Stand up for pedestrians – the forgotten travellers

Image: Matt Cornock via Flickr.

Almost all of us walk somewhere every day of our lives. According to the UK’s most recent National Travel Survey 22 per cent of all trips are undertaken on foot – and walking continues to be the second-most important form of transport for all journeys after travel by car or van.

When it comes to short trips of less than a mile, walking is totally dominant, accounting for over 78 per cent . One third of all trips less than five miles in length are also on foot.

By contrast, cycling accounts for just 1.5 per cent of all journeys. Even if we only look at all trips under five miles, cycling still makes up less than 2 per cent of journeys.

But you wouldn’t get this impression from listening to politicians, reading policy documents, or observing investment in infrastructure. While both cycling and walking improve personal health and the environment, one gets far more attention than the other. The government has just released its response to a major consultation on its “vision for cycling and walking”, for instance. The document’s name? Cycling Delivery Plan.

Although walking is given some consideration in the detail of the document, the priority is clear. While cycling is being actively promoted as a healthy and sustainable form of urban transport, walking remains largely neglected in terms of active policy and investment.

Look at London’s “cycle superhighways”, for instance, announced earlier this year to much fanfare. These highways follow significant increases in trips by bike in central London following investment in new infrastructure promoted by the London mayor.

Such investment is of course welcome and long overdue, and much remains to be done as cycle infrastructure remains poor in most other parts of the country. But the fact cycling is beginning to be considered an important form of urban transport that needs to be planned for highlights the fact that travel on foot is not given such recognition.

Flawed furniture

It can, of course, be argued that pedestrians do already have their own dedicated infrastructure – in urban areas at least – in the form of pavements, pedestrian zones, and crossings. For the most part we accept these conditions as adequate and do not question how they might be better. However, a closer look suggests that this is rarely the case.

Do as you’re told. Image: Elliott Brown via Flickr.

In most places, road space continues to be dominated by, and planned for, motor vehicles, and people on foot are crammed on to pavements that are often too narrow. Pedestrians are made to wait for long periods to cross busy roads, exposed to traffic noise and emissions, and then given insufficient time to cross before the lights change to keep the traffic moving.

Poorly placed (and often unnecessary) street furniture, together with inconsiderately (and potentially illegally) parked cars often obstruct the pavement, while pedestrian surfaces are often poorly maintained and rarely cleared of leaves or snow and ice. Try to negotiate the average urban pavement with a child’s buggy or in a wheelchair and the difficulties become all too obvious. Poor pedestrian infrastructure disadvantages all those who do not have access to, or choose not to use, a motor vehicle.

Sleepwalking into car cities

We’ve got into this situation because walking is taken for granted. Such a simple activity has been largely ignored in the planning process; it is seen as making few demands on the environment and thus needs only a minimum of facilities. In contrast, because motor vehicles make much greater demands on the environment their needs have been prioritised.

Pedestrians also suffer from being classed as “walkers” – those who walk for pleasure rather than as a means of transport. The cultural dominance and convenience of the motor vehicle has meant that urban space has been disproportionately allocated towards cars and away from pedestrians. When walking for anything other than recreation is increasingly seen as abnormal, cars will always win.

I recently headed some research in four English cities which clearly demonstrated this. As one respondent in Leeds said “you feel unusual walking”. Most respondents enjoyed walking, and did walk sometimes, but they frequently encountered unnecessary difficulties and inconveniences. The problem was summarised neatly by a Lancaster respondent: “That road is awful, the pavement is very narrow, and in autumn it’s covered in leaves so you slip over half the time, it’s terrifying. But by car the road is fine”.

Walking is a cheap, simple, healthy and environmentally friendly way of travelling short distances. It is something most people enjoy doing, but our cities are built in ways that often make life difficult and unpleasant for pedestrians.

Walking needs to be taken more seriously as a means of transport (and not only as a form of exercise or leisure) – and should be actively planned for and given priority, as is beginning to happen with cycling. If more people walked and fewer people drove, it would not only benefit personal health but also cities would be more pleasant for all.

Colin Pooley is an Emeritus Professor of Social and Historical Geography at Lancaster University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.