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11/09/2014

If you're not creating walkable places, you're not really trying

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We're great at promising places that foster walking and cycling, says Bruce McVean of Beyond Green - but too often we fail to deliver

Bruce McVeanI doubt there is a core strategy or design and access statement in the land that doesn’t claim to foster walking and cycling. But often fine words are lost in a reality of ‘local distributors’ and estate roads that, while technically walkable, fail to create a place where travelling by foot (or bike) is a natural and pleasurable way to get around.
 
For a host of social, economic and environmental reasons we urgently need to shift people out of cars and onto their feet and bikes. So what are some of 
the essential ingredients of walkable/cyclable places?
 
Walkable neighbourhoods are the building blocks of good urbanism. If the nearest shop is a couple of miles away surrounded by a sea of car parking you’ve fallen at the first hurdle. 
 
The quality of streets in many new residential developments is woeful. The cheapest materials unimaginatively applied and the meanest pavements. They’re most definitely not places where you can imagine kids playing while neighbours gossip. 
 
A permeable street network allows pedestrians and cyclists to choose the most direct route or vary their route when they fancy a change of scene. Filtered permeability closes streets to through movements by vehicles without resorting to cul-de-sacs and restricting the movement of those on foot and bike.
 
A sensible approach to parking: streets should be fronted by windows and doors, not garages and drives. As a rule cars should be parked on-street or at the rear in secure courts or at the back of the plot. Cycle parking should be by the front door, not in a shed round the back.

"Making new developments 20mph throughout is a no-brainer"

20 mph speed limits reduce the risks of collisions and the severity of injury if a collision does occur. Making new developments 20 mph throughout is a no-brainer, but the speed limit is just the start; residential streets should have design speeds of 10-15 mph (a good street designer knows how to achieve this). 
 
Cyclists should be using streets not a separate network of paths. If those streets carry significant amounts of traffic they may need proper cycle lanes – no shared path nonsense. But most streets should have traffic speeds and volumes low enough for cyclists of all abilities to feel comfortable using them without the need for dedicated infrastructure.
 
This may all seem obvious and such an approach to development should be the norm but, sadly, it isn’t. Some people drive, but everybody walks, and failure to create walkable places and provide genuine transport choice, especially in new residential areas, is a symptom of the broader gap between planning rhetoric and development reality that characterises much of the way our contemporary built environment is shaped.
 
Bruce McVean is an associate director of Beyond Green and founder of Movement for Liveable London
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1.3 million killed annually worldwide in motor incidents but, even worse, over 9 million killed annually worldwide by air pollution, mainly from motor vehicles. When are we to wake up to a bigger threat than world terrorism?

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