It is seldom a good idea to venture out on foot. Hail a taxi. Catch a bus. Drive a car. Cycle. Each of these alternatives offers the likeliest chance of completing a journey through a British city without winding up at the undertakers.
Walking is a relic of cosy, Edwardian rurality, when one could take one’s chances in contest with a lumbering horse and cart. Nobody got his or her skull crushed under the hooves of a farmer’s shire.
But that was then.
Today is the 21st century, burnt tyre rubber time, with a bloke in a tall cabin unable to see the assiduous pedestrian, striding alongside his fuel-stashed juggernaut.
Yet the walking lobby won’t give up. It never ceases to campaign for more road space – which means clearing goods lorries, buses and motor cars off great swathing widths of our arterial highways—to make way for its insane multitudes of ambling romantics.
The death toll among these people is distressing. In 2007 alone 646 pedestrians were killed on British roads, some crushed by heavy goods lorries. It’s safer to be a combat soldier. In the same period, 576 soldiers died in Afghanistan.
Yet the walking fraternity insists that it is a human right to travel on two feet wherever and whenever, and whatever the grisly hazards of sharing tarmac in built-up city centres with motorised traffic. Of course, it would really like most of the motorised stuff out of the way. It calls for modified junctions, safe walking lanes, overhead platforms.
To give it even half off what it wanted would require the science of civil engineering to dig up all the arterial complexes of our cities and start roadbuilding again from scratch, as if the internal combustion engine had never been invented. If it could be done it would cost billions.
Walking, its propagandists claim, is “cheap, green and healthy”. How healthy can you rank a mode of transport with such a high mortality rate ? Nor is green always its emblematic colour. Many of the walkers I see are clad in a hideous and fluorescent yellow.
As for being cheap, well of course it is. Comparatively. That’s because, unlike slightly more up-to-date road users, pedestrians enjoy the freedom of the highway without being urged to buy a driving licence or pay road tax.
I am fairly certain that Dave Cameron has allowed himself to be photographed in practical footwear, but not, I think, because he wants to advertise the things.
At any rate, his coalition has irritated the amblers by abolishing Walking England, a quango of Labour’s old transport ministry formed to entice motorists on to two feet. Gone with the quango is a pro-walking handout, funded by the taxpayer, of £60m a year.
The government’s withdrawal of this ludicrous facility seems to have been made on economic grounds. But it is a humanitarian decision, too, whether Dave meant it to be so or not.
It is not safe to walk in the vicinity of high-cabined convoys of juggernauts. To pretend that it is, is to ignore the emergence of all mechanised locomotion since 1912.
Of course the walkers’ propagandists point to Switzerland, where 45 per cent of the population walk to work, and to Amsterdam which allows neat little walking tracks alongside shiny rails for crawling trams.
But Switzerland and Amsterdam, compared to British cities, are mere villages.
They were put together on altogether different lines, 60 odd years ago, after getting blitzed to smithereens.
I think that all walking by major arterial roads, especially at peak periods, should be outlawed on pain of jail, apart from in places without traffic lights and where the motorised speed limit has been brought down to 12 miles an hour.
At the same time, I am not completely heartless. Obviously, walking on bridleways should be encouraged.
It is the only walking –apart from the competitive sort-- that is remotely safe for its participants. I know that elderly cyclists consider these people pests, but the granny with her groceries is usually nippy enough to dodge a two- footed obstacle crawling past the shop window, even if she cannot always bring herself to knock him down.