Streets for People: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis

Our society faces some profound challenges, argues Megan Howson of Portsmouth Friends of the Earth. Climate breakdown is the major issue now but there are also other pressing issues such as poor air quality, obesity, poor social integration and interaction, and growing mental health problems for children and adults.

There are of course many factors that contribute to those things but there are actions that can be taken to improve the lives of people. For instance, the car has been given priority in urban planning for over 100 years with the assumption that everyone has a car. Research shows that 1/3 of households in Britain do not have a car and yet those people, who are often disadvantaged in some way, are the ones who are suffering most as pedestrians. There is starting to be a change of attitude by the government, both local and national, encouraged by charities such as Sustrans (est 1977) and Living Streets (est 1929). Their research has influenced much of our present road safety measures, such as zebra crossings and speed limits.

There is a move, now more than ever, to improve our walking infrastructure because of the imperative to reduce traffic and therefore air pollution. Other benefits are clear: safer streets for adults and children, better public health, more social interaction, etc. With the growth of the Internet there has also been a decline of the high street. There is a growing realization that streets need to be significantly improved if people are to leave their cars and start walking and cycling.

Living Streets (a walking charity) have conducted research using case studies to measure improvements to high streets. For their resources, look at their shop. They also have excellent references to explore the subject further. The conclusions of the study ‘The Pedestrian Pound’ look at interventions and their outcomes. There have been commercial benefits in measures such as widening footpaths, replacing footpath surfaces, installing trees and greenery, seating, controlled crossings, new street lighting, decluttering of street furniture, anti-littering campaigns, better signs, as well as better investment in smarter travel and sustainable forms of transport.

Sustrans started as an organization with the aim of improving conditions for cyclists. They developed the National Cycle Framework. They have branched out into walking by supporting and encouraging street improvements nationwide. They have encouraged school streets to improve safety and encourage cleaner air around schools. They say that most car journeys are under 5 miles and the aim is to encourage more people to walk or cycle those short journeys. More information can be found on their website.

Research shows that children spend half as much time as their parents did playing outside. Sustrans have piloted projects to close streets around schools in particular and have information on case studies from around the world. Information about Liveable Neighbourhood Projects in Lewisham are examples of their work. Some advice that could apply to Portsmouth is:

  • To use bollards that can be raised and hidden
  • To keep the streets clean (with residents participating)
  • To be sharp in telling the council when something in the street isn’t right
  • To ‘green up’: have planting days when everyone comes together to plant up containers and window boxes.

Further Information

Living Streets, Walking and Cycling

Sustrans, The National Cycle Network


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