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The path to inclusive footways

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The design and maintenance of footways, affects how useable they are for different people. This independent report by Sustrans and Transport for All, commissioned by the LGA, details the barriers faced by people accessing the footway, the challenges facing local authorities when making footways accessible.

Executive summary

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. 

Local authorities

  • 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.

Disabled people

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[1], 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.

[1] 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.

Weather-related hazards such as slippery leaves and ice can also cause problems.

The Disabled Citizens’ Inquiry found that 89 per cent of disabled people would find level and smooth footways useful for walking and wheeling more.

Trip hazards

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:

  • ramps 
  • 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.

User perception

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.

Experience of local authorities

Footway design

Understanding and guidance

Footway design is an instrumental first step in making sure England’s footways are inclusive and accessible for all users. The Department for Transport has issued design guidance documents that set out the key principles of inclusive pedestrian infrastructure, whilst Active Travel England (ATE) note minimum expected features.

ATE’s minimum requirements for inclusive footways was cited as the definition used in one council that was interviewed, with many sharing definitions that were similar. It was clear that whilst there was some variance in wording used between councils, the general understanding of what is required to make a footway inclusive is excellent.

This is a strength of the central government guidance that is available to councils. In the interviews many documents came out as contributing to the footway design and implementation in council areas, including Manual for Streets, Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation’s Designing for Walking, and the Equality Act 2010, along with several local documents. Of these, councillors and officers were generally supportive, however three key issues were raised:

  • guidance being followed ‘to the letter’ and not applied to individual situations, to protect designers from criticism
  • various guidance documents being contradictory and leading to confusion and different definitions being used, sometimes within the same council department
  • a lack of any guidance documents in certain areas such as rural active travel.

Local case study: Manchester Streets for All

Transport for Greater Manchester has recently published their updated framework for using street space: the Streets for All Strategy. It aims to support the creation of street environments that are welcoming, safe, and enable more travel by walking, wheeling and cycling, by putting people first. They are proud to proclaim that improving walking and wheeling for all users is one of the aims of Manchester’s transport strategy.

The strategy comprises seven complimentary essentials that set out the vision for Greater Manchester, including “an attractive and inclusive walking environment”. However, inclusivity is a theme that runs through many of the other essentials as well.

The need to ensure that travel routes, as well as destinations, are accessible is noted in the document alongside ways that this can be achieved:

  • increasing dedicated space for walking by
    • addressing footway parking
    • decluttering the streets
    • widening footways
  • keeping streets in a good state of repair
  • providing seating
  • providing accessible toilets at destinations
  • providing walking and wheeling routes have dropped kerbs and tactile paving.

Engagement with local people is noted as one step in removing barriers to walking, alongside prioritisation of the needs of people who find it hardest to walk and wheel due to mobility impairments. These action points are likely to be represented in the new Streets for All design guide and development check. These documents will be used to support all new street design projects and transport assessments, leading to a consistent approach to accessibility and street design across Greater Manchester.


A point that was raised consistently by interviewees was that a lack of accessible footway infrastructure is not due to a lack of will, but due to a lack of resource: both funding schemes and staff. In the survey, all respondents agreed that increased funding would help to make footways more accessible. 

Unlike other highway assets such as carriageways, lighting columns and structures like bridges, footways do not currently feature in the current funding formula from the Department for Transport. In the context of real terms cuts for highways budget across England, this is putting extra pressures on councils to be able to maintain their footways. For most councils interviewed and surveyed, competing priorities for highways funding make investment in accessible footways more difficult.

Relative underfunding of footways compared to other highway elements is partly because the economic, social, health and environmental benefits of walking are not well accounted for in transport appraisal tools.

Where funding was available, through housing development projects for example, opportunities for footway improvements were capitalised on in the local authorities we spoke to. But, by their nature, these interventions were very localised.

The need to apply for funding to pay for walking infrastructure that every council needs and should have access to was noted by several interviewees as a drain on already stretched officer resources, who then must spend a significant amount of time applying for funding.


Lack of resource leads to the challenge of how to prioritise and balance competing demands. The method for how this is done differs greatly between locations.

In one council we interviewed, it was noted that their method of prioritising which footways to repair has changed away from being demand based to data-driven in recent years.

Many councils also noted that their prioritisation process was also based on a more scientific evaluation process. In Coventry, their Carriageway and Footway Forward Programme considers factors such as footway condition, usage of the road, amount of reactive works needed previously, and from 2023-24 the index of multiple deprivation.

Other councils functioned with a hybrid system, by which footways are surveyed at least yearly but residents can directly raise issues about areas of footways and that area will then be re-assessed early.

Prioritisation processes often focus on the most urban and most frequently used routes. This can mean that most residential streets are low priority, an issue that is noted across the country.

Engagement and embedding accessibility tools

When conducting the interviews, experiences of engaging disabled people and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in footway design varied significantly. Whilst all members and officers from the councils interviewed had some experience of engaging with disabled people in this context, the majority felt they lacked the confidence and knowledge to do it well. The quality of user engagement was felt to have worsened in many councils since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Training to help councils know how to carry out effective engagement and training on the barriers facing disabled people would be beneficial. One local officer described how having a representative from healthy streets spend time with officers and elected members was beneficial in improving understanding of accessibility issues by making people aware of them.

Examples of how colleagues with different impairments were able to positively contribute their lived experience to projects were abundant in the interviews, however, disabled staff should not be relied upon to provide a disabled voice in all projects, and may feel uncomfortable doing so. Unlike DPOs such as Transport for All, who take a pan-impairment approach to assessing accessibility, individuals are likely to give only a personal perspective.

Managing footway clutter

Legacy clutter

Guidance for how to create walking infrastructure is constantly evolving, and as a result there remain numerous examples of what was previously considered good practice that we now recognise as inaccessible. For example, road signage installed on the footway, dropped kerbs for driveways, and over-use of pedestrian guard rails do not reflect current thinking and can contribute major barriers to accessibility.

Many councils are taking proactive action to reduce the amount of permanent clutter on the footway. Camden Council are actively removing redundant phone boxes from busy pedestrian areas. Additionally, guard rails are being targeted and removed in several places to widen the footway and, often contrary to perception, to improve the safety of footway users. This is in line with Local Transport Note 2/09.

However, not all clutter can be removed or relocated. Some items of footway furniture are essential, such as pedestrian signage, streetlights, and utilities boxes. Removing or relocating these items would be financially costly and potentially dangerous.

New clutter

Installation of new street furniture can be incorporated into footway design or positioned sensitively to allow for minimum footway widths to be maintained and prevent it from becoming clutter.

When footway maintenance is carried out, this provides an excellent opportunity to retrofit accessibility solutions.

EV charging points are an increasingly common feature in urban landscapes. The recent Department for Transport strategy on EV charging infrastructure, ‘Taking Charge’, states an intention to place obligations on local authorities to “develop and implement local charging strategies”. Whilst important for meeting climate targets, when installed on footways, EV charging points can become a barrier to accessibility, both by narrowing the footway and by trailing charging cables causing a trip hazard.

Some councils have committed to not installing EV charging points on the footway, or only doing so after careful review. This is seen in Manchester City Council, Cornwall Council and Leeds City Council as examples, whilst others are trialling a variety of other measures to limit their impact. Go Ultra Low Oxford are installing lamppost charging points, slim-line chargers, and cable gully chargers as part of a project to provide charging options for EV owners without a driveway to facilitate at home charging.

Installing signage flush with existing street furniture and walls where practical, and replacing physical maps with wayfinding lines painted on footways, were two novel solutions mentioned  that remove the need for physical infrastructure.

Preventing the installation of unnecessary clutter such as telephone boxes and electronic advertising boards was also noted as a key action for ensuring footway accessibility.

Where hire bikes and e-scooters are non-docking, they may have a geofenced, painted area in which they should be left. Fines and bans are often used to enforce use of the geofenced areas, such as by Westminster City Council. Where fines were not effective, one councillor recounted doubling them, which solved their local issue and has no negative impact on legitimate users. 

A-boards and café and restaurant seating were noted in the interviews as a growing problem, particularly following the reopening of businesses after the COVID-19 pandemic. Some councils, such as Bradford Metropolitan District Council have taken a blanket approach and imposed a district-wide ban on advertising A-boards on public footways. Other councils, including Adur and Worthing Council, have clear policies around pavement licensing that recognise the need to avoid obstructions and maintain minimum pavement widths.

Trees and hedges have also been noted as an issue, often impeding the footway when they overhang the footway from private property. Approaches to tackling this differ between behaviour change initiatives: informing property owners of their responsibilities regarding cutting back their plants, and councils taking action themselves, cutting back plants that overhang the footway from public as well as private land. 

Commercial waste has been targeted by several councils, such as Bristol, Brighton and Hove, and Westminster, by limiting when and for how long businesses can leave their waste in the public realm.

Household waste is also being targeted. Cambridge Council are using innovative underground domestic waste storage to service the new Cambridge University development at Eddington, doing away with the need for individual residential bins. Liverpool City Council began retrofitting similar underground bins on Victorian terraced streets in 2022. Other alternatives to individual household bins have been rolled out in several areas, including Edinburgh.

Local case study: Edinburgh waste management policies

Bins are one of the most pervasive forms of street clutter, affecting most streets in cities, towns, and villages across the country. Managing waste is an even greater challenge for The City of Edinburgh Council who have to contend with both historic street layouts and being a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The City of Edinburgh Council is taking action to target areas where domestic waste can cause obstruction of the footway. The rollout and impact of this is collectively known as the Communal Bin Review Project. In target areas on street bin hubs, a collection of large refuse containers that serve several dwellings, are permanently placed predominantly on the carriageway to prevent the need for several individual bins. The creation of hubs in Edinburgh was based on the following considerations:

  • safety - ensuring the bin hubs are safe for people recycling, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers
  • walking distance to the bins
  • neighbourhood sizes – ensuring there are enough bins
  • placing bins on the road rather than the footway where possible
  • reducing street clutter.

Bin hubs are commonly used for tenements and back-to-back terraces, and when installed can significantly reduce obstructions caused by domestic waste where residents do not have space to store it on their property.

The power to act

Councils can tackle obstructive clutter on the public footway, however there is a matter of resourcing that removal. If notice is served under the Highways Act individuals can be charged for the cost of removing and storing their clutter, however if sufficient notice is not served, owners cannot be charged and can reclaim their clutter at no cost to themselves. This can leave councils in the difficult position of only being able to target dangerous clutter in a timely manner and often having to wait a minimum of four weeks before removing anything further. In a 2022 survey conducted by the LGA, 85 per cent  of councils agreed that lack of time and resources deters local authorities from issuing warning letters and taking offenders to court for highway obstruction offences.

Traffic regulation orders (TROs) are a method by which local authorities can enhance their powers of enforcement. TROs are needed before authorities can implement controlled parking zones, create kerbside parking bays, or widen footways. However, the current process of creating TROs has been characterised as “lengthy, bureaucratic and expensive” for local authorities. The TRO process has the effect of impeding local authorities’ progress on footway improvements and adds to their cost burden. To overcome some of these issues, councils such as Cambridgeshire County Council and Haringey Council are seeking to develop Digital TROs.

Pavement parking

Footway or pavement parking is an issue reported across England. In most councils we interviewed, government action was seen as the most appropriate solution to tackling the issue, an approach that was also supported by most survey respondents.

Whilst TROs exist to give local authorities some powers, the time intensive process of obtaining one means TROs are often only sought in the worst affected areas. The majority of interviewees and survey respondents agreed that TROs are not working effectively to regulate vehicle use of the footway outside of London.

Legislative change would take this burden off councils and help to embed a cultural shift in driver behaviour: something several councils noted as an essential step. The Government consulted on pavement parking three years ago, receiving over 15,000 responses. There has so far been no response by the Government, but research from this report found that a Government ban would be overwhelmingly supported by councils to address this issue. You can find out more by viewing the Department for Transport’s Managing pavement parking report, and the UK Parliament’s Pavement Parking report.

Balancing user need

When different walking and wheeling user groups have conflicting needs, these can be hard to overcome, particularly on historic, narrow streets where space is more limited. Specialist guidance documents take these conflicting needs into account when describing best practice approaches. For example, Guidance on the Use of Tactile Paving Surfaces has been informed by research on what is needed for tactile paving to be routinely detectable for blind and visually impaired people and what is needed for it to be most easily navigable by people with mobility impairments.

Some interventions to improve accessibility for one group can have unintended negative impacts on other groups. The City of London Street Accessibility Tool has been developed to help street designers identify both the impacts of street furniture on different groups and identify any instances where improving accessibility for one group can decrease it for another. The tool provides a basis for engagement and discussion to maximise benefits for all.

Local case study: Lambeth Kerbside Strategy

In 2023, the London Borough of Lambeth launched a Kerbside Strategy, setting out principles for how the space at the edge of the carriageway (the kerbside) would be used and managed in the coming years.

The first of four strategy priorities is to facilitate safe active travel, ensuring that kerbside use is managed in such a way to achieve clear and accessible footways. It states a commitment to a minimum footway width of two metres, as suggested by the Department for Transport’s Inclusive Mobility guidance.

The strategy is a clear example of a local authority committing to the principle that footways should be for pedestrians and are spaces where the needs of people walking and wheeling come first.

The council states that they will engage regularly with disabled people and representative groups, to seek their views and responses to street space proposals. They also pledge to the following:

  • places to stop and rest on every street 
  • dropped kerbs at all junctions 
  • minimisation of crossovers on footways 
  • continued prioritisation of disabled parking bays 
  • providing a fair and easy way for businesses to apply to use sections of the kerbside (avoiding encroachment onto the footway) 
  • using the kerbside to place a tree every 25m on Lambeth streets, and ensure a 2-metre-wide footway is preserved where mature trees already exist 
  • introducing permeable surfaces on 10 per cent  of Lambeth’s kerbside, to support drainage and reduce the risk of flooding 
  • siting electric vehicle charging points in a way that maintains two metres of footway and keeps all footways clear and accessible 
  • introducing parking restrictions to ensure sightlines at all junctions, and implementing parking controls across the entire borough 
  • placing cycle and e-scooter parking spaces on the kerbside 
  • creating specific spaces for electric delivery vehicles and cargo bikes, to support safe and sustainable home delivery.  

Lambeth Council has committed to reporting annually on progress in delivery of the strategy. This should facilitate learning for other councils wishing to follow suit.

Information sharing

Information collection

Local highways authorities do not have sufficient resource to maintain a comprehensive and up to date picture of all their footway assets. Our brief review of council highway asset management strategies[2] reveals that most authorities take a network hierarchy approach to collecting data on footways, as recommended by the UK Roads Liaison Group’s 2016 Code of Practice on ‘Well-managed highway infrastructure’. This supports a risk-based approach to highway maintenance, in which hierarchies generally dictate:

  • how often safety inspections take place 
  • how maintenance and capital works are prioritised. 

Hierarchies generally allocate greater resources to footway networks that receive greater usage numbers, with quieter residential streets often being inspected no more than once a year.

A minority of councils involved in this research felt that they did have enough data about the condition of their footways, indicating that methodologies and processes exist to support adequate data collection, as demonstrated in the best practice case study below.

[2] From a convenience sample of local authorities across England, where the sample was influenced by availability via internet searches. 

Local case study: Accessibility Audits and Citizen Science Project

Over the last four years, Islington Council have commissioned AccessAble, an organisation employing both disabled and non-disabled staff, to conduct accessibility audits of the borough’s public realm using their standardised methodology.[3] At the time of writing, the council are working to obtain full coverage of the borough’s footways.

Accessibility audits are an important step in ensuring footways are accessible to all users, by first identifying any barriers. Accessibility audits should ideally be carried out by lived experience experts. This is usually through engagement with DPOs. In addition to the AccessAble audits, Islington Council are innovating another method that directly captures the views of local disabled residents as well.

In a pilot project that took place in Highbury New Park , Islington Council innovated on their current method of accessibility audits in a novel citizen science project. This citizen science pilot aimed to enhance current work by incorporating disabled people’s lived experience into the current, technical reports. It also enabled the council to understand the impact their work has on residents, understand what residents want to see from public realm improvements, and work alongside residents coproducing project outputs. 

The pilot project, which was funded by Impetus, under Horizon Europe’s research and innovation programme, focused on engaging 12 local, disabled residents and capturing their views and experiences through three components. The first component was an inclusive design and participatory methods workshop which informed and upskilled participants on the principles of inclusive design, and technicalities of completing an accessibility audit. Additionally, project members and participants discussed the meanings of lived experience and the various methods to capture experiential data. 

The second component consisted of a ‘walk-and-wheel-about’ tour led by AccessAble, where participants utilised their knowledge on accessibility audits. Project members guided participants on this tour and discussed and recorded the various barriers they faced during the tour resulting from inaccessible physical infrastructure. Following this, the recorded barriers will supplement a map of the Highbury New Park area, outlining the various necessary public realm improvements identified by participants. 

Accompanying disabled residents on the tour was incredibly insightful to council staff, as it provided a direct insight into the barriers faced on a day-to-day basis in the borough. Additionally, the walk-and-wheel-about enabled both participants and project members to view physical space and point out barriers from a pan-disability perspective. Notably, Deaf participants openly remarked on the barriers faced by blind people and the novelty of the pan-disability perspective, conducting part of the audit from this perspective.

The final project component saw participants attend a workshop on survey design, with the aims of exploring ideas for an accessible survey to enable residents to carry out audits of their local area to support with future public realm improvements. This was done with a particular focus on group discussion of accessible design principles and a focus on the aims of the survey in finding out what disabled residents need to be asked about when the council is considering improvements to the public realm. 

By embedding the lived experiences of disabled residents into structural changes within the borough, Islington Council aims to ensure that future audits are more effective, and genuinely cater to the needs of residents. Moving forward, the information and experiences produced by residents as part of this project will be analysed by Islington Council and will inform future thinking and planning around Islington’s public realm. 

Reporting issues

Outside of formal inspections, most councils utilise informal data collection through residents. Suffolk County Council does so through an interactive map that allows users to pin-point the location of the defect, provide descriptions, and upload images. Reports from users are an excellent way for local authorities to find out about issues with the footway outside of scheduled inspections and to organise repairs where needed.

Footway accessibility information

Accessibility information covers a range of features, from footway width and the quality of the footway surface, to the location of dropped kerbs and whether crossing points have audible signals or spinning cones. This information is useful for councils so they can target areas for improvement, and useful for individuals who can use it for journey planning, particularly disabled people and those traveling with children.

Third party digital services can provide an excellent wayfinding resource for many people, with Google Maps providing several accessibility features, including wheelchair accessible routes. However, relying exclusively on third party websites raises the issues of digital exclusion and personal safety as certain people will not have access to a smart phone or may not feel comfortable having one on display when walking or wheeling. Additionally, third parties lack up-to-date data that is held by councils, such as temporary footway obstructions from building works, or areas of significant footway damage, limiting their usefulness for some users. 

Brighton and Hove City Council have produced a walking map of central Brighton, marking the location of all dropped kerbs. Rother Council have done similar, building on Google Maps to provide a comprehensive accessibility map for Bexhill that encourages community contributions. The Bexhill map marks key features including:

  • accessible crossing points
  • accessible traffic lights
  • disabled parking spaces
  • accessible toilets
  • ramps
  • accessible ATMs.

[3] Islington Council (2023), IMPETUS project report (Internal)


To enable management of footways that deliver fully accessible walking and wheeling, our research suggests that the following recommendations may be useful.

National government


Local government

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Conduct and publish Equality Impact Assessments for all footway improvement work.  
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. 
  9. Reduce and manage footway clutter, especially in the context of increasing pressure to deliver on-street charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.  
  10. Commit to placing cycle and e-scooter parking and electric vehicle charging points in positions that avoid obstructing the footway.
  11. Ensure maintenance regimes are sufficient to address footway hazards such as slippery surfaces, tree roots and broken paving. 
  12. Ensure that local systems for reporting issues with footways are accessible and well publicised to the community.