Making space for urban walking

Dan Jarvis, Mayor for Sheffield City Region, tells us what inspires him to work on urban walking and what improvements need to be made to the streets we walk every day.

Three ramblers walking in an urban area.

Walking in the countryside versus in urban environments

Our world is becoming increasingly fast-paced. People rush around our towns and cities, getting from A to B as fast as they can. Many choose to travel by car. Meaning our urban roads are congested, polluted and unpleasant for those on foot.

In the countryside, walking is pleasant, enjoyable and good for both our physical and mental wellbeing. In the Sheffield City Region (SCR) we are so fortunate to have the Peak District National Park on our doorstep, and there is nothing I like more than taking time out to enjoy the great outdoors.

Whether this is one of the 12 walks on the Barnsley Boundary Walk or the Trans Pennine Trail, which winds through our bustling urban centres and beautiful rural scenery. From the Five Weirs Walk, which follows the River Don out of Sheffield, to the Elsecar Greenway, which takes in the pretty village of Elsecar and the RSPB Dearne Valley Old Moor Reserve.

Finding inspiration to improve urban walking

For those who want to enjoy urban walking, there is work to be done, and improvements need to be made. It’s neighbourhoods like Chorlton and Whalley Range in Manchester, one of the ten finalists of Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood, which inspire my work as Mayor of the Sheffield City Region.

The area’s walkable streets are lined with independent cafes, pubs and shops, with nature reserves and wild spaces providing a taste of the outdoors in the heart of the city. Chorlton and Whalley Range are now being further improved, with proposals for a new cycling and walking route being put forward by Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner.

Dan Jarvis and Dame Sarah Story

Sheffield City Region are committed to improving walking and cycling

In the SCR I have appointed Dame Sarah Storey, Britain’s most successful female Paralympian, as my Active Travel Commissioner. Sarah and I are committed to making our region a place where people feel able to leave the car at home and travel on foot, or using a bike or public transport.

By making space for walkers we can help create places to relax in our busy towns and cities. Green spaces provide pockets of nature in the middle of our urban streets, traffic-free streets would give children places to play safely, and redeveloped waterfronts can become places to enjoy a lunchtime stroll.

The benefits of improving our infrastructure for walkers has benefits for us all. In the SCR 40% of journeys are less than a kilometre, which takes just ten minutes to walk, but many still choose to drive.

Our roads are congested, our air is polluted and as a result, our health is getting worse. Almost a third of adults are classified as obese in the UK, and air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health, with between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure.

Through investment in walking and cycling infrastructure we will enable more people to leave the car at home for shorter journeys. With more people walking and cycling in our centres, our people will become healthier, our air will become less damaging to our health, and our streets will become much more pleasant places to be.

In Sheffield, the city’s Grey to Green scheme is bringing the vibrancy of the countryside into the heart of the city. Partly funded by the Sheffield City Region, a once derelict highway has been transformed into an area filled with wild flowers, trees and shrubs. Benches make for an idyllic, inner-city area to watch wildlife and the world go by.

To fund further improvements, I’ve submitted a £220million bid to the Department for Transport. With active travel at its heart, the money will fund improvements for pedestrians in schemes across the SCR.

The benefits of encouraging active travel

To help improve walking routes across the North, I am working with Transport for the North (TfN) to advocate the benefits of encouraging active travel. TfN is working with partners to integrate high quality active travel infrastructure into new projects across the North, which will help walkers and cyclists travel with safety and ease.

Ensuring walking in our towns and cities is as enjoyable as it is in our countryside will take significant investment and the political will to realise the benefits walking has for our society. Through investment in walking and creating safe streets for pedestrians, we will give more people the choice to leave the car at home. Our roads will become less congested, our people will be healthier, and our towns and cities will become much more pleasant places to be.

We can create green, clean spaces for everyone to enjoy. We can create streets which are lovely places to be, which improve our physical and mental wellbeing by providing places to relax and play. Through working together we can replicate the joy of walking in the countryside on our streets - this is what I’m working to achieve in the SCR.

For more information:

Follow @CycleWalkSCR on Twitter and Instagram.

Read our Ramblers’ Charter for Walking Neighbourhoods, discover more case studies of what walking neighbourhoods look like, and ask your mayor & councillors to sign-up.

Watch our video about Chorlton & Whalley Range, one of our ten finalists for Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood 2019.

David Moore

Excellent prospects from the Sheffield City Region, but urban and countryside walking should also be linked and not be discrete activities. We promote walks from Chesterfield into the surrounding countryside, not least in a westward direction to Chatsworth and the wider Peak District.