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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 3rd April 2009
Pedestrians should not come second best in the city, argues David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic society.

How easy do you find it to find it to walk around Ripon? This is not a question about the state of your feet, the suppleness of your knees or the soundness of your wind. It’s about the physical state of the city and the places where you can walk.

The Civic Trust, the national body to which Ripon Civic Society is affiliated, has produced a statement that should be required reading for all local authorities, whether they look after the buildings, the pavements, the roads or the open spaces of our towns and cities – and may well have resonance with the pedestrians of Ripon.

The statement starts with a look at the urban environment: ‘Heavily trafficked streets are stripped of life by noise, congestion and fumes. It is virtually impossible to foster local social interaction and community spirit where neighbours cannot easily or safely move and converse outside their houses . . . Measures to improve the walking environment improve the general attractiveness of urban areas as places to live’.

It then looks at problems and possible solutions to them. Many of them will ring a bell with the residents of and the visitors to Ripon. And many of the solutions are very easy to bring about – all it needs is some political will.

Among the things it tackles are:
• Designated walking routes that do not go where people want. There are places where people cut across grass or open ground because the ‘official’ paths are not where they should be. The Civic Trust recommends recognising and properly-surfacing these ‘desire lines’.
• Under-exploited historic routes. Ripon has many alleyways – some of them the result of the Wakeman’s tax that charged less if doors were not on the front of the street. They could be better-signed and used.
• Awkward road crossings. The statement says that we need more pedestrian crossings – and crossings that have a quicker response to button-pressing and a generous crossing time. This is something that the people who try to cross the junction of Marshall Way and North Street would welcome; the wait is long and the crossing time less than eight seconds, to cross one of Ripon’s widest junctions.
• Fast traffic intimidates and endangers pedestrians. Ripon has speed restrictions on most of its roads – but sometimes it does not seem so. Count the number of motorists who exceed 30 mph on Harrogate Road or North Street. Speed restrictions are necessary – but so is strict enforcement.
• Pedestrian safety threatened by strident roadside advertising that distracts drivers. Signs must be carefully controlled, and enforcement action taken against illegal signs, like some that appear on grass verges, where they are hard to read and could cause accidents as motorists take their eye off the road.
• Obstructions on the pavement. Clutter of street furniture and signage has been a recurring theme of this column. A-boards on pavements are illegal clutter, though many local authorities tolerate some. York has recently developed a code of practice for them in the city centre there; if Harrogate Borough Council will not insist on their complete removal (and in these more difficult economic times retailers can claim that they need all the help they can get, including from pavement signage) then there should be an easily-understood code which can be implemented rigorously.
• Lack of space for pedestrians. There are places where there is not enough room for pedestrians. In an historic city with narrow streets like Ripon, this may be inevitable – but the available space should be at the service first of the pedestrian and not of the motor vehicle.
• Encumbrance. This means having to carry bulky shopping or giving in to retailers who say that their premises need to be on the edge of towns so that people can park outside. The Civic Trust calls on retailers to offer delivery services instead, and keep retailers in town and city centres. Local authorities have powers to require retailers to offer such services.

If just a few of these problems were tackled in Ripon, there would be a great improvement to the city – a place that was primarily designed for pedestrians but has, perhaps, paid too much attention in recent years to the internal combustion engine.

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