Tuesday, 20 November 2018

New research shows getting more people walking and cycling could help save our high streets

"The benefits of designing streets around pedestrians and cyclists and reducing car use can be enjoyed by everyone and will help ensure the future of our high streets"
TfL has today published research that shows improvements to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle in London's town centres and high streets lead to an increase in retail rental values, more retail space being filled and a 93% increase in people walking in the streets.
The research has also found that people walking, cycling and using public transport spend the most in their local shops, spending 40% more each month than car drivers.
In one major study published today, locations including Bromley North Village, Hornchurch Town Centre, Clapham, Woolwich Town Centre and Walworth Road were studied to assess the impact of improvements, such as widened footpaths, increased space for outdoor seating, new public squares and pedestrian crossings.
The study, commissioned by TfL and conducted by Matthew Carmona from University College London's Bartlett School of Planning, found that compared to unimproved areas:
  • Footfall increased - the number of people standing, waiting and sitting nearly doubled and people walking in the streets increased by 93%
  • People spent more time in the street, with a 216% increase in activity such as going into a shop, stopping at a cafĂ© or sitting on a bench
  • Retail rental values increased by 7.5%, suggesting that local businesses are thriving in the area
  • More retail space was filled by businesses, as there was a 17% decline in retail vacancy
  • Office rental values increased by 4%, showing that improving streets is good for many types of business

Economic benefits

The research has been published as part of a new online hub demonstrating the economic benefits of TfL's Healthy Streets Approach, which aims to create high streets that are designed for people, inclusive and easy to access by foot or bike.
Will Norman, London's Walking and Cycling Commissioner, said: 'With businesses across London really struggling to survive, we have to do everything we can to support them.
'The evidence is clear - adapting our streets to enable more people to walk and cycle makes them cleaner, healthier and more welcoming, which encourages more people to shop locally.
'The benefits of designing streets around pedestrians and cyclists and reducing car use can be enjoyed by everyone and will help ensure the future of our high streets.'
Launched today, new online hub, The Economic Benefits of Walking and Cycling, will be kept up to date with research and statistics from TfL and others.
Current material on the hub includes a report setting out the economic benefits of planning cycling and walking improvements alongside housing growth, a survey of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) demonstrating the economic importance of walking and cycling to businesses across London, and research suggesting segregated cycle routes in London make our streets more efficient.

Improve quality of life

The Mayor's Transport Strategy aims to reduce reliance on car use and grow sustainable travel to improve quality of life, aiming for 80% of journeys to be made by walking, cycling or public transport.
TfL's investment in delivering Healthy Streets contributes to this by creating streets where people choose to travel actively, connecting communities, improving air quality and reducing road danger and noise.
Lilli Matson, Director of Transport Strategy at TfL, said: 'This research from our new online hub shows the link between creating enjoyable spaces, where people want to spend time, and the results for better business.
'We are taking the Healthy Streets Approach to change the whole capital so that everyone can live active lives in a healthy environment, with opportunities to walk, cycle, shop, play and enjoy their streets.'
Kay Buxton, Chief Executive of Marble Arch London BID, said: 'We welcome the Economic Benefits of Walking and Cycling hub, and the wealth of information supporting the case for walking, cycling and using public transport.
'As a BID we are committed to bringing forward schemes with TfL across the entire Marble Arch and Edgware Road area, from improving junctions and crossings through to creating safer routes to schools, businesses and leisure amenities.
'Our members tell us that their staff, customers, guests, students and pupils need safer spaces in which to operate.
'It not only helps the trading environment locally but it boosts health and wellbeing and fosters a greater sense of community. Amazing things happen when businesses and community come together to champion a safer pedestrian environment.'

Boosts health and wellbeing

Ruth Duston OBE, OC, CEO of Victoria and Northbank BIDs, said: 'We recognise that enhancing the quality of the local environment in our areas is not just about creating token green spaces. Far from it, well designed and located 'green' interventions make good business sense too.
'From our Business Low Emission Neighbourhood in the Northbank with healthier walking routes and the Love Your Side Streets programme in Victoria, to creating more attractive areas for people to dwell, such as Victoria's Chelsea Flower Show Parklets, everyone benefits.
'Local employees benefit from commuting and working in a more pleasant environment and businesses have a more satisfied workforce and, as this new research supports, better commercial outcomes.'
Projects such as the Mini Holland scheme in Waltham Forest and the A105 Green Lanes scheme, linking Enfield Town to Palmers Green, are working to make London a greener, healthier and more attractive place to live, work, play and do business.
The recent Active Lives Survey shows that Waltham Forest now has the highest percentage of adults walking at least five days per week of all the London boroughs, at 43%.
This has increased by 5% since 2015/16. Residents in the areas transformed through the Mini Holland scheme are doing an extra 40 minutes' walking and cycling each week, compared to before the area was transformed.

Notes to editors

Safe Routes to School

First published in Governing Matters, the magazine of the National Governance Association, November 2018. Author: Foster, A.

A family cycling to school at Bessemer Grange Primary in Southwark

As a member of a local Safe Routes to School forum, I know that some school leaders are battling with dangerous driving, illegal parking and hostile, aggressive behaviour around the school gates at peak times. Whilst leaders are focused on guaranteeing educational attainment in the face of swingeing budget cuts, the school run issue has started to absorb valuable resources as school’s attempt to keep pupils and their families safe.

Making the school run and our school streets safer and healthier is an urgent issue. The answer seems so simple; leaving the car at home and instead walking or cycling to school. If everyone did this, there would be some 25% reduction in the volume of traffic on the roads at peak times. So how?

Active travel (walking, cycling or otherwise travelling ‘actively’) has been called ‘a wonder drug’ by public health doctors, due to the huge benefits it can be bring to both physical and mental health. Schools are invited to join active travel schemes, such as Modeshift, in order to encourage families to switch from driving to active travel choices, in turn making the roads safer and cleaner as traffic volumes decrease.

But what is perhaps lesser known within school communities is the benefits active travel can have on educational attainment.  Dr Darshana Bhattacharjee’s 2015 research highlights the benefits of active travel to school, concluding; ‘There is convincing evidence that physical activity and fitness levels in school children is associated with better academic scores and improved classroom behaviour.’ Equally, a Danish study of  nearly 20,000 students found those who walked or cycled “have an increased power of concentration, and the effect of this ‘exercise’ lasts all morning.”’

So why is it so few families do indeed walk or cycle to school?

The answer it seems, is our roads. Land transport accidents are the biggest cause of death for young people aged 5 to 19 and parents are rightly concerned about whether the healthy travel choice is actually the safe travel choice.

As a governor, parents’ and carers’ travel choices may seem a difficult thing to influence but this is decidedly not the case and in fact, an active travel plan ought to be a key facet of any school improvement plan.

Reaching out and forging connections with the local community and elected representatives is hugely important and can achieve great things. Inviting councillors or cabinet members to attend school play streets can open up discussions about what kind of community the school wishes to be part of.  Working in partnership with other local schools can also strengthen relationships with local authorities, so that road engineering treatments can be directed around schools, creating safer walking and cycling routes to enable active travel, as recommended by the recent NICE paper on physical activity and the environment. Furthermore, making sure your school has a school travel plan and is using SMART targets to meet the goals within it is vital.

This may seem a challenge, give that the agenda of an average governors' meeting is often jam-packed with little room for non-data related topics. However, there are ways of making safer, active travel a whole school priority. Dan Kelly, a parent governor at Stoneydown Park Primary School in Waltham Forest describes how he 'made himself useful' before talking to the headteacher about his plans for a road closure scheme on their school street .

"Because I was the link governor for SEND, I spent a lot of time in school and had really established a positive working relationship with the SLT before asking for time at one of our governors meetings to present on active travel.  Luckily, our head is really supportive of this kind of whole school, healthy lifestyles approach and we were able to go to our local authority as a united community when asking for the quite radical changes we wished to see.

It took some time, but we're really proud of the fact that our council supported our proposals, putting in the road closure we asked for. We've seen the number of cars passing the school drop by 1000 journeys per day and an equivalent rise in cycling traffic, which is phenomenal."

Such proposals may seem radical today given how many children in the UK are driven to school each day. Yet as studies demonstrate the disproportionate effect poor air quality from motor traffic can have on children’s health (and indeed future health), it may be time to acknowledge that being radical is now the only way forward.

What you can do to help:

1. Ask about your schooltravel plan and how active travel rates are monitored.  Schools in London can become accredited using the Transport for London STARS scheme (https://stars.tfl.gov.uk/) and Modeshift STARS is the national scheme (https://modeshiftstars.org/). Accredited schools are often able to use their work for these schemes as evidence when applying for grants and active travel funding.

2. Read the National Education Union and British Lung Foundation ‘air pollution health advice for schools’ (available online at https://neu.org.uk/latest/national-education-union-and-british-lung-foundation-launch-air-pollution-health-advice).  
The Cleaner Air 4 Primary Schools toolkit was designed for schools in London, but is filled with activities for launching an air quality awareness campaign in school (https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ca4s_toolkit.pdf).

3. Contact your local politicians.  Invite councillors or cabinet members to visit the school at peak time if you wish to highlight an issue; alternatively or to celebrate your achievements. Many councils are creating informal clean air zones and good practice clusters, aiming to get schools working together, trialling new measures. 

4. Organise a play street. A temporary road closure, even as a one off, might do much to start the conversation about what road safety means to your school community. Theme it around clean air or  road safety and invite a charity such as ‘Idling Action’ or your local road safety officers, to highlight the impact driving to school has on children’s health and wellbeing.

5. Find out what parents think. It may be that many parents are interested in active travel but feel too intimidated by the road and traffic conditions in the local area. A parent champion can work wonders; organising play streets, running cycle skills sessions and building support from other parents are all vital if bigger changes are to happen.