Walking and Health

Manchester seminar Tuesday 17 April 2001 Ben Plowden – Director Pedestrians’ Association

The following notes were taken from the presentation.

  1. The Pedestrians’ Association

The Pedestrians’ Association was founded in 1929 when the car was new. There were more pedestrian casualties at that time than there are today. The Association was influential in getting the 1934 Road Traffic Act passed. The Association fell on bad times during the 1980s and 1990s when the voluntary sector was changing and becoming more professionalised. The Director was appointed in 1997 and since then the organisation has begun to rebuild itself. It is a national advocacy organisation with a local branch network, which is a critical part of the framework particularly with the important role of local government in transport infrastructure management.

  1. Why does walking matter?

i) As a transport issue.

80% of under one mile are made by foot. This has stayed constant as a statistic. However, the proportion of trips made that are under one mile has fallen. The total amount of walking has fallen from an average per person of 250 miles to 200 miles per year. Walking remains the second highest form of sole mode of travel. It is essential in virtually all door to door travelling, with such journeys usually starting and ending on foot.

ii) Health.

Walking is the closest to the most perfect form of physical exercise. Children are walking less and less. Most primary school children walk to school. The number of walks to school by 7-11 year olds has dropped considerably. Parental feers of strangers and, ironically, traffic, are the main reasons. Walking as part of our daily lives is critically important to improve public health.

iii) Social or community health.

Public life is played out on the street. Communities without this are unhealthy. ‘Social Capital’ is the phrase being used in some academic circles to describe the importance of interactions in public. Walking operates as a means by which people spend time on the street. But the poorest communities usually have the worst environments. Copenhagen has set a good example, taking as its mantra that successful communities are those where people stop as well as keep on walking – ‘being’ outside.

  1. So have we always positively pushed walking as a social policy?

In fact, an objective look would suggest we have positively pushed for the opposite:

  • increasingly dispersed activities. People generally won’t walk more than a mile, but activities are spread further and further away from each other.
  • failed to plan for walking journeys.
  • designed an environment that suits drivers, particularly their field of vision. 60′ signs make the environment unattractive to other modes of travel.
  • allowed the domination by traffic in terms of physical danger, pollution
  • walking allowed to be uncomfortable e.g. dog mess, litter
  • allowed environment to be ugly, concrete environment.
  1. Action
  1. We need to create mixed use environments so people have a choice of access to most of what they need within walking distance
  2. need to plan communities systematically
  3. Prioritise pedestrianisation, moving away from cars and toward foot
  4. the amount of traffic and speed of traffic must be appropriate for the environment and what is being passed by that traffic. The road network at present is organised around the road status e.g ‘A’ road.
  5. Give more attention to the management of the environment: street lights, rubbish, dog shit
  6. put beauty back into the environment
  1. Conclusion

The more walking we do the better we will be. The more walking we all do the better will be our communities.

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You will want decent shoes if you go walking.

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