The Pedestrian Pound: The business case for better streets and places

The Pedestrian Pound report presents the business case for better streets and places, focusing on how creating such places will help attract more footfall to our high streets. This 2018 report includes 20 new case studies, and updates the Pedestrian Pound report originally commissioned in 2013 by Living Streets (the Pedestrians’ Association), a registered charity working to create safe, attractive and enjoyable streets around the UK.

Date added 21 July 2020
Last updated 21 July 2020

This report is concerned with addressing the key question “Does investment in the public realm and walkability create additional commercial benefits?”, particularly recognising that there is limited quantitative evidence on this subject. It will, therefore, provide a useful evidence base for place leaders and managers seeking to create more space for pedestrians, for example when (re)designing places for recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report identifies “three performance indicators for public realm investments":

  1. Impact on existing business performance (footfall and retail);
  2. Urban regeneration (new business, rental income, employment, social exclusion);
  3. Improved consumer and business perceptions.

"An additional section looks at available evidence surrounding the future of the high street and the place economy – a term that reflects an increasingly post-retail and holistic approach to ensuring the health of town centres” (p. 10).

Key findings from case studies, and an investigation of the literature, suggests that quantifiable returns can be made when making places more pedestrian-friendly (one example given is of a £10 million investment in Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, that led to 30% more footfall in the area). Such improvements that increase footfall can be seen to directly lead to increased retail sales.

Central to this report is the notion that, compared with other often more costly transport options, improving a place for pedestrians and cyclists can offer a good return on investment, especially for retailers. However, such investments can not only lead to improved retail sales, but such urban regeneration can also have positive impacts on:

  • Further investment and business start ups
    • for example, public realm investment can lead to increased employment as other businesses (cafes etc) may start up in an area that has been made more pedestrian friendly
    • there are also direct employment benefits for those involved in the construction of new public realm projects.
  • Tourism
    • (although the report recognises further research is required into the walking behaviours of tourists to a place)
  • Property prices and rental yields
    • Case examples from around the world are offered showing a positive relationship between walkability and house prices, rates, and commercial land value.
  • Inclusivity
    • Improving walkability can also help improve inclusion and reduce inequality.

The report also challenges some perceptions regarding car use and improving parking for our high streets:

“It is often assumed that more parking is the answer to struggling high streets, however this is not supported by available research … Retailers have been shown to over-estimate the importance of the car for customer travel. In these studies, more people walked, cycled or came by bus. Case study evidence suggests that restricting traffic does not reduce the number of customers” (p. 11).

Also, put quite simply, places that are pedestrian and cyclist friendly also tend to be more attractive to place users. In that respect, the quality of public spaces is linked directly to people’s perceptions of how attractive it is. If people have positive perceptions of a place, they are more likely to shop there.

The report concludes with a section considering the experiential way shoppers and other place users are now engaging with public spaces and are likely to continue to do so in an “increasingly post-retail physical environment” (p. 11).