Tony Armstrong (Photo: Charlotte Gilhooly)

Tony Armstrong (Photo: Charlotte Gilhooly)

Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive Living Streets – new strategy and plans for years ahead

Tony began by saying that Living Streets existed to make walking safe and attractive, and then went on to give some reminders of what could detract from these ideals, including: subways; complicated and bewildering junctions (poor desire lines, often prioritised against people on foot); railings (as many are not there for safety but were installed before parking restrictions); pavement parking; lack of capacity (narrow pavement width with capacity traditionally provided for the motorist); the breakdown of communities (as highlighted by Professor Donald Appleyard in Liveable Streets, San Francisco (1981), and in a study by Joshua Hart, Bristol (2008)); and the obsession with street signs that can give too much information to the motorist.

Tony was generally supportive of the current policy climate including Manual for Streets, and sustainable transport initiatives.

Tony then highlighted some projects that have worked.

  • In Walworth Road the pavements had been widened and de-cluttered. Not only did this make the road a more attractive place, but it had also resulted in better traffic flow and quicker, more reliable, bus journey times even though bus lanes had been taken out. So everyone was a winner!
  • At Dagenham Heathway the central railing down the centre of the High Street, which had severely restricting permeability and made the street a shopping area of two halves, had been removed. The result: Heathway was now a destination place.

Tony gave an overview of Living Streets five-year strategy that would make walking the natural choice, put people first, and result in quality spaces for all. The strategy would be challenging, but positive (giving solutions and sharing best practice) and enabling (work with communities).

Firstly, the strategy should create the right policy environment by influencing national government on what happens to public spaces. Campaign packs would be put together to assist local groups, again highlighting best practice. Further research will be carried out, noting that it has been shown that ideas can work that at first would appear to be counter-intuitive (e.g. it has been shown that “naked streets” can produce safer roads). The organisation will communicate and listen to feedback and to develop a clear framework, noting that feedback had led to recent re-branding. There will be a new commitment to support local groups through the provision of campaign packs and contacts. Joshua Hart is a dedicated manager, and Alastair Hanton is chair of the new Policy and Campaigns group.

The second area was to demonstrate key impacts: Walk to School had been successful despite not much funding from the DfT, and Living Streets wants to expand this to secondary schools. Walking to Work would target 17-30 year olds and women, and it has been demonstrated (through working in 12 local authority areas in four years) that people were fitter for walking. The success of London projects, school projects and through community engagement would be highlighted.

The third area was enabling choice. One example was given whereby a bridge had been provided over a narrow canal in a residential area to link a key desire line and where previously people had only been able to cross through improvising with whatever was at hand! Another was working with local authorities to get the pavements widened (e.g. Long Acre in central London had also taken the pressure off the tube system). Training programmes would continue including course demonstrating that walking works for business.

Tony concluded by saying there were exciting times ahead. Living Streets time had come. There is clear strategy and more solutions. The organisation is well placed having doubled the number of staff in the last two years and achieved security of funding. They were committed to provide local groups with direct advice, with the key message from Tony being that we are all in it together. Tony mentioned that in future he would like to see conferences such as this every year.

Questions for Tony then followed:

  1. A delegate from Chesterfield asked whether the presentation Tony had just given would be made available, as he would like to use it locally. Tony said yes certainly. Also campaign packs and leaflets were being produced. A whole new web site would be available in a few weeks with easy access to the campaign packs.
  2. A representative from Hackney Living Streets said that many people, especially those less able-bodied, were concerned about cyclists on pavements and that this was a problem that was increasing. He added that many people were unhappy with the naked streets idea for this reason and that although cyclists tend to be quite vocal, someone needs to speak up for people with disabilities. What are Living Streets going to do about it? Tony replied that cycling on pavements is a conflict that needs to be tackled. He believed that the general principles of shared space are good but there is an issue with segregated paths, and mentioned that Living Streets had been opposed to segregation of pedestrians and cyclists along a path in Regents Park. If more space is required for cycling it should be at the expense of (vehicular) traffic and not pedestrians. Living Streets speaks for pedestrians, but if we can help cyclists at the same time that’s a good thing.
  3. A representative from Lewis Living Streets asked whether Living Streets talked with the Ramblers Association. They asked because rural walkers often had difficulties such as crossing dual carriageways. Tony said that LS have contacts in rural villages, and mentioned that Tom Franklin, who had been CE at Living Streets, was now CE at the Ramblers and they kept in touch.
  4. A delegate from Loughborough said she was interested in what Tony been said in relation to bus improvements following the de-cluttering of Walworth Road in London because in Loughborough there were proposals to pedestrianise the town centre and send buses around a ring road. This would increase the distance to the town centre and the time it took to reach the town centre. The findings from Walworth Road would be useful to help with the campaign in Loughborough.

It is also worth noting that the presentations given by Mike Loveday and Tony Armstrong are to be made available on the Living Streets site in due course.