Rising traffic ‘driving children off local streets’

08.56 | 16 August 2019 | | 9 comments

The UK is paying the price for its car-dependency with rising inactivity, congestion and air pollution, walking charity Living Streets says.

Speaking about the findings of a new survey, Jennie Wiggle, senior director of Living Streets, stressed the importance of encouraging people out of their cars for short, everyday journeys.

The survey, published to mark the charity’s 90th anniversary, suggests 36% of parents don’t believe their local streets are ‘safe and welcoming’ for their children to enjoy.

60% of the parents questioned – all of whom have children aged 4-11 years – said their child never plays out on local streets – up from 50% a decade ago.

Nearly three quarters (74%) said the most noticeable change to their local streets since they were a child is higher traffic volume.

Living Streets’ ambitions for the next decade include a default speed limit of 20mph in built up areas; a revision of the Highway Code to improve safety for people walking and cycling; and a network of walking routes in every town and city.

Jenni Wiggle said: “We want families to feel happy to let their children play out on their local streets so they can enjoy being active and making friends, but that won’t happen without change.

“We’re paying the price for our car-dependency with rising inactivity, congestion and air pollution. 

“Encouraging people out of their cars for those short, everyday journeys can reduce the amount of traffic on our streets and start to transform our streets into cleaner, safer and more welcoming places for people of all ages.

“Slower speeds save lives, that’s why we want to see 20mph limits where children play, live and go to school.”



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    Due to high traffic volumes many ‘residential’ roads are used as relief roads and cut throughs to ‘avoid’ ever growing congestion. Yes it’s true that all streets are also for movement as well as for living, but not only is their primary purpose residential; such roads are often identified as part of local cycle networks, away from the main roads for safety reasons. Such roads are also designated ‘safe routes to school’ for kids walking and cycling as part of School Travel Plans and for the same reason of safety. Surely it is totally appropriate therefore that speeds should be reduced and prioritised for non-motorists, especially at a time when we are all trying to encourage more sustainable and active modes of travel to address the major public health crisis of toxic air quality, obesity, Climate Change.

    Place matters and some people (children and the elderly in particular, lower social economic groups) face specific barriers in accessing services, movement in the areas in which they live, their potential to become or remain independent as well as ensuring their mental and physical well being.

    In parts of Denmark they have created a system of designating streets according to their primary purpose. Hence,in streets recognised as essentially residential, cars can be ‘allowed’ through as ‘guests’. This means slow speeds. Even in town centres which tend to be designated as ‘mixed use’ cars have to drive slower.

    This is also an issue of fairness and equality. Many families don’t have access to gardens or parks. It is poorer families and areas which ‘suffer’ the most accidents (as well as pollution, noise etc). Children of the lowest socio-economic group are 28 times more likely to be killed than those of the top; the most common cause of death for children 4-14 years is being hit by a vehicle; those over 60 years of age are 7 times more likely to be killed by a car at 35 mph and 35% of all fatalities are people over the age of 70 yrs. At a time of an aging demographic, when we’re trying to encourage people to remain active for as long as possible……

    The British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences produced a Report in 2014 ‘ Nine Local Actions to Reduce (unnecessary) Health Inequalities’, recognising the social determinants of health. Amongst a range of social, education, employment policies, the one key transport policy for improving public health was 20mph.

    Monica Saunders, Teddington
    Agree (3) | Disagree (7)

    Roads and streets have a Movement and Place function and the user hierarchy will depend on the purpose of the specific road or street under discussion. New residential estates designed and built to Manual for Streets 2 will probably place pedestrians at the top. Motorways, dual carriageway etc will obviously not prioritise pedestrians and may not cater for them at all.

    Retrofitting 20mph speed limits to streets not designed to prioritise pedestrians (i.e. not built to Manual for Streets standards) should be done with care and streets assessed individually on their merits beforehand.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

    I take some of your points on board Rod. Of course we went down hills in homemade go-carts too, but we avoided bus routes and cross roads!

    Roads were made for transport. That may have started as people walking but soon become routes for carts and wagons and then to motor vehicles. And roads were improved from muddy tracks to hard surfaces again for transport. That is somewhat different than saying they were made for people. Try telling that to the many business owners of the day that paid out themselves to have the roads built to move their goods to market.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

    It’s the law Rod – the use of highways is clearly defined ‘for passing and re-passing’ – no mention of tennis or any other ball games being allowed.

    I remember the good old days of tennis in the street or going down the hill on the go-kart as well, unfortunately even with less traffic on the roads children still got hit by cars.

    Not that long ago I was driving down an affluent residential road when I came across a hockey match being played across the ‘public space between the houses’ i.e.the c/way, where the cars are supposed to be and my car was hit by a puck… ah the good old days. It’s a public nuisance.. no less than noisy exhausts and anti-social driving. I support your 20s plenty campaign Rod, but not to make it easier for playing in the street. reasons

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

    Bah humbug. The only people allowed to “play in the streets” should be adults in their automobiles and motorbikes. After all the advertising shows that this is just what they are designed for. The media apps on the dashboard. The wheels that give you status and “street credibility”, the leisure based risk-taking with those sporty motors, opposite lock, braking on a sixpence, that nice roar of those who have V8s. Those sporty drives in the countryside that can really test your driving and the cars handling.

    Pity then the poor kids who simply want to mess around on their bicycles in their home street. Or maybe “go out to play”, and for many that means entering a street as soon as they leave their front door.

    Driver exceptionalism is bad enough, but when it is coupled with adult exceptionalism it is even worse.

    My experience was that streets where people lived were safe and welcoming. Great places to play tennis in Wimbledon week, or hang around under the street light, or go down the hill on the kart made by your dad.

    Maybe what we experience as a child forms our opinion of what community streets were and still should be. And maybe that is the root of some of the difference in opinion within this site. Roads were not built for cars. They were built for people. And if you look at any of those public spaces between buildings and houses that we call streets you will inevitably see more people moving outside of cars than you see people moving inside cars.

    Rod King, 20’s Plenty for Us, Lymm
    Agree (5) | Disagree (9)

    There seems to be this belief that there should be an entitlement for children to ‘play’ in the streets, as if that is what the highway’s primary purpose is and that motorised vehicles are somehow spoiling it for them.

    Nothing wrong with reasonable use of the highway connected with its proper purpose i.e. travelling along it, but as Pat says, roads are not safe places for children to play on.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (7) | Disagree (3)

    A dodgy survey from Living Streets? My experience is that roads were not “safe and welcoming” when I was young, nor when my children were young and not now when my grandchildren are growing up. That is why we were/are all taught road safety and cycle training. Get real Living Streets, roads are not safe places to play and haven’t been for well over 60 years. Nothing new.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (10) | Disagree (2)

    Yes, over many decades we’ve created a culture and supporting infrastructure that has actively encouraged car dependency (think about our jobs, our supermarkets, the distance many of us live from friends and families etc.)and we have not spent enough on public transport or active travel options. The result is exactly as we should expect and should have predicted: high levels of inactivity, congestion, poor air quality and local and residential streets blighted by parked cars everywhere (as some residents and families are now required to have two, three or four cars). Of course some individuals may be privileged (lucky?) enough to be able to make more sustainable choices (my belief is that if you can, then you should), but we must accept that for many people this is simply not a practical or realistic option and they are now dependent on their cars. Without a complete and systemic rethink about what we want our future communities to look and feel like, this will remain the case….

    Rebecca James, Leeds
    Agree (10) | Disagree (2)

    “We want families to feel happy to let their children play out on their local streets…” not so the remaining residents who have to put up with the nuisance. That’s not what highways are for and why we have gardens, parks and play areas.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (8) | Disagree (11)

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