The Ranty Highwayman: Streetscapes for walkers

27/09/2019
The Ranty Highwayman

This is the continuing story of a chartered engineer who worked in a local highways department. Today, still wanted by the highways industry, he survives as a soldier of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire...The Ranty Highwayman.

In this article he discusses how changes to our streetscapes can roll out the red carpet for walkers.

I followed the Commons Transport Committee’s investigation into pavement (footway) parking with interest. The main recommendation is for a ban on the practice in England – Scotland is ahead of the game and Wales is quickly playing catch-up. It is something that has vexed me for many years and I was pleased the issue has now reached mainstream prominence.

The UK is constantly being distracted by the next big technology fix or mobility innovation so it is no wonder that walking almost seems to the forgotten part of the transport mix. Yet it features in 27% of trips overall and around 80% of trips of up to one mile[2] and it will be part of many people’s journey regardless of mode, whether it is catching a bus or walking from a car park to the shops.

It is such an important part of getting people around, yet we seem to have been complacent (at best) on the value it brings to society.

I wonder if half the problem is that footways, crossings and other walking infrastructure are so ubiquitous, we forget they are there and we forget that they are in fact a transport network, which needs reviewing and upgrading from time to time.

Whether it is taking footway space for parking or car charging, putting in staggered pedestrian crossings for junction (motor) capacity or just thoughtlessly placed lighting columns and traffic signs, we do much to degrade the walking experience rather than rolling out the red carpet for it.

The pedestrian pound is powerful on the high street (thanks, Living Streets) and getting out on foot can help us get some of our much needed physical activity so we should be treating people who walk like royalty. So, what are the easy wins for enabling people to walk so that it is the natural choice for those hyperlocal trips?

Here are some ideas that we can implement as we go along:

? For vehicle crossings, keep at least one metre of the footway flat and drop the front section only – if we have a wide verge then it Is easy, but with a narrow footway we might have to use quadrant kerbs and round the front of the crossing to the carriageway.

? Lighting columns and posts can be installed at the rear of the footway to keep the useable space as wide as possible.

? If we must have on-street charging, or pay-and-display, then put the chargers/payment machines on an island in the carriageway between the parking bays.

? Rather than put in a raised table at a side road, build a continuous footway, although care is needed to ensure that visually impaired people can detect that they are entering somewhere where crossing traffic is likely, so do seek advice from users.

? Machine lay asphalt footways – there are small paving machines easily available now and this means we can lay smooth surfaces that are easier to walk on for many people.

Also, we stop those pesky puddles forming where hand-lay isn’t quite up to the job.

? Raised tables at zebra and signalised crossings to slow drivers down and give a more level crossing of the street.

? Longer crossing times at signalised crossings because many people struggle to cross within the standard times.

If that’s the simple stuff, what of the future? While there probably isn’t the type of innovation that excites the fans of shiny technology, innovations such as simple zebra crossings on side road junctions, as being promoted by Transport for Greater Manchester, and pedestrian SCOOT being developed by Transport for London to help improve walking priority, are the type of things we should be fast-tracking and rolling out all over the place.

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