Solvitur ambulando

rsz_1timon-studler-63413-unsplashWas great to have the opportunity to be one of the sponsors of the full to capacity Living Streets Walking Summit at the Guildhall in the City of London – and to chair one of the sessions – on Saturday.

Here’s what I took from it on what’s next for walking

1. Better places for walking tend to be better places full stop. So the walking agenda is also the better places agenda which in turn speaks to the greater priority now being given in cities to quality of space over how many vehicles you can push through that space (see our recent ‘Banks, Bytes and Bikes’ report).

2. Politicians used to be nervous about giving walking any air-time for fear of ridicule. Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch cast a long shadow (I kid you not – it used to come up regularly in conversations with officials about walking as part of a broader fear that given everyone walks why does the government need to get involved?). That’s changing. For example Chris Boardman specifically requested that his cycling tzar role in Manchester should also include walking and the DfT too groups cycling and walking together. Walking too dosn’t bring all the tribalism and culture war baggage that cycling can bring with it either. Very few people hate walkers and walking! So putting the two together can help set the scene for a very different kind of conversation.

3 There was a focus on the event about the need for more emotional intelligence and plain talking in the way the case for walking (and active travel more widely) is communicated. The public block out moral exhortation and technical talk about ‘mobility’. Car restraint in general is fine – but it’s for other people.  However design schemes, as Chris Boardman wants to focus on, with pavements on which you could use a double buggy with ease, and cycle facilities that parents would feel happy that a 12 year old could use, and then people will start to look out of their car windows and say I could give that a try. It’s about making the case more compelling and the schemes that are built easy to use. And what about adding a “how people feel about a place” indicator to the metrics that people use to assess schemes?

4 In my words to the conference I also made the case that walking needs to get a bit more rock and rock. Get a bit more edge and a bit more bite. A bit less wholemeal. In the same way that cycling has. Not so long ago cycling was very fringe –  borderline naff. Now it could hardly be cooler. Five years ago I remember going to an event in London about spreading London’s moves to increase cycling in other UK cities. One of the presentations was about cycle cafes in Hackney. And reader, I don’t mind telling you I openly scoffed. I’d never heard of such a thing. Maybe in Shoreditch – but with cycling levels so low in many of our cities there seemed zero point in taking about the potential for export of cycle cafes outside the gilded capital. But then what do i know? Now there seems to be a cycle cafe on every other major street in York city centre. So if cycling can acquire some cultural capital and become a two wheeled zeitgeist – then why not walking? What about the 10,000 steps that fitbit users obsess about? What about pilgrimage walking and psycho geography? I say step away from the cagoule  and walk idiot walk.

5 Local and devolved authorities talking the talk on active travel is all well and good but whatever fine words go in the text of strategy document it’s the annex with the numbers showing what the money is actually being spent on which counts. Historically at both national and local level the bulk goes on big roads with some left over for public transport and a wafer thin slice for active travel. This is beginning to change with Scotland up to £13.50 per head, London at £17 per head for cycling and Greater Manchester’s recently approved Chris Boardman plan implying a spend of £53 per head on cycling and walking. All of which compares with estimates of £6.50 per head in England outside London. A benevolent arms race is underway – showing who is really walking the walk.

6 If you’ve ever tried to walk around Brussels you will know it’s generally pretty awful environment for walking. Uncrossable dual carriageways, tatty pavements and cruddy street furniture, the public square as scruffy car park and you will get lost thanks to the non availability of any wayfinding signage. Yet, not for much longer. Brussels is the latest  to seek to turn its back on all that and follow Paris, Berlin, London and the rest into a new era of cutting back on traffic in favour of better spaces for people. The man behind the big shift in Brussels, Pascal Smett, was at the Summit to tell us all about it and did it with brio, passion and a certain amount of winning mischievousness. If you get a chance to meet him or hear him speak – then take it. Or watch a re-run of his Walking Summit presentation here

7 Pascal also saved his best slide till last. If any reader is involved in promoting an urban realm improvement / active travel scheme then you must COPY THIS approach to using the web to explain it. It uses a slider function that the user can pull across the screen in order to superimpose a representation of what the future scheme will look like on top of what it looks like today. If you can’t sell a scheme this way to the public and decision makers – you probably don’t have a very good scheme. Will add a link when I have it.

8The range of materials from TfL on healthy streets(and the systematic and sensible way they are presented) is growing into a toolkit that authorities anywhere could use  – including ways in which schemes can be assessed and their benefits captured. There’s also a ‘Small Change Big Impact’  practical guide to delivering temporary, light touch and low-cost projects to change the way a street looks and feels. At Urban Transport Group we want to play our part on spreading the word on the benefits of the Healthy Streets approach – more news on this soon...Meanwhile could it be that the City of London becomes Britain’s most radical transport authority – as it continues its push to plan traffic out of the square mile in favour of people and place? A bonus of the day for me from the day was having some useful conversations with City of London officers to pave the way for a visit to find out more before too long.

9. If your Latin is not so good – Solvitur Ambulando means ‘It is solved by walking’

Right, I’m off for a walk.

Jonathan Bray

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s