5A) Walking & Cycling

We in the UK walk a similar amount to other European countries with just over 1 in 5 trips being on foot. However only 2% of trips in the UK are by bike compared with 18% in Denmark and 26% in the Netherlands. Transport data for the UK shows that 80% of trips of less than a mile are on foot, but this drops rapidly for trips of between 1 and 2 miles, with 60% being in a private motor vehicle rising to over 80% for longer trips.

People are therefore using their car for many local trips that could be done on foot or bike, such as going to the shops or the school run, and these trips accounts for most local traffic problems. We should therefore be designing neighbourhoods to encourage more people to walk and cycle for local trips. Much can be achieved by tipping the balance, making the car slightly less convenient and walking and cycling slightly easier.

Low traffic neighbourhoods

This has been achieved in parts of London through Low Traffic Networks or ‘Mini- Hollands’ as they are sometimes called. They have been implemented in parts of London like Hounslow by closing streets to traffic while keeping them open to pedestrians and cyclists. This means that, if you want to drive you generally have just one way in and out of your neighbourhood, often involving quite a diversion. The hope is that you will decide it is easier to walk or cycle. In parts of London this has increased cycling by 18% and walking by 13% in a year while reducing car use for local journeys.

Care however needs to be taken to ensure that the problems of congestion are not displaced to other areas. The principle of cul-de-sac layouts is that people don’t mind a little extra distance once they are in the car, what they don’t like is sitting in congestion. Some low traffic neighbourhoods may have been effective because the congestion in the surrounding area has made it more difficult to drive. In areas where ‘rat running’ is less of a problem similar benefits may be possible by reducing traffic speeds by introducing 20mph zones, reducing road widths, widening pavements etc.

Cycling

The key to encouraging more cycling is quite simply bike lanes. In Denmark and Holland road space has been reallocated from cars to bicycles, and cyclists are
able to complete their entire journey on dedicated cycle lanes that are physically separated from traffic. As a result of Covid many councils have temporarily reallocated road space to cycling and where possible these changes need to be made permanent. This is particularly important at junctions where UK cycle lanes tend to disappear leaving no place for cyclists.

Walking

Encouraging walking involves a slightly different approach. There is much that can be done by widening pavements and redesigning junctions, removing the railings that force pedestrians to make long diversions. Surface crossings should also replace underpasses and bridges wherever possible with pedestrian phases introduced into traffic light junctions.

However research by Jan Gehl shows that the character of the urban environment is also important. Distances seem shorter if the walk is interesting with something new to look at every 10m, think of the difference between walking along a street of busy shops and walking through the car park of a supermarket. Safety is also important. Well lit and overlooked footpaths are more likely to be used after dark; by contrast off-street footpaths can feel dangerous.

What You Can Do

Communities

Start a discussion locally about traffic and the measures that people are prepared to accept. Low-traffic neighbourhoods will be right for some places but not everywhere. A good start might be a partnership with the local primary school to persuade parents not to drive their kids to school, possibly leading to the introduction of a school street.

Developers and Designers

Create street networks that connect to the surrounding area, but consider carefully where traffic will be allowed. Incorporate cycle lanes and ensure that there are at least two cycle storage spaces for every new home, public bike racks and secure cycle storage for workspaces.

Councils

Work in partnership with local communities to consider whether low traffic neighbourhoods or other measures are appropriate locally. Invest in cycle lanes on all primary streets and other off-street routes, including junctions. Ensure that planning policy requires cycle storage in all new developments.

Case study

3B) Barton Park, Oxford

A large suburban neighbourhood is being built to the north-east of Oxford. The 36-hectare site will accommodate 885 new homes, of which 354 will be socially rented. The development will include facilities to serve the new and existing communities, such as a primary school, community facilities and a food store.

Barton Park is conceived as a garden suburb – a community set within parkland, to form a distinctive urban edge to Oxford. A semi-natural landscaping strategy comprises allotments, sustainable travel greenways, retention and expansion of existing hedgerows and trees, linear parks, a scattering of small neighbourhood pocket parks and a communal nature garden. The development opens up routes into the surrounding countryside and strengthens pedestrian, public transport and cycle routes into Oxford, crossing the A40 bypass.

A healthy lifestyle is facilitated through the creation of improved sports facilities, including football pitches, an all-weather pitch and a pavilion, plus opportunity to enjoy walking, cycling and wildlife watching.

A planting strategy of native species will benefit local birdS, insects and mammals. Linear parks cut easy cycle and walking routes through the site, accommodating native, naturalistic planting such as grassland and meadow flowers. The public realm is inspired by the local landscape and includes the use of edible fruits and herbs.

Ponds and swales line the boundary of the site, accommodating wildlife and storing rainwater to tackle flooding. Timber bridges, boardwalks, seating and play facilities are dotted along the length of the water feature and throughout the site.

The high-quality natural play equipment, grassed mounds and range of environments create stimulating and safe places for children to explore and enjoy.

Photography: Conor Lawless CC image from Flickr, © URBED