Twenty steps to pedestrian paradise – part 2

In part 1
, I talked about how pedestrians have been relegated to be second class citizens for the last half century or more. In this part, I will give you my twenty top tips to make life easier for pedestrians and get more people walking:

  1. Don’t make pedestrians wait at traffic lights. People on foot must press the “beg button”, asking permission to cross the road. They shouldn’t be forced to wait. Where possible, pressing the button should stop traffic and allow pedestrians to cross right away. On some roads, the pedestrian crossing could default to green, only turning red when a vehicle approached.
  2. More all-pedestrian phases on traffic lights. Allow pedestrians to safely and legally cross bigger junctions on the diagonal. Give pedestrians more time too.
  3. More pedestrianised areas. Providing people can access them with other means of transport, pedestrianised areas are generally not only more pleasant but more commercially successful.
  4. Better lighting. In many locations simply having enough lighting to promote safety will be enough, but in the city and town centres look at decorative lighting, spotlights, different colours and private light displays in shop windows. Lighting can be transformative.
  5. Improve maintenance of pavements and footpaths. Poorly maintained footpaths discourage people from walking, especially those with limited mobility. That can be damaged paving stones, tree roots or bushes and branches blocking the way. Litter, graffiti and vandalism also make areas feel less safe. A small investment in keeping an area clean and tidy can pay off many times over.
  6. Plant more street trees. They really are an unmitigated good nearly all the time, absorbing pollutants, draining stormwater, providing shade, improving safety and making a road feel more pleasant. Get the right species and a proper tree pit.
  7. Slow down vehicles in urban and suburban areas. Twenty’s plenty, but signs aren’t enough. The road needs to be designed for slower driving. The most effective way is to have narrower lanes, but there are many other strategies too.
  8. Adopt Vision Zero. The number of people killed on our roads is equivalent to a fully-laden 747 crashing every three months, killing everyone on board. Instead of accepting road deaths as a fact of life, as a price we pay for getting from A to B, Vision Zero says that we should treat roads like we treat railways and air routes, and work to eliminate deaths and injuries. One death on our roads is one too many: your life should not be traded off against my desire to get to work 30 seconds faster.
  9. More speed cameras and red-light cameras. Thanks to a misguided campaign by Eric Pickles a few years ago, speed cameras are out of favour and harder to install. The evidence is clear though: they work in reducing speed, accidents, injuries and deaths. Consider average speed cameras on local roads, especially longer sections with no junctions.
  10. Separate pedestrians and cyclists where possible. Implement segregated cycle lanes if you can – research suggests they make everyone safer: cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.
  11. Narrow the mouths of roads. A lot of roads have wide, swooping openings designed for cars to speed around the corner without the annoyance of having to slow down. Needless to say, this is terrible for safety and makes it especially hard for anyone with mobility problems to cross. The Highway Code says cars turning into side roads must stop and give way to pedestrians who are crossing, so we should design junctions to allow that to happen.
  12. Extend pavements across side junctions. Give pedestrians – and cyclists – priority over cars turning into or out of side roads by having a physical, raised pavement across the junction. It also forces motor vehicles to slow right down as they bump across it. Should implied zebra crossings (a crossing with the paint on the road but no light columns) become legal, these could be considered as a cheaper option.
  13. Limit the use of urban roundabouts. The roundabout is a great invention and far safer that crossroads. They can cut accidents and injuries by more than 80%. But roundabouts also make an area feel less walkable – forcing pedestrians to divert away from a straight line. Avoid using them in area with high pedestrian footfall.
  14. Make walking interesting. If you want to get more people walking, avoid long, blank facades and repetitive, boring views. Instead, give people interesting things to look at, with detail at a scale pedestrians can appreciate – even if you wouldn’t notice it speeding past in a car.
  15. Avoid driveways with sloping pavements. It’s easier to have a nice slope across the pavement and onto the road when you drive off your driveway. But if you’re disabled or have limited mobility, it means pavements are no longer comfortably flat but ripple up and down as you try to walk or wheel along. Instead, keep the pavement level and have a sharper ramp at the kerb for cars to drive down.
  16. Use natural surveillance. If there’s a pavement, path or an alleyway, consider who might be able to see it. If it’s overlooked by a shop or house, it will feel safer to walk down. If people have to walk between blank walls, they will get in their cars instead.
  17. Provide places to rest. Many people can’t walk long distances without a break or would just like somewhere to sit and chat. Benches, parklets and pavement cafes are all great. Parking spaces and loading bays can often be repurposed for pedestrians.
  18. Cut pollution. Both air and noise pollution damage our health and discourage people from walking.
  19. Introduce Play Streets and School Streets. These deserve an article to themselves (and may get one!) but the principle in both is to have periods of time where children can play out and walk or bike to school, with priority over drivers and restrictions on the motor vehicles allowed on the road.
  20. Count pedestrians on streets and at junctions. Collect the data, especially in busy urban centres. We have the technology to do it and the evidence is important.

* Iain Roberts is a Stockport councillor, LGA Peer and consultation, communications and public affairs consultant specialising in the built environment.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jenny Barnes 12th Feb '21 - 11:01am
  • Max WIlkinson 12th Feb '21 - 4:20pm

    This blog won’t get the level of attention it deserves, but thanks for writing it. I’m currently reading The Miracle Pill by Peter Walker – would highly recommend.

    I’d love it if we became the party of active lifestyles. Why don’t we make that a thing?

  • Peter Chambers 12th Feb '21 - 7:03pm

    As the Dutch say about residential areas, “the car is the guest”. Guests are expected to behave with consideration. I like the suggestions in this post about all the ways to hint that speeds should be low.

  • This is a great piece. It ultimately comes down to creating a shift away from the current thinking that cars are given automatic priority for everything. It’s remarkable how fixated we are on this, given most people who drive will also walk places. It’s as if we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that when we are on foot, or bike, we are lesser citizens than when we are in a car.

    I like all of your points, but really agree with point 15 about sloping driveways. There are loads of them near me, which were always a bit annoying when walking, but I became very aware of the extra strain on tired muscles and joints when I did Couch 2 5K over the Summer. I have realised that running in the road isn’t just to distance from other pedestrians, but because pavements are not fit for purpose!

    I know one friend who bought a treadmill because she twisted her ankle running on uneven local pavements, and very recently my not elderly neighbour slipped on black-ice on a sloping driveway and broke his leg, resulting in a three week hospital stay (where he caught COVID).

    I live next to the coast, and there are some natural slopes that are unavoidable, not just because of the natural topography, but to aid drainage. Keeping pavements and roads in good condition around here is a challenge, but you shouldn’t need to wear boots with ankle support to go for a walk around the block.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Feb '21 - 11:56am

    @Ian Sanderson
    On the trees issue – perhaps more care needs to be taken in the choice of tree. Perhaps going more for evergreens which aren’t going to shed so much debris and whose roots don’t spread out very widely (cherry trees can be terrible on this point).

    Do you really need that attention-distracting satnav? Shouldn’t you know what the speed limit is anyway and not need bleeping? But I would suggest that in urban areas the default should be reduced to 20 mph.

  • Jenny Barnes 13th Feb '21 - 2:26pm

    When I (relatively recently) took a motorcycle driving test my instructor said that I should always treat the limit as a target, otherwise I would be marked down for “not making sufficient progress” or words to that effect. Quite scary on some no speed limit back roads, I might say. However, in real life the limit is a limit, and there are plenty of situations – like urban areas – where I will go much slower than the limit. I think the driving test idea is irresponsible.

  • Antony Watts 13th Feb '21 - 3:25pm

    20 MPH please in my village. Need car redesign so they go naturally at slowe speeds. Clear dashboard signals at all regular speeds 20,30,40,50,60,70. Big noise if above limit!!!

  • @Jenny Barnes – re: point 15 see…
    Another good example of the application of the principles espoused in the seminal book: The Psychology of Everyday Things.

    @Ian Sanderson & @Nonconformistradical re: trees
    Whilst selection is an important consideration, another is the proper appreciation of size and its allowance. In too many towns totally insufficient space has been allowed for tree growth and roots, resulting in both the effects Ian lists and ‘unhealthy’ trees that are more suspectable to disease and high winds. Perhaps we have to get used to the idea of “urban managed woodland” where trees are only allowed to develop to somewhere between 30~50 years (depending on species) before they are replaced with 5 year old saplings…

    @Nonconformistradical re: Do you really need that attention-distracting satnav?
    In terms of accidents ie. driver distractions, the evidence is SatNavs are up there with mobile phones…

  • Nonconformistradical 15th Feb '21 - 11:12am

    “@Nonconformistradical re: Do you really need that attention-distracting satnav?
    In terms of accidents ie. driver distractions, the evidence is SatNavs are up there with mobile phones…”

    Precisely my concern. I wouldn’t dream of answering my mobile while I’m driving – it just has to wait. I don’t have a satnav.

    Any tech which risk taking a driver’s attention away from what they really NEED to be paying attention to – i.e. ANYTHING going on around them on the road, pavements etc and any serious warnings (red ones) from essential systems in the vehicle – is a no-no in my view.

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