‘We need to make walking sexy’ declared Will Norman, London’s enthusiastic first commissioner for Walking and Cycling, at the Living Streets Walking Summit. Walking doesn’t have to be pedestrian and can be the most exciting way to explore a city. This buzzy event brought together a whole spectrum of walking enthusiasts and campaigners to discuss how we can create walking cities. Living Streets is the charity for ordinary walkers or as described by Terence Bendixson, the charity president, ‘walkers without mud on our shoes’. The range of inspiring speakers left me feeling that the encouragement of walking as a way of life can genuinely impact positively on the major problems affecting us today. Problems such as air pollution, social isolation, obesity and the inactivity crisis. Will Norman claimed that walking has ‘over 100 health benefits’ affecting physical and mental wellbeing.
Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City’s Transportation Commissioner from 2007-2013, an engaging speaker shared the battles and triumphs of her team’s work to create a walking city. ‘It is possible
to reclaim and reimagine our streets’ Janette told us through example after example of streets changed to prioritise the person rather than the car. Street art, plazas created, cycle lanes, rapid bus lanes, traffic changes, communities put in charge of their own spaces. ‘People are hungry for public space’ and excitingly ‘once you adapt a space, people adopt it’. There is something so uplifting about seeing a community come together and move comfortably around their neighbourhoods through walking. Alongside, there is and will be continuous resistance to these changes primarily from drivers and businesses. However, the benefits are enormous. On top of the wonders of walking as a healthy way of life, the street changes in New York also brought about reduced traffic accidents and increased retail revenue. Walking can be better for everyone. It can be true that ‘when you change the street, you change the world’.
Valerie Shawcross, Deputy Mayor of London for Transport, shared the picture for London and the work being done despite budget cuts to create a walking city. The London inactivity crisis is particularly shocking with a low percentage of people being active every day. There is a target for all Londoners to walk or cycle for twenty minutes a day. Ben Still, Managing Director of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, explored work being done in his area. More trams may well be an answer. There is also a big focus on getting children to walk to school and gain the habit of active transport.
The walking future is active, connected, colourful, healthy and social. Admittedly every photo at the summit showed city dwellers smiling on the way to school, sitting on benches, walking, cycling,
even doing pilates in the traffic free street in a dry, sunshine full, probably warm environment. As a seasoned walker I’m often freezing cold, soaking wet, holding down my hat so it’s not blown off and lugging a heavy bag. We need to be sturdier and creative to put up with the actual weather that door to door car drivers can ignore. Further work needs to be done to offer the safety, shelter, routes, guidance, incentives and traffic management to make walking easy for everyone. Joining Living Streets and reading their Creating Walking Cities: A Blueprint for Change would be a good first step.