Inclusive walking for Bristol’s transport planning and public health

Walking is a convenient and free form of exercise, and a carbon neutral mode of transport. In Bristol there are both reasons and opportunities for walking to both improve people’s health and to address local transport issues.

In 2017 Bristol’s Draft Transport Strategy concluded that if more people walked for transport, there was potential to improve air quality as well as their health. Just replacing short car journeys is a good example of this. The 2016 National Travel Survey showed 24.5% of all car trips were shorter than two miles, and 13% of trips of less than one mile were made by car.

Added to this, walking is a convenient and free form of exercise that can be incorporated into everyday life and sustained into older age. It is also a carbon neutral mode of transport that has declined with the growth in car use. In Bristol there are both reasons and opportunities for walking to both improve people’s health and to address local transport issues.

Despite this, local community groups such as Bristol Walking Alliance, Bristol Disability Equality Forum, Bristol Ageing Better, Bristol Women’s Voice, and Let’s Walk Bedminster consistently report that walking in Bristol is challenging and that conditions do not meet people’s needs.

University-led research highlighted a disconnect between the ambitions described in Bristol City Council (BCC)’s draft Walking Strategy for Bristol 2011-2021 and day-to-day transport practices and plans. It concluded that including walking as transport, despite the advantages, would mean proactive co-ordination between the relevant City Council teams, such as transport, city design, economic development and public health. Finalising the Bristol Transport Strategy, the over-arching transport strategy for Bristol infrastructure, would provide a critical opportunity to align public health priorities and transport practice.

Dr Suzanne Audrey won ESRC IAA funding to support BCC in developing the Strategy by seconding transport and health specialist Jess Read into their sustainable transport team.

Jess used her Healthy Cities experience, supported by academic research, to achieve both influence and traction, partly through an active focus on pragmatic proposals. As the project unfolded, it reinforced the evidence that this IAA form of Impact-led funding can provide unique and productive connections between academia and practice.

Jess attended over 30 formal meetings with BCC staff and 16 with community and national stakeholders, as well as ongoing and informal influencing and informing. By the end of the secondment, she had developed inclusive walking content for both the Transport Strategy and the Bristol Transport Development Management Guidelines.

She had also identified and developed 10 iWalk innovations and shared her iWalk Report with 140 national and 50 internal BCC stakeholders, including 25 different local authorities, Transport for London and the Department for Transport. Subsequent presentations included the Landscape Institute, a broad professional body of landscape architects and urban planners, and the AMPS conference Health: The Design, Planning and Politics of How and Where We Live.

Less visibly but just as importantly, Jess had been the catalyst for renewed engagement between Council colleagues across multiple teams, and a conduit for accessing academic research resources – both things that hard-pressed Council staff had less and less opportunity to do.

The project also highlighted how external stakeholders need to balance their campaigning activities and policy influence with their dependence on local and national government for some of their funding: not an easy path to negotiate. And how by deliberately maintaining informal but informative exchanges, influence could grow beyond formal meetings to more frequent but highly productive informal chats and exchanges, on the target width of an inclusive footway for example, or options for road layouts.

Overall the project helped to develop productive links between academia and transport and public health. One example of this closer working relationship is the Counting Pedestrians project led by Dr Nikolai Bode.

BCC ‘s data on pedestrians was recognised as incomplete and historically reliant on self-report surveys and manual counts. Funding from the University’s ESRC IAA has supported a collaboration between Strategic City Transport, Bristol City Council and the Bristol Walking Alliance. The combined resources and expertise of a social scientist, a mathematician, transport professionals and the voluntary sector are assessing the potential for new technologies and methods to develop a portfolio of use-cases, informed by mathematical modelling, traffic monitoring, and campaigning for improvements to pedestrian route and infrastructure. 

Edit this page