Living Streets publishes its Annual Report today (18 February) and reflects on a year which has seen more people walking than ever and looks at how walking can accelerate the pandemic recovery and reduce carbon emissions.

The lockdowns of 2020 have got people walking more but social distancing has highlighted the inadequacy of our streets. In London, two thirds of pavements are not wide enough for people to distance safely.  

At the start of the first lockdown, Living Streets called for more space for walking, as the most accessible, cleanest and greenest form of exercise and transport. In response, the Government announced a £250m Emergency Active Travel Fund to prioritise walking and cycling.

There is now broad agreement on the need for more walking, to school, to work, for health and to tackle the climate emergency.  This is reflected in the Government’s pledge of £2 billion investment for walking and cycling and new policies to support carbon emissions reduction ahead of the 2021 COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

Living Streets’ Annual Report sets out the impact the charity has made in 2020, shares best practice case studies of supporting older people and schoolchildren to walk, and its plans to achieve a better walking environment and inspire people to walk more.

Dame Jane Roberts, Chair of Living Streets, says in the report:

“This year has marked a profound change in the way we live. The coronavirus pandemic has taken lives and destroyed livelihoods. It highlighted the inequalities in our society and made them worse. Can we build back better?

“There are grounds for hope. During repeated lockdowns, people from all walks of life have experienced the benefits walking brings – finding nature, better wellbeing and a new-found love of physical activity.”

Living Streets was joined this year by Mary Creagh, former Shadow Transport Secretary, who now leads the charity.  

Mary Creagh, Chief Executive, says:

“There is a growing understanding of how walking tackles some of biggest crises facing us– inactivity, loneliness and climate change. If we are to build back better, then there must be no return to dangerous, dirty, congested streets.

“By enabling people to walk more short, local journeys, we can help reach our Net Zero goals and help people from all walks of life live better.”

The charity is currently campaigning for walking in May’s Elections 2021: Choose Walking | Living Streets is working to ensure walking is at the heart of the UK’s Net Zero carbon reduction strategy; and is running its walk to school programme in over 2,000 schools nationwide.

With schools currently closed to many, the charity launched its WOW Activity Tracker, which is helping thousands of pupils nationwide to stay active whilst home schooling.

In 2020, Living Streets campaigned for changes to the Highway Code to put pedestrians first and to ban pavement parking in England. Responses from the Department for Transport are due this year.  

Mary Creagh continues:

“2021 will be a massive year for walking. As the voice of pedestrians, we look forward to embedding the behaviour changes of the past year. This will only happen with more Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, slower speeds and safer crossings to avoid a car-led recovery.”