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Is Manual for Streets (2007) still fit for purpose for Walking Distances?

Walking Manual for Streets

A recent article on walking distances and the American perception of them (Americans ‘Can’t Fathom’ How Much People in the UK Walk) set of a debate on LinkedIn over the weekend. It focussed on the Manual for Streets benchmark guidance of 800m to be walked in 10 minutes and the main consensus was that this was too slow.

As a sustainable transport consultant I watched this debate, which mainly centred on what I would call ‘personal geographies’ – or opinions based solely on personal experience with no focus on the whole picture. Eventually I did the maths, knowing from my experience teaching and reading around the subject of time management that perception of time taken is often skewed.

My maths focussed on one of the only real empirical data sources we have for this, rather than self-reported timings. In 2020, the average runner took 32:30 to run 5k, or 5000m at parkrun. This works out at 5:12 per 800m. Note, this is running by relatively fit, healthy and active people who are on the whole middle aged. Looking towards the lower end of the times, where most are walking and the figure jumps to between 45 and 50 minutes for 5k, or 7.12 per 800m based on the lower of these times. Note, this is at parkrun, they’re not stopping to cross roads, make way for other footway users coming the opposite way or work their way around parked vehicles etc.

On a recent run (4 miles), Strava showed that I personally paused for 45 seconds to cross busy roads. That’s on average only 5 seconds per 800m.  It should be noted that I plan my route so I cross roads as few times as possible, however taking this as a mark, principally because I have no further data to go from, this would bring the time to 7:17 for 800, for a fit, healthy middle aged woman. Should you add in a small child, a second person to talk to, or make me elderly or infirm, it could easily take an extra 2:43 to walk 800m.

Therefore, based on this data, however loosely it has been interpreted, it is our opinion that Manual for Streets (2007) is still fit for purpose in this regard and planners and developers should take this into account when appraising a site. The best way to do this is with a facilities audit, which is standard with any transport statement or travel plan from iRIS.

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