Stride forth: city walkers find their feet and their voice

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The Independent Online

Last week, the Independent on Sunday shed light on the misery facing thousands of pedestrians as they try to negotiate their way around Britain's traffic-clogged cities and towns to get to work. Of course, making urban walking a pleasure - or, at the very least, safer - would be best for our health, and for our environment. It's a simple truth that everyone but government seems to acknowledge. We seem to have struck a raw nerve, as our postbag over the past few days shows.

Last week, the Independent on Sunday shed light on the misery facing thousands of pedestrians as they try to negotiate their way around Britain's traffic-clogged cities and towns to get to work. Of course, making urban walking a pleasure - or, at the very least, safer - would be best for our health, and for our environment. It's a simple truth that everyone but government seems to acknowledge. We seem to have struck a raw nerve, as our postbag over the past few days shows.

Passenger Power's letter of the week comes from Roger Warren Evans, from Swansea, who modestly describes himself as "an overweight 64-year-old company director and lawyer" who resolutely walks miles to work every day. His devotion to walking to work is an example to us all.

"My home is in Swansea," he writes, "and I have a pleasant five-mile walk between Mumbles and Swansea city centre (1hr 40min), returning another five miles, walking.

"In the early 1990s, working for Sainsbury's [in London] I regularly walked into work, enjoying excellent breakfasts on the way. As a student I regularly walked between a girlfriend's flat in south London to Spitalfields in the east, right across London. Last week I walked from Victoria Coach Station to dine with friends in Grange Road, east of Tower Bridge, enjoying several great pints along the way. Walking in London is always a fascinating and, stimulating experience."

Now, Mr Evans plans his biggest trip: this Wednesday he starts a walk from his home in Swansea to his London office, a journey of 220 miles that he thinks will take 18 days. "I have declared that week Walk to Work Week," he continues. "I hope many others will take the plunge, and accept your invitation to walk to work."

Meanwhile, John Humbach, of Etching Hill, Kent, feels lorries are responsible for ruining walking in and around Dover. Since the completion of the M20/A20 six years ago, Dover seems to get more and more traffic, he laments. "The result is that Dover has been isolated from its own attractive sea front by a moving wall of heavy lorries travelling to and from the docks." Sea-front access is only via a "malodorous pedestrian subway, part-flooded after rain and used for unpleasing purposes by customers of a nearby club".

Philip Connolly, London campaigns officer for the Pedestrians Association, is sufficiently concerned about the problems facing walkers in the capital that he will meet Ken Livingstone, the Mayor, this week to discuss how matters can be improved.

"We've had four decades of car domination, and people's expectations of what conditions could be like are pretty low," writes Mr Connolly. "Walking has been treated with a certain derision. It requires a new image. When we were kids water was the drink we would have as a last resort when the fizzy drinks had run out. Now, everyone walks around with bottle water. Walking has to be given the same treatment. It has to be marketed and made more attractive and fashionable and be turned into something that people want to be seen doing.

"Mr Livingstone is showing the courage to promote walking and has said he wants London to be one of the most walker-friendly cities in the world by 2015. But the Government is still not convinced. It seems frightened of talking about walking as though it threatens car ownership."

David Morgan, from Croydon, Surrey, wrote that "drastic, if not draconian, action" was required to discourage car use. Among other things, he suggested excluding commuter traffic from the central area within the Circle Line on the Underground, allowing only residents' cars and delivery vehicles.

Stephen Guy, from Liverpool, said: "In the past, only the rich could afford their own horse and carriage. Now, modern technology means virtually everyone can drive everywhere." His solution? A national "If it's less than a mile, walk it!" campaign.

Merseyside's Paul Meredith gave a laundry list of solutions to discourage car use, including "keeping fuel taxes high and charging cars for entering cities".

Finally, one could always follow the example of Tim Hutchinson - a Londoner who chooses to live on a boat and take the road less travelled. He finds the Underground claustrophobic and expensive and has never learnt to drive. "It's important to treat the city as if you are a tourist, experience it differently, take risks," he writes.

"Paranoia about getting lost makes life so dull. Forget that attitude and get lost in a different, calmer and more thoughtful environment."

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