Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Long Walk Home

It's Living Streets' National Walking Month and to celebrate, I took a walk home from work.

As most following this blog will know, my usual commute is by cycle and at around 3.5 miles, it's a perfect distance - far enough to be able to zone out from the stresses of the day, but short enough to avoid getting too warm. Plus, the journey time reliability is way better than car or bus.

I chose to walk home because I wouldn't have any time constraints and it would just allow me to wander around, rather than sticking to my usual cycling route. As it turned out I walked 5.3 miles which was a bit more direct than it felt, but it turned out to be an interesting two-and-a-half hours.

In order to walk home, I had to get to work. I missed my usual direct bus which meant getting one which went all round the houses;

So, I'm talking about suburbia here and although I'm based in Outer London, the things that I saw can be found anywhere in the country.

I tweeted my progress and so most of the rest of this post will be those tweets - some will have more explanation (and they're screen grabs because Blogger hasn't got an embed tool). So, here we go;

 This is not unusual, many town centres have dual carriageways skirting them with limited crossing opportunities and plenty of guardrail to keep people out of the road.

When you do get a surface-level crossing, it's never direct because that would remove motor traffic capacity. 

The reason I knew this was working for a BT contractor in the mid-1990's. There is a whole different language out there! 

It was just nice to see the clutter out of the way. Where things are placed kerbside, they will often have a half-a-metre set-back from the kerb (otherwise they'll be clipped) and so that's even less footway space. A great deal of footway clutter is there because of the need to regulate driving. 

Suburban places are often crossed by railways, large roads and rivers which means crossing opportunities are limited and so they funnel all transport modes together. Sometimes we get footbridges which are often a remnant of an historic right of way or public footpath. They can be secluded and lonely. This one just had steps, so it's not accessible to all.

There are countless railway bridges dating from the 1950s (and before). Their construction often means that the footways cannot take any heavy loads and so the risk of a lorry being driven onto the footway presents a real risk of damage or partial collapse (called Accidental Wheel Loading); plus with brick parapets (the walls), they cannot take an impact from a heavy vehicle.

Rail crashes such as Great Heck and Oxshott showed the impacts of vehicles being driven (or crashed) onto railway lines. The type of temporary barrier show here (MASS) are designed to stop people driving onto the footway and for lorries, the shape redirects the line of travel back onto the road.

Just Google "in and out driveways" or "carriage drives and you'll see that this style of carcentric front garden design is a suburban aspiration. Throw in high walls and electric gates and you can have your very own fortress - an Englishman's home is his castle after all.

It's easy to sneer, but what we have here is a design which makes the street feel more like a canyon to those walking and with a lack of intervisibility between the occupants driving out and people walking along the footway.

A curiously clumsy sign which essentially shows an overnight area-wide parking ban for lorries and buses. This is often in place over entire areas. The curious timings were a quirk of the regulations which meant that timings couldn't straddle midnight. I can't recall if this has changed in the current rules.

This area has no modal filtering and there are limited crossing points over the railways. This means that driving is as easy as walking for short trips and so people are "happy" to sit in traffic jams. This street is also a bus route so you'll sit in the same traffic jam on the bus. A huge challenge for enabling active travel.

In London, we have the London Plan which amongst other things has a minimum cycle parking standard for new developments. Here, Tesco pays lip service with unusable cycle parking while customers block a layby which is meant to be for loading.

I'm a big fan of rain gardens which are features designed to slow the progression of rainfall from the sky to the sewer. The castellated kerb edge allows water to drain into the planting bed where it will be used by the plants, soak into the ground and if really needed, overflow into the surface water sewer. 

This was the same bridge I was stuck in a traffic jam on the bus from the morning. At peak times it is stuffed, off peak it is quieter, but with speeding drivers.

I took this photo 400m from a railway station, but because of poor bus connectivity, the estate has a Public Transport Accessibility Level of 2 (poor) and so we have lots of cars which need to be stored. On the footway as usual. For those in London, TfL has mapped PTAL for the whole capital.

This is actually very clever. Pioneered by National Grid Gas (now Cadent), they have lorry mounted machines which can cut a core through the road surface and then vacuum the material underneath to get at a gas pipe for repairs. Afterwards, the material is replaced and the original core is used as a plug for the road surface which is sealed into place.

This system reduces noise, vibration and waste materials and is safer for operatives who don't need to physically dig around live services.

The large roads around towns and cities are huge barriers to walking and crossing points are sporadic. Here, we have the solution which forces people to take a long diversion with switchback ramps or steps.

Permit Parking Areas mean that we only need entry/ exit signs and some repeater signs for a parking scheme. The only paint needed will be double yellow lines where you cannot park. A lighter touch for self-contained estates and far less clutter.

Cul-de-sacs with open and accessible active travel links mean walking and cycling is quicker than having to drive the long way round.

Sadly benches are often taken out because of anti-social behaviour - in other words, people don't like younger people gathering at them. They are vital for those who want to walk, but need places to rest from time to time to enable it.

Parking and cars is a theme of my walk. This is the case almost everywhere in urban and especially suburban UK.

So there we have it, a snapshot of suburbia which I think you'd find pretty much anywhere. Walking should be the natural mode for short local trips, but in places dominated by car use and car parking, it always feels second best.