Yesterday the Mayor launched his Walking Action Plan, an ambitious strategy which aims to get Londoners on their feet more often, and to make the capital "the world’s most walkable city". At 112 pages it's a meaty document, often heavier on aspiration than detail, but not something I can imagine his predecessor would have delivered. It's difficult to make walking easier, because everything always remains the same distance away, but it is possible to make getting there more direct, less cluttered or simply more appealing. The latter is the cheapest option, and so appears most heavily.
The report's chief observation is that numerous journeys which could be walked currently aren't, and changing those is the key priority. 84% of all journeys under 1km are made on foot, we're told, but that slumps to 42% for journeys between 1km and 2km. Once it takes more than fifteen minutes to get somewhere, people switch to bus, bike, train or even car, and it's these short-ish journeys it'd be easiest to adjust. We're also told that Inner Londoners are already good at walking, with 41% of journeys made on foot, but in less dense Outer London that percentage drops to 29%, so it's in the suburbs where there's greatest potential for change.
The Plan therefore has two specific targets: 1) Increase the number of walking trips by more than one million per day by 2024 (from 6.4m to 7.5m). That's not quite as tough as it sounds, because the population of London is due to increase by almost a million people over the same period. But could making pavements friendlier and taming traffic persuade reluctant waverers onto the streets? 2) Increase the proportion of trips to primary schools made by walking to 57% by 2024 (from 53%). School-based initiatives must be one of the easiest ways the Mayor can have a positive impact, but even in the face of apathetic parents 4% does sound a somewhat unimpressive increase.
Amongst the definitive projects listed is a headline-grabbing plan to create new 'green by default' pedestrian crossings, which only turn red if a vehicle turns up. They'd be welcome, but only 10 are planned, three of which would be on the interface between the Olympic Park and Westfield where everyone generally just walks across the street on red anyway, so don't expect much of a sea change. Making Countdown crossings the future default, though, that's got to help, and cutting waiting times would be a welcome knockback after Boris's priority of "smoothing the traffic flow".
The Walking Plan's not an exciting read. Much of it's about how to place provision for walking at the centre of future planning, integrating with new developments and public transport, including the establishment of a London Walking Forum to help get the job done. Nor did I get to the end and think wow, this'll change my life, but then I'm not target audience because I walk already. This is really a nudge to those currently too anxious or reticent to walk, reclaiming the streets from traffic to boost health and the environment, because that way we all win.