Urban pedestrians buck a national trend
LONDON is a city made for walking.Unlike, for instance, Los Angeles its centre is easily accessible on foot.Outer boroughs are no more than an hour or two away.Its curved streets, in contrast to the rigid grid of New York, welcome idle wanderers and busy commuters alike.But despite traffic queues and teeming underground carriages most prefer to drive or to squeeze on to the Tube to get around the city.This is starting to change.
Between 2001 and 2011 the number of trips made daily on foot in London increased by 12%.Nearly a third of the Londoners sampled made a continuous walk of 30 minutes once a week between 2010 and 2011 to get from place to place, rather than for exercise.Each day 6.2m walks are made across the city.
And both rich and poor walk a similar amount.In areas such as Kensington and Chelsea 11% walk for at least 30 minutes five times a week or more.In Tower Hamlets 12% of residents do.One of the largest changes in the city over the past decade is the number of pedestrians, says Michèle Dix of Transport for London (TfL), which runs the city's transport networks.On July 10th TfL launched the Roads Task Force, with plans to spruce up pavements.
Several reasons account for the walking boom.The number of Londoners increased by 12% from 7.3m in 2001 to 8.2m in 2011, and Tube trains are broiling and overcrowded.But other factors also encourage pedestrians.In 2004 Ken Livingstone, then mayor of London, vowed to make London a “walkable city”.Some of his plans were carried on by Boris Johnson, the current mayor.These include a scheme to create clearly-marked maps for use across the city.Of 33 boroughs in London 22 now have the distinctive yellow-branded signs on their streets.All TfL-owned property (such as Tube stations and bicycle-hire points) is covered by the scheme.This deters tourists from popping on the Tube to travel one stop from Covent Garden to Leicester Square, a distance of 0.3m (0.5km) says Tony Armstrong of Living Streets, a charity for pedestrians.
Streets are also becoming more pedestrian-friendly.Exhibition Road in South Kensington was redeveloped in 2011.Pavement curbs were removed and tarmac replaced by granite bricks.Fewer cars now go down the road, which stretches from Hyde Park to the museums and restaurants around the station, encouraging swarms of pedestrians.In June plans to develop a walkway by the Thames in Vauxhall were announced, turning a neglected part of London into something resembling the High Line in New York (which transformed a disused railway track into a lively public garden).
Londoners may also be more aware of the advantages of walking.Health campaigns like the NHS's “Live Well” emphasise that walking is the easiest form of exercise.Rubber wristband pedometers, such as “FitBit” and “FuelBand”, are also increasingly popular.
But the capital is bucking the national trend.Although in 2011 walking was up across the country, it has seen an overall decline of 27% in Britain since 1995.This is partly caused by fewer children walking to school.And while rural rambles are still popular, fewer people are walking to their weekly grocery shop.Many more are shopping online.Local authorities want to change this.Pedestrians spend an average of ￡373 ($571) a month, compared with ￡226 for drivers, according to data from TfL.Ailing high streets and town centres need to win back walkers.Learning from London's incentives would be a start.