Living Streets reflects on a 'massive year for walking'

Dominic Browne

The walking charity Living Streets has welcomed progress on active travel during a challenging time but a 'massive year for walking'.

The latest annual report (2019-2020) from the charity shows a major boost in interest in active travel with 16 new local Living Streets groups formed – the highest ever in a year.

Living Streets was joined this year by Mary Creagh, former shadow transport secretary, who now leads the charity.

Chief executive, Ms Creagh, said: 'There is a growing understanding of how walking tackles some of the biggest crises facing us– inactivity, loneliness and climate change. If we are to build back better, then there must be no return to dangerous, dirty, congested streets.

'By enabling people to walk more short, local journeys, we can help reach our Net Zero goals and help people from all walks of life live better.'

Throughout the lockdown, Living Streets lobbied for more space for pedestrians. Then when the Government committed £250m to an Emergency Active Travel Fund to prioritise walking and cycling and support social distancing, Living Streets carried out audits on behalf of government to inform the output from tranche 1.

Controversially, the Government employed a performance-based funding assessment for schemes.

Walk to programmes

As it came to the end of its 'Walk To' (2017-20 and 2020-21) and Walk to School outreach programmes, the charity celebrated a significant impact.

These programmes were funded with £3.5m from the Department for Transport, as part of the Access Fund Transition Year, with an additional £1m to deliver a Walking Back To School project in 250 schools.

Walk To was delivered by Living Streets for a consortium of 10 local authority partners to support more people to access employment, education and training through walking and cycling.

'Between April 2017 and March 2020, we worked with 1,214 primary schools, 96 post-11 education and training settings, and 103 workplaces. 169 of these settings received a community street audit, school route audit or travel plan support,' the report states.

The evaluation showed that for 2019-20:

  • Walk To generated 6.6 million new walking trips and 1.6 million reduced all-the-way car journeys (1.0M km).
  • Walking rates at new project schools increased by 34%, with car journeys falling by 49%.
  • The project delivered £3 of benefits for every £1 spent, rising to £4.40 if the health benefits to children were included.

Through the 2020-21 extension to the Walk To project, Living Streets expects to provide support to 1,040 primary schools, 30 post-11 education settings and 40 workplaces.

Walk to School outreach

This project was aimed at helping the Government reach its target of 55% of children walking to school by 2025.

It is delivered with a partnership of six local and combined transport authorities and funded by the DfT through a £1m grant in 2019-20, and a further £1m for 2020-21.

In March 2020, at the end of the 2019-20 project, Living Streets had achieved:

  • 413 primary schools taking part in WOW, our year-round walk to school challenge, against a target of 405 schools.
  • 4.8 million new walking trips, with 1.2 million fewer school run car journeys (0.7M km).
  • 40% increase in walking rates among schools newly recruited to the project in 2019-20, with a 54% reduction in car journeys.

By the end of September 2020, 239 primary schools were participating in the new project, and Living Streets hopes to reach the project target of 485 schools by 31 March this year.

Dame Jane Roberts, chair of Living Streets, said: 'This year has marked a profound change in the way we live. The coronavirus pandemic has taken lives and destroyed livelihoods. It highlighted the inequalities in our society and made them worse. Can we build back better?

'There are grounds for hope. During repeated lockdowns, people from all walks of life have experienced the benefits walking brings – finding nature, better wellbeing and a new-found love of physical activity.'

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