our towns and cities to change rapidly in response to the Government’s plans to deliver more housing. The changes that are coming present both a threat and an opportunity for the walking environment.

We need to have a public conversation about the type of places we should build not just the numbers of homes delivered. The Ramblers wants to work with councils and developers to make sure that new commercial and residential developments deliver benefits for walkers, enhancing people’s connectivity with the area they live in and giving more back to communities.

Have you come across any newly developed urban areas that you think are particularly walkable? We’d love to hear from you. Email policy@ramblers.org.uk or share your thoughts with us on social media.