According to Transport for London (TfL), prior to lockdown there were 4.6 million car trips on an average day in London and 1.4 million car passenger trips. Many of them were for short journeys. And when TfL say short, they really mean short!
- 14% were under 1km (0.6 miles)
- 21% were 1 – 2km (0.6-1.2 miles)
- 15% were 2-3km (1.2-1.7 miles)
- 10% were 3-4km (1.7-2.5 miles)
- 7% were 4-5km (2.5-3.1 miles)
- 33% were over 5km (3.1 miles)
Half the car trips, or 2.3 million, in London, go less than 2 miles!!!
I’ll leave that there for it to sink in.
When the London National Park City conducted its audit of space in London it discovered 48% could be defined as green or blue. A number that not only surprised a lot of people (including me) but is one that London should be proud of. It’s high compared to other world cities and a very decent platform to work from to increase that percentage. For me the most effective way of visualising this is the excellent Urban Good London National Park City map.
As you would expect a closer examination of the figures revealed even more surprises. One of them was that there are a lot of golf courses in London. They are undoubtedly green open land used by the public but it is reasonable to ask the utilitarian question, if they provide the best use of this land for as many people as possible? A question that more people have been asking during lockdown.
So, leaving aside where you stand on the question of green and blue space usage let’s start with a good news story.
Alerted by a Ramblers Surrey Area Facebook post, me and Clare headed to Coombe to check out the arrangements made by Coombe Wood Golf Club during lockdown. I think the golf club should be applauded for their stance. In many ways it would have been easier for them to maintain a private property, no trespassers stance, which they are entitled to do. Or they could have allowed partial access, which physically because of the layout of the course they would have been able to do. Or they could have turned a blind eye to the odd dog walker or member strolling around at different times and challenged others as they chose. Instead they elected to open up the whole course to local walkers and advertise the fact, albeit locally, with plenty of unambiguous signs round the edge of the course. And the day we visited it was very well used, with all the folk we saw able to maintain social distance with no problem, strolling about and treating the course with respect. We also got to see Gallows Tamkin, that used to be part of the Hampton Court water supply.
I’m vaguely aware of other golf courses doing the same but would be very glad for some firm information about this sort of lockdown access. This isn’t shared use in the traditional sense but perhaps we might consider it shared use in a lockdown sense. So if you personally know of any similar arrangements ‘comment me’ at the bottom of this post or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on my twitter or Instagram accounts. I’m intending to contact Coombe Wood Golf Club to thank them and ask how the experiment went in their view.
Following the Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, appearance at the coronavirus briefing Saturday 9 May to announce the Government’s Walking & Cycling strategy, Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s commissioner for walking and cycling, tweeted: “We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities… …in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling”.
Is this the moment when active travel – walking and cycling – returns in considerable numbers? In London, the mayor‘s existing transport strategy is to get 80% of all journeys to be made by public transport, walking or cycling by 2041. There were four million Tube journeys a day before the lockdown, now it has dropped to 200,000. There were even more bus journeys at 5.5 million, falling now to about a million journeys a day. What a public transport service running at 15% of capacity does to those projections is anybody’s guess.
I believe the best set of circumstances to create a meaningful environment for urban walking includes either drastically reduced motorised traffic or zero motorised traffic. Whichever set of figures you choose, or if you use your own personal experience, you can see there is plenty of scope to achieve this if there is the political will to do so. If you don’t believe me investigate the London Borough of Waltham Forest’s approach to better streets.
Having nailed my colours to that particular mast let me now say I hold no brief for cycling, it seems to me they do a pretty good job without any help from me. I also hold no grudge about cycling, or cyclists, but I see my position to advocate for walking. So, although nearly all walking and cycling proposals seek to arrive at a position of reducing motorised traffic, or minimising the impact of motorised traffic, not all walking and cycling proposals necessarily result in a better environment for walking.
Any quick scan of daily stories/statements about how the world plans to emerge from this pandemic has news of urban ‘walking and cycling’ schemes to take up some of the slack. You don’t have to get far into these reports to realise these ‘walking and cycling’ schemes are mostly just cycling schemes. From a headline that says ‘Walking and cycling…’, the substance of the various stories talks of cycle lanes, bike sale increases, more people cycling (very few women taking up cycling as a solution as far as I can see) and ‘walking’ soon just becomes an occasional ‘…and walking’ inserted into sentences.
Last week, Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “With London’s public transport capacity potentially running at a fifth of pre-crisis levels, up to eight million journeys a day will need to be made by other means. If people switch only a fraction of these journeys to cars, London will grind to a halt,” Who could disagree with that? The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and TfL have unveiled their London Streetspace programme which will rapidly transform London’s streets to accommodate a possible tenfold increase in cycling and a fivefold increase in walking when lockdown restrictions are eased. This prompt response should be applauded but I’m intrigued where TfL are getting their fivefold increase in walking figure from, because in my experience they have no idea of the total numbers walking pre-pandemic only estimates and best guesses. Let alone why, and where to and from. As I say, they have some estimates but the emphasis is heavily on the estimate here.
Walking has plenty to offer in this discussion but not as just an add on to cycling. Walking as active travel is not the solution to commutes of over 10 miles but then, for different reasons, neither is the car or cycling, that is why we have public transport. Walking, invariably offers the best and cheapest options, when we want to look at reducing the 67% of car journeys in London, which are currently under 5km (3.1 miles).
So, with John Shaar‘s quote in the forefront of my mind – “The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” – I think it’s high time for a Manifesto for Walking in London.
Here’s some initial, not in any order, thoughts from me:
- Walkers count – let’s start actually counting them
- The Government, the mayor, the boroughs to ask, and keep asking, everyone to not drive journeys that can be walked in 30 minutes or less
- Temporary widening of pavements at scale and for long distances to support more walkers making more journeys
- Enforcement against cars parking over pavements
- Longer crossing times at all forms of automatic crossings
- More zebra crossings
- Better signage on London’s iconic walking routes
- Development of signed green walking routes to parks & green spaces
There’ll be more ideas, lots more ideas – if you think the idea of a manifesto is a good one, drop me an email with the things you’d like to be included.
As one incoherent contradictory Government coronavirus statement follows another – go to work, don’t go to work, don’t use public transport, go to work, don’t go to work, wear facemasks, facemasks don’t work, wear facemasks on public transport, don’t use public transport, go to work, it’s fine to sunbathe 2 metres from a perfect stranger, don’t picnic with more than 1 friend 2 metres away from you, go to work, don’t go to work… and so on, continues to be the order of the day we can expect little clarity, or thought, on active travel. Let’s face it a Government whose care home strategy led to hundreds of unnecessary deaths is hardly going to be able manage to get people out walking safely. Whilst not ignoring regulations and guidelines perhaps it might help if we all adopt one overriding principle when we’re outside sharing the various means of getting around – be more kind.
The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:
Frank Turner – Be More Kind
The Ting Tings – We Walk
U2 – Summer of Love
Fischerspooner (featuring Caroline Polachek) – Togetherness
Pete Astor – Walker
Saint Etienne – London Belongs To Me
Roxy Music – Manifesto