• Amy Foster

The Design Gap

Are our streets women friendly? This was the question posed at the start of The Design Gap, a webinar hosted by Labour Walks and Cycles for the Women’s Conference Fringe, and the answer, it seems, must be a resounding no. There is a growing awareness of gender inequality within transport and planning policies in England. The National Travel Survey tells us that women walk further and more frequently than men and when they walk, are more likely to be accompanying children to school or to the shops. Yet as activists and writers such as Caroline Criado-Perez and Melissa Bruntlett point out, the fact that the caring duties generating these trips is given little to no economic value in our society, means that the resulting funding decisions made about transport further entrench inequality on our streets. In 2020, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced an allocation of £2 billion for walking and cycling to great fanfare, yet this figure pales into insignificance when compared to the £27 billion allocated by Highways England for a motorway and A-road infrastructure project. The outcome of this is that walking can cease to be the preferred method of travel, and become the only option available. So the key question for the panel at The Design Gap therefore became, what can be done to make women-friendly streets? A panel of Labour Councillors from London and Manchester described the work they were doing in office to redress the gender imbalance on our streets. The stories shared by the panel ranged from accounts of sex disaggregated data being used to plan new cycle routes to local policing teams dismissing local women’s fears about walking through parks after dark. These accounts further emphasised why women need to be empowered to stand for public office at all levels and to feel confident enough to push for change in relation to our town and transport planning processes: the lack of women on many Council planning committees was cited as a reason for new

developments being approved without step-free access and where shared play-spaces are an afterthought. The speakers all described how seemingly small changes could have a transformative effect on women viewing their local streets as safe and welcoming. For Cllr Nilufa Jahan, Deputy Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport in the London Borough of Newham, it was Newham’s investment in street lighting that explicitly demonstrated how the Council had taken women’s views on-board and were placing their needs centrally as they work towards an attractive and inclusive walking network. Despite the challenges the councillors had all faced in their roles, they underlined their desire to see more women across the Labour Party standing for elected office and becoming involved on the transport and planning portfolios. Without gender parity within this male-dominated industry, we will continue to see routes to our schools and high streets ignored whilst arterial commuter routes continue to receive the lion’s share of infrastructure funding. And as our panellists concluded, we need national investment into both our public transport networks and our active travel networks if our policy makers truly want walking to be what connects us to the community around us, rather than the barrier which deprives us of it.

The Design Gap, Wednesday June 23rd Labour Women’s Conference Fringe Chaired by Heidi Alexander With: Prof. Rachel Aldred, University of Westminster; Susan Claris, Arup; And Cllr Eve Holt, Cllr Nilufa Jahan, Cllr Leila Ben-Hassel, Cllr Rowena Champion


Amy Foster is a primary school teacher from Croydon, south London. She has spent the last

ten years working in schools across the capital, developing a specialism in healthy school

communities and campaigning for safer, more inclusive streets.


Follow her on Twitter @AmyF0ster

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