The Healthy Streets approach shows promise as a new way to engage and align a range of stakeholders around a shared vision of better public spaces for liveable communities. This has been developed into an on-street survey for identifying what needs to be prioritized at both a strategic and street-level and bringing the community into the conversation about their public realm.
Walking can be overlooked in city-level transport planning and a poor walking experience can deemed acceptable by communities. Often it is taken for granted that people will walk for short trips and to public transport regardless of quality of the walking experience. This can make it difficult to advocate for prioritising the pedestrian experience and to activate the community to demand a better walking environment.
The ‘Healthy Streets’ approach takes a public health perspective on the street environment. This approach has ten key ingredients of what makes a street ‘work’ for people in terms of improving health, enhancing liveability and nurturing community spirit. These 10 indicators can be assessed on any street with a brief set of survey questions which can also serve to bring the community into the conversation of how to make their local places better. The survey has been tested across a wide range of different types of streets with thousands of people and is showing promise as a new way of aligning a range of stakeholders around a shared vision, evaluating the impact of investments and making the case for change.
Streets provide the opportunity for millions of people to stay active, to interact with others and to access employment, education, leisure and green spaces. The health benefits delivered by streets go far beyond the physical activity that people get walking and cycling in the city, although this is the biggest health benefit and often has the greatest potential for health improvements in the future. There are many other benefits including cleaner air, less noise, more connected neighbourhoods, less stress and fear and reduced road traffic injuries. These issues are all connected, and to deliver the biggest benefits which come from more walking (and cycling) streets must be inviting. This means tackling some of the barriers of poor air quality, noise, stress, fear and danger. The elements that make a street good for health are generally the same as those needed to make a street good for the local economy, community and environment. So working towards delivering healthier streets reinforces efforts towards delivering a range of other goals.
We can assess how healthy each street is by going out and spending time on that street and observing how it looks and feels and is being used by people. There are 10 characteristics of a healthy street which help us to understand what the positive aspects are on each street and which aspects we could do more to improve. These evidence-based and intuitive indicators can be used to assess how ‘healthy’ a street is and identify what needs to change to make it healthier. Pedestrians are at the centre of this with ‘Pedestrians from all walks of life’ at the top of the list. Other indicators describe a positive walking experience including shade and shelter, clean air, not too noisy and places to stop. Taking a health perspective on the transport system unlocks a new way of enhancing the walking experience and valuing its contribution to city life.
The concept of the ‘Healthy Streets’ approach is introduced in chapter 8 of Improving the Health of Londoners: transport action plan (Transport for London, 2014) http://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/improving-the-health-of-londoners-transport-action-plan.pdf
The results of the large survey that was undertaken on a range of different types of streets and kick-started the wider roll-out of this approach is described from page 217 to page 236 of Travel in London 7 (Transport for London, 2014).