Walking on roads

Road walker 

Using roads and streets

The network of roads and streets across Britain is an important part of the walking environment, particularly for most everyday trips. Even if you’re following a route that’s mainly along footpaths, the chances are you will have to follow roads for part of the way.

Walkers have as much right to be on the majority of roads and streets as everyone else – including  drivers. This includes most roads with no separate pavements. Only motorways and a few other designated fast roads are legally closed to walkers. However, it is important for your safety that you follow the Highway Code when using roads and streets.

While fast traffic has made many roads and streets unwelcoming places for walkers, in some areas initiatives like Home Zones and Quiet Lanes have helped create more walking friendly environments, without excluding motorists altogether.

Home Zones

Home Zones are based on the Dutch idea of ‘Woonerven’ first introduced in the 1960s, where roads are changed to give pedestrians and cyclists priority over motorists. This is done by using shared space, trees and planters and even play areas so that drivers instinctively change their behaviour and drive at lower speeds.

Although Home Zones in the UK give equal priority to drivers and people on foot or on bikes, they follow the same idea of physically altering roads into more community-friendly spaces, with traffic-calming measures, very low traffic speeds and clear signs to alert and remind drivers to act with greater care.

Quiet Lanes

Local authorities can designate roads as quiet lanes under the Transport Act 2000 to make them safer and more attractive to walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Quiet lanes are usually minor rural roads connecting local villages and communities – and often footpaths and bridleways – where drivers are expected to adhere to lower speed limits.

Shared space

Shared space is where the traditional boundaries between walkers and vehicles, like kerbs, signs, distinct surfaces and road markings, have been minimised or removed, encouraging all users to share the same surface. It is most common in town centres and urban squares and spaces where there are large numbers of walkers. In residential areas, it’s often a component of a Home Zone. Although shared space has been shown to reduce accidents and to encourage walking and cycling, it is sometimes controversial, with some people with disabilities, particularly blind and partially sighted people, reporting they find it difficult to negotiate.

Local initiatives

There are other ways to design and manage roads and streets so that walkers, cyclists and other non-motorised users coexist better with drivers without designating them formally as Home Zones or Quiet Lanes, or using good design to slow vehicle speeds and encourage drivers to give greater priority to walkers and others. Some of the most successful examples are community led with the support of organisations like BrakeLiving Streets and Sustrans.

Important: If there are vehicles in your surroundings, it’s still important to take special care when walking in places where vehicles are expected to slow down or give you priority.


Photo: © Jim Deans and Frances Collins