Most journeys start with a walking or wheeling stage, even if that stage is just the journey from your front door to the car. Footways are an essential infrastructure for people making journeys to local amenities, public transport and more. The design and maintenance of footways, affects how useable they are for different people. With people from more marginalised groups, such as disabled people, parents and carers often being most adversely affected by poor quality and poorly designed footway.
This report details the barriers faced by people accessing the footway, the challenges facing local authorities when making footways accessible, case studies, and recommendations for how these barriers can be overcome.
This report is based on a literature review, alongside interviews and a survey with officers and elected members from geographically diverse local authorities across England.
This research used a disability lens to identify the key barriers to accessibility, listed below:
- lack of footway space, commonly caused by pavement parking, pavement clutter, and narrow footways
- poor footway surface quality due to texture or camber
- trip hazards caused by pavement clutter or footway damage
- lack of accessible crossing facilities
- lack of information about walking routes
- having to share space with other users, such as people cycling
- lack of rest and shelter facilities
- lack of provision of safe and accessible alternative walking and wheeling routes during highways works.
The study also considered the challenges faced by local authorities in relation to maintaining and improving footways, listed below:
- lack of revenue and capital funding
- difficulty in obtaining and maintaining a clear picture of footway and kerb asset condition
- the laborious process of obtaining Traffic Regulation Orders, which are needed for many footway management measures
- challenges in scheduling improvement of footways in the context of site disruption by utilities providers
- competition for footway space
- accelerating damage to footways by vehicles parking on the pavement.
It also considered the impact of inaccessible footways on individuals and of local authorities:
- longer, more stressful journeys
- abandoned journeys
- social isolation and exclusion
- reduced independence
- increased expense
- physical injury
- worsening of an impairment or condition.
- lower footfall at local businesses
- injury claims from people tripping and falling on poorly maintained pavements
- additional pressure on council-provided social care provision, if people tripping and falling on pavements require additional support
- further deteriorating footway assets, as some causes of poor footway accessibility (such as pavement parking) can themselves lead to accelerating footway damage.
These findings, along with evidence of good practice across the country were used to develop a list of recommendations for central Government and local authorities, available at the end of the report.
Most journeys are walked or wheeled, or start or end with a walking or wheeling stage, even if that stage is just the journey from your front door to the car. Therefore, the first step towards making travel inclusive is to ensure that footways are accessible for all people.
Footways, more commonly known as pavements, are sections of the highway where people walk or wheel. They form essential infrastructure for people making journeys to local amenities, using public transport, or simply navigating public space. The design and maintenance of footways affects how useable they are for different people.
Disabled people take 38 per cent fewer trips across all modes than non-disabled people. This pattern is repeated for walking and wheeling journeys. In England, for example, disabled people take 30 per cent fewer walking and wheeling trips than non-disabled people.
It is not just disabled people who are affected by inaccessible footways. Older people, people traveling with children or pushchairs, and people travelling with luggage can experience additional challenges when trying to make walking and wheeling journeys. The impacts of footways being inaccessible extend much further than the individuals whose journeys are affected.
Poor quality footways have a negative impact on the confidence of many people who use them, especially disabled people and older people. This can sometimes cause them to stop walking and/or wheeling entirely, or only making journeys when they have someone to accompany them. 31 per cent of adults aged 65 and over find that cracked and uneven footways reduce the amount they walk.
Injuries caused by poorly maintained footways place a direct burden on the health and social care sector, as well as directly on local authorities if they were at fault. People choosing to make fewer walking and wheeling journeys can have an indirect impact on individual and societal health outcomes if these are replaced with car journeys, leading to lower activity levels and increased local pollution.
If people struggle to walk or wheel, they may struggle to access opportunities such as work and education. They may also become socially isolated, lose confidence, and experience anxiety or depression as a result. The annual economic benefit of improving transport accessibility in the UK has been calculated to be £72.4 billion, of which walking and wheeling can play an important role.
Local authorities have a vested interest and legal responsibility to make sure their footways are accessible for all users. The Equality Act 2010 protects people with protected characteristics, including disability, from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in all places. Additionally, the public sector equality duty requires local authorities to ensure their services, such as the provision of walking and wheeling infrastructure, advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
The UK Government has a target of 50 per cent of journeys in urban areas to be walked or cycled by 2030. If this is to be reached most of these journeys will be walked or wheeled.
However, the reality of our pavements, streets and neighbourhoods is often very different. Local authorities face several barriers that make achieving this goal a challenge.
A note on definitions
For the purposes of this report, we have used the following definitions:
A footway is a more technical term for a pavement. Footways exist as part of a highway, where there is also space for vehicles (the carriageway). Footways generally run alongside the carriageway and may or may not have a hard kerb. Footways are generally maintained by local highway authorities.
Throughout this work, we use ‘highway’ as a technical term denoting a public right of way that often includes both a carriageway (for carrying vehicles) and a footway (for carrying pedestrians) as its constituent parts.
By disabled, we mean anyone who faces access barriers due to an impairment or condition – including people who don’t use the word ‘disabled’ to describe themselves. This explicitly includes people who are d/Deaf, neurodivergent, chronically ill, have a mental health condition, have age-related impairments, and people with both visible and non-visible impairments.
We adopt the social model of disability, which recognises that it is physical, social or institutional conditions that disable people, rather than individuals’ impairments, differences or long-term health conditions. This approach identifies that the barriers experienced by disabled people are situated in society. It acknowledges that people with varying types of impairment or condition can be negatively affected by exclusionary attitudes, design, policy and practice. This means we have taken a pan-impairment approach to reviewing the evidence.
We recognise that some people who use wheeled mobility aids, for example wheelchairs or mobility scooters, may not identify with the term walking and may prefer to use the term wheeling. In this review, we use the term wheeling to denote travel modes that use footway space at a similar speed to walking. This does not include the use of cycles or e-scooters, except when used as mobility aids through pedestrianised environments when it is not physically possible to walk or push a cycle or scooter.
Lived experience experts
Lived experience experts are people who have a particular characteristic, such as being disabled, and therefore have first-hand experience of navigating systems and spaces through that lens. We acknowledge the unique value that lived experience brings and regard it as being as important as insights gained from academic qualifications. The word 'expert' innately acknowledges the knowledge that comes from lived experience and elevates it to this level.
 People with hearing loss may choose to refer to themselves in different ways. People who are born Deaf are likely to use the capital ‘D’ and sign language is likely to be their first language and consider themselves culturally Deaf. People who become deaf during their life are more likely to use lower case ‘d’.
The current state of footway accessibility
Accessibility of footways is determined by several factors, including the individual needs of a user. For a footway to be accessible it needs to allow for all potential users to be able to safely complete their desired walking or wheeling journey without encountering undue difficulty.
Disabled people are often most likely to face barriers to accessing the footway. This research has therefore used a disability lens to help identify the key barriers affecting footway accessibility, with the knowledge that challenges facing disabled people also cause accessibility challenges for all other groups, and that solutions to these problems benefit everyone.
Barriers facing footway users
Lack of footway space
One of the biggest barriers to footway use is narrow footways. This affects many people walking and wheeling, including those with mobility impairments, visual impairments, and those who are neurodivergent. This is explained further in Transport for All’s ‘Pave the Way’ report, and the House of Commons Transport Committee report on pavement parking. Reduction of footway space often comes from:
- footways which are too narrow
- motor vehicles parking on the footway
- permanent footway clutter – including road signage, electronic advertising boards, and electric vehicle (EV) charging points
- mobile or temporary footway clutter - including use of the footway by businesses, domestic waste bins and signage for roadworks.
These factors increase in severity if the footway itself is narrow to begin with. We discuss these factors in more detail below.
Footway surface quality
The surface of the footway can pose significant barriers to disabled people. Problems highlighted by Transport for All research include:
- Surface condition: footways that are bumpy and damaged, for example due to cracked paving slabs or pitted tarmac, cause trip hazards.
- Camber or uneven footway profile: steep camber or raising of part of the footway surface by driveways or tree roots, can make the footway very difficult to navigate for people both walking and wheeling.
The Disabled Citizens’ Inquiry found that 89 per cent of disabled people would find level and smooth footways useful for walking and wheeling more.
Many of the factors discussed under the previous headings also present trip hazards. For example, EV charging cables, e-scooters and uneven footways create the risk of falls.
Lack of accessible crossing facilities
A lack of accessible crossing facilities is a significant barrier to disabled people using footways. 2016 research by Living Streets found that among disabled participants, crossing the road was the most common physical barrier to walking.
A lack of dropped kerbs, or inappropriately placed dropped kerbs, can negatively affect journeys. For example, poor alignment of dropped kerbs on opposite sides of the road can result in having to walk in the carriageway before being able to return to the footway.
A further problem is that some dropped kerbs are not dropped low enough to be useable by wheelchairs users and cause difficulties for people trying to navigate them with prams and pushchairs.
Other factors that can render crossing facilities inaccessible are a lack of tactile paving, visual signals, audio cues or a spinning cone, and insufficient crossing times. These features are key to helping people with sensory impairments, learning disabilities and children to navigate roads safely and confidently.
Wayfinding and route information
Accessing information about a walking or wheeling route in advance can support people to decide whether or how they attempt a journey. Lack of accurate information about footway features such as the presence and location of dropped kerbs, signalised crossings, narrow footways, gradients or barriers means that people who rely on these features cannot adequately plan their independent journeys. This lack of information can become a barrier. Even where information is available, it may not be offered in an accessible format.
There can also be a lack of route information while on the footway. Inconsistent and poorly positioned signage can make pre-planned routes harder to follow, whilst a lack of tactile cues on street maps and footways can make it harder for visually impaired people to orientate themselves.
Sharing space with cycles and e-scooters
In many places footways serve more than the simple purpose of providing a space for people to walk and wheel.
Shared use paths have been intentionally altered to allow use by people walking, wheeling and cycling. However, shared space increases the risk of conflict and collisions between highway users. Users may be caused distress and alarm, for example when a pedestrian is passed by someone cycling quickly, with people with sensory impairments being particularly affected. In the case of collisions, this can cause injury, particularly when involving children and young people. This is of growing concern in some places with the increased prevalence of e-scooters, that are also permitted to use cycle infrastructure in trial scheme areas. You can find out more about this by reading a blog from Guide Dogs or the Department for Transport’s E-Scooter guidance.
Lack of benches and shelter facilities
A lack of benches and shelter facilities negatively impacts disabled people’s use of walking routes. People with mobility impairments or chronic conditions involving pain or fatigue, and pregnant people may need to rest more frequently as part of a journey. Absence of benches can make an independent journey unfeasible for some people.
Lack of alternative routes during highways works
Footways can become inaccessible during roadworks if footways diversions are not provided with features such as:
- level surfaces
- adequate signage.
Scale of the issue
Assessment of footway quality
In 2021 Gaist undertook a national assessment of local authority footways, named Healthy Footways, which aimed to evaluate the current state of footways in England. The analysis covered a range of settings across England from completely rural to ultra-urban. Gaist took images of the footway and assessed each for different types of damage. Overall footways are assigned a grade 1-5, with 1 being damage free and 5 structural or severe surface impairment.
It was found that since their last assessment in 2018, the proportion of Grade 1 and 2 footways had fallen and the proportion of Grade 3 and 4 footways had risen, indicating a decline in footway quality.
The findings of this assessment highlight how damage can affect the quality of local authority footways but does not provide an accurate depiction of the scale of the issue for users. By only looking at types and extent of footways damage, these more traditional assessments of footway quality do not consider the wide range of barriers faced by people when navigating footways.
Recent research conducted by the LGA has shown that issues with footway quality are not specific to disabled people but are experienced more widely by residents. In their survey of resident satisfaction with council services 34 per cent of respondents reported feeling dissatisfied with footway maintenance.
Survey data has indicated that the proportion of residents who feel satisfied with footway maintenance is declining, with the number falling from 58 per cent in September 2012 to 48 per cent in June 2023.
Impact of inaccessible footways
Impact on disabled and older people
Research on the impact of footway quality on disabled people has been conducted by Transport for All in their National Accessible Transport Survey (NATS).
Insights from NATS have highlighted how footway quality is a prominent barrier to walking and wheeling for disabled people, with problems with footways being the most common barriers to walking and wheeling reported by participants. Within this, footway quality, street clutter, and footway parking were the top three problems respectively.
Findings from NATS have also highlighted the direct impacts of poor footway quality on disabled people. Participants who experienced footway quality as a barrier to walking or wheeling were more likely than those who did not experience this barrier to report:
- impacts on confidence
- increase in cost
- impacts on health
- increase in journey time
- having to plan journeys in advance
- stopping making a journey
- having to travel with someone else
- more stressful journeys
- stopping walking/wheeling.
The more barriers a person faces to making their journey, the less likely they are not to make it, leading to social isolation, reduced independence and potentially a worsening of their impairment or health condition.
Impact of poor footway accessibility on local authorities
The impact of poor footway accessibility is also experienced by local authorities.
To enable management of footways that deliver fully accessible walking and wheeling, our research suggests that the following recommendations may be useful.
- Commit to the principle that the function of the footway is to provide space for walking and wheeling. Appropriate management of footways and footway space should flow from this core principle.
- Develop current Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans by incorporating specific plans to support walking and wheeling, including targets for participation and comfort of different footway users, where these are not already present.
- Follow Government guidance on inclusive footway design, including ‘Inclusive Mobility’, the ‘Planning for Walking Toolkit’, and ‘Key Principles of Inclusive Street Design’, while not allowing this to replace site-specific engagement with disabled people.
- Involve disabled people using a pan-impairment approach to inform local monitoring, plans, policy and prioritisation decisions relating to the footway. Engage disabled people in local design decisions being careful to follow Government guidance to ensure designs are universally understood. Ensure that disabled people are recognised as experts and compensated for their time and contributions. Work with specialist organisations, such as DPOs, where appropriate.
- Conduct and publish Equality Impact Assessments for all footway improvement work.
- Take steps to reduce existing areas of shared space for walking and cycling, especially in areas of high footfall, to minimise conflict and increase safety.
- Ensure that partners, contractors and subcontractors retain continued footway accessibility during and after street or public realm works, including works on the footway itself. This may be through contracts, training, guidance or penalties.
- Consider kerbside space as an asset, and better consider how this space can be used for purposes other than as parking for private vehicles to remove pressure on footways.
- Reduce and manage footway clutter, especially in the context of increasing pressure to deliver on-street charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
- Commit to placing cycle and e-scooter parking and electric vehicle charging points in positions that avoid obstructing the footway.
- Ensure maintenance regimes are sufficient to address footway hazards such as slippery surfaces, tree roots and broken paving.
- Ensure that local systems for reporting issues with footways are accessible and well publicised to the community.