Access and movement issues in rural environments
Tackling transport issues is often high on the agenda for many of the neighbourhood planning groups we have worked with. The narrow, twisting streets of many villages were designed without the motorcar in mind and therefore a tension arises between today’s dominant mode of transport and the historic fabric of the built environment. Many traditional village squares have become lost to the impact of traffic, no longer acting as the community meeting points they once were.
Traffic has a significant impact upon local people’s everyday experience of their community and their quality of life, from air pollution and frustrating congestion, to limited off-street parking spaces resulting in cars parked on pavements. This in turn can deter walking as a mode of choice while wheelchair users are unable to move around effectively or safely.
Rather than jumping straight to finding “transport solutions” we always advise neighbourhood planning groups to view this topic as part of a wider place-making strategy. We ask communities to consider the type of place they want to see in future and then decide what transport strategy will be needed to get there. Investigating the current situation – such as through a street audit, taking notes and photographs of the challenges faced – can reveal a lot. Bringing members of the community together in this exercise reveals a spectrum of experiences which many people are otherwise unaware of, highlighting the variety of conditions experienced by different modes of travel.
There is often a similarity of experience between the young and the elderly – both demographics tend to drive less or cannot drive at all, so often rely on others to transport or uses buses. Many would prefer to be independent, yet disjointed streets without enjoyable walking and cycling routes mean they are deterred from being so.
In Liphook, Hampshire, many people face difficulty in accessing the village centre. At a recent neighbourhood plan event we organised, one resident spoke emotively about the frustrating restrictions she experiences every day in her wheelchair. Pavements are either too high or disappear completely; damaged street surfaces leave her wheels jammed in the ground. Likewise, schoolchildren spoke of their wish to cycle to school, yet feel too unsafe to do so, or their parents feel it is too hazardous for them.
However, addressing access and movement in a land use based plan can be difficult. Changes which do not require planning permission, such as widening pavements or implementing pedestrian crossings, can only appear as actions linked to a land use policy. An approach is required that minimises the need for travel, such as policies that allocate land for live and work units and the implementation of high-speed broadband, allowing residents to work from home. Physical changes, such as using planter boxes as an attractive alternative to bollards to define a public square and reduce the dominance of parked cars can also make a difference.
Through a broad understanding of all access and movement issues, rural communities can seek to make significant improvements to their villages through a neighbourhood plan. The compact nature of many villages lends itself to active travel. Promoting these modes can help rediscover a community spirit that has often been lost over time to the impacts of traffic and a more sustainable and welcoming place can be delivered for everybody.