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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Website maps out greener way to work
By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

Pedestrian crossing's green man (Image: BBC)
Walkit.com offers a greener way to get around central London
Unless you have an oversized hippocampus; a ready opinion on every issue under the Sun, and an aversion of going "south of the river", finding your way around central London at street level is not an easy task.

Apart from black-cab drivers, a dependency on the underground and bus networks leaves many people breaking out in a cold sweat when asked to get from A to B on foot.

And this is the motivation behind walkit.com, a not-for-profit website that encourages people to consider walking as a green, healthy and cheap way of getting about, founder Jamie Wallace says.

"The idea came from watching colleagues dive into the tube or taxis, while knowing that their destination was within easy walking distance," he recalls.

"People do not realise how quick it can be walking from A to B, especially in central London."

By entering a street name, postcode or place of interest for the starting and finishing points, visitors to the website get a map and a list of pedestrian-friendly directions for their journey.

We have had a lot of interest from overseas, from tourists planning their trips to London who want to know how to get around better
Jamie Wallace,
walkit.com founder
As well as a route that points out some of the sights and attractions along the way, it also offers the would-be walker calorie and carbon calculations.

"If it is a 10-minute journey at a fast pace, it will tell you how many calories you will have burned; and we show what carbon emissions have been saved by walking instead of taking a taxi, car, bus or tube," Mr Wallace explains.

"It is not scientifically rigorous but it is a good indication," he adds.

'Obesity time bomb'

As the government searches for ways to encourage people to become more active, recent research by the sustainable transport charity Sustrans suggests walking and cycling could help defuse an "obesity time bomb".

A study by the charity has found that every 1 spent on walking or cycling routes could save the NHS 20, which would otherwise be spent on preventable diseases linked to inactive lifestyles.

Pedestrians in London (Image: AFP)
Walking can be a quicker to get around town, Mr Wallace says

"With obesity levels rising, it is important that people build activity into their daily lives," says Phil Insall, Sustrans' active travel director.

"Websites such as walkit.com help people plan how to get from A to B on foot, highlighting that walking is a real alternative for those shorter journeys."

While office workers are one of the website's target audiences, Mr Wallace says enquiries are also coming from much further afield.

"We have had a lot of interest from overseas, from tourists planning their trips to London who want to know how to get around better," he reveals.

"They are interested because they like the idea that the website gives people a route to follow, distance and journey time - that differentiates us from other web-based mapping sites."

Step change

Mr Wallace says the site is getting about 50,000 visitors each month, and hopes that events such as next year's visit of the Tour de France and the build-up to the 2012 Olympics will encourage more people to visit.

He also hopes that the site would be able to team up with organisers of other events too, such as car-free days and open-door events.

A spokesman for Transport for London (TfL) says he welcomes anything that encouraged people to get out of their cars.

"Around 50% of car journeys in London are less than two kilometres, a distance that is easily walked or cycled," he reveals.

People queuing for buses (Image: AP)
Sites like walkit.com could save people time and money

"The mayor and Transport for London want to enable Londoners to make many more such trips by foot."

The spokesman adds that TfL offers walkers in the Greater London area a journey planning service on its own website.

For the future, Mr Wallace plans to develop a community for the site's users.

"That is where we want to go, and that is why we are doing more fundraising to really improve the functionality so we can get people to input information to share with the rest of the walkit community."

Mr Wallace says the extra data will include things such as shortcuts and people's detailed knowledge of a local area's surroundings.

Having recently completed a redesign of the website, he hopes to launch pilot sites for one or two other UK cities over the coming 12 months.

The longer term goal, he says, is to provide walkit coverage for most urban areas in the UK, allowing as many people as possible to take a step in the right direction.

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