With the return of walking firmly set to the public health agenda, Living Streets Wandsworth Chair Susie Morrow, contemplates the opportunities this presents for Living Street's campaigners.
One of the changes resulting from The Health and Social Care Act, is that responsibility for most public health functions has moved from the NHS to local authorities.
This presents a major opportunity for campaigners who are keen to have streets that support - and, indeed, invite - walking, especially since most of the UK's population isn't currently active enough to maintain good health.
Walking is a low-cost form of transport (with built-in exercise) which needs no special equipment and is accessible to most of the population.
To us as local activists, it seems obvious that our streets must be designed - or rather, redesigned - to ensure that we achieve walking's potential to improve the public's health.
The NICE walking and cycling public health guidance, published in November 2012, added to the succession of voices calling for concerted action to address the barriers to walking and cycling.
It also sets out a number of recommendations for highly cost-effective local measures to promote walking and cycling both for travel and recreation.
The guidance provides data on current levels of physical activity, alongside levels of walking and cycling, noting that the average distance walked in Britain per person per year fell from 255 miles in 1975/76 to 201 miles in 2006.
The Health Impact of Physical Inactivity (HIPI) data illustrates the benefits of increased physical activity in terms of reduced incidence of major diseases such as coronary heart disease and breast cancer.
Change of scene
For more than five decades, highway engineers and traffic planners have designed our streets around the demands of motorised transport, to the detriment of pedestrians, 'active travel' generally, and the quality of our public realm.
The default mode of these professionals (and of the councillors to whom they report) has been to consider motor traffic first - if they consider other transport modes at all.
In this way, junctions have been designed to maximise capacity of motor vehicles, pedestrians expected to make diversions (vertically as well as horizontally) from obvious desire lines, and highway space and time reallocated from pedestrians to motor vehicles.
In parallel with this, the traditional focus of NHS staff has been on treatment or cure, rather than prevention, of ill heath, with little focus on our immediate environment - and particularly the details of the design and management of our streets.
As we know, sometimes small differences in a street's design or management can determine whether walking is an attractive (or even, sometimes, feasible) option for getting around.
Living Streets campaigners are well placed to bridge these two sets of professional worlds.
As local campaigners, we can make the public health case for changes in how our streets are designed and managed - using our deep knowledge of our neighbourhood, our practical knowledge of what liveable streets look and feel like and the issues that concern people, and our relationships with other residents, community groups, and our elected representatives.
You can also help Living Streets build a picture of the state of the nation's streets by rating your walk to work, to the shops, to school or simply a stroll around the corner to get some fresh air.
Susie Morrow is Chair of Wandsworth Living Streets Group
Walking Cities: London
Call on London's Mayoral Election candidates to back our Manifesto For Walking.
Walking Cities: Edinburgh
Call for the city to put people at the heart of Edinburgh and make it a world class city for walking.
Call for cities that are designed around people not vehicles.