Safe streets for walking

Living Streets' Tanya Braun talks about the importance of having a safe place to walk, and what that looks like.

When you describe a city or town you’ve enjoyed visiting, I am willing to bet it includes one or more of the following; a nice pedestrian plaza, quiet streets away from busy roads and a relaxed atmosphere which feels safe to walk in. This is because safe streets are generally attractive streets and, if we have both, we are much more likely to walk local, everyday journeys.

Walking is an easy and accessible way to maintain good physical activity levels. It’s good for us! We’re more likely to be leading a healthy lifestyle if we walk for at least 20 minutes a day and walking also helps us with our mental health; promoting mindfulness.

Streets designed for walking, therefore, are the best way of encouraging us to walk more, and likely to encourage us all to be that bit more healthy. This means streets with slow speed limits (ideally 20mph in built up, urban areas), with adequate space for people on foot (wide, clear pavements), with good lighting, with seating for those who are less mobile and with lots of good crossing points for pedestrians.

We want streets to be built to prioritise those on foot because, when they are, they are better for everyone. Healthy, safe streets are vitally important, particularly for those aged nine or 90. I’ve spoken to many parents of children at primary school. One of the key reasons some of them don’t walk to school is because they feel the streets outside their child’s school isn’t safe for doing so. A third think the school gates are an overcrowded place and over a third think other adults don’t park safely outside the school. This isn’t acceptable. If we all start walking at a young age, we’ll be more likely to keep up healthy habits throughout our lifetime, which will increase physical activity and reduce obesity and mental health conditions. One incident on an unsafe street for an older adult can be enough to put them leaving the house at all. This is contributing to our loneliness crisis.

We all have the right to walk in a safe environment and that is why we need to build streets which are safe for all.