We want to make walking the most practical, pleasant option for getting around in towns and cities, whether travelling to work or school; to shops or local amenities; or for exercise and relaxation.
Walking should be the easy choice for any type of urban journey.
We were very pleased to see that the first ever Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) for England, published recently by the Department for Transport, has an ambition of:
‘making walking and cycling the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey’.
This means there is a shared agenda for creating cities and towns that encourage walking, and in so doing improve public health, boost local economies and create happier, more cohesive communities.
The need for walkable cities is more pressing than ever. A growing number of us – around 80% of the population - now live in urban areas. The built environment has been designed over many years to get cars, rather than people, moving. This has made urban streets less safe, less pleasant, more polluted, noisier and more difficult to navigate. It’s not surprising that many people prefer the convenience of cars for even the shortest journeys. Evidence shows that walking is in long-term decline, with people walking 30% less than 20 years ago.
While the ambition in the CWIS is commendable, we need to do more to turn this decline around. It’s far from clear that the investment identified will be enough to meet the ambition of the strategy. Walking remains the poor relation compared to cycling when it comes to government investment in active travel.
Many of the factors which strongly influence whether people chose to walk – for example, the character of the built environment or the quality of parks and green spaces – cannot be solved by the Department for Transport alone. A co-ordinated, cross government effort is needed to achieve a long-term shift in public behaviour. Local authorities also have a hugely important role to play as the managers of most urban green and grey spaces. As the amount of funding given by central to local government decreases, many local authorities are struggling to maintain the places we walk, putting our urban walking infrastructure at high risk of further decline.
The CWIS is a step in the right direction and should we welcomed, but there is much to do. We look forward to working with government to meet our shared ambition of walkable cities.