We need to talk about sweat - the practical challenges of an Active Travel revolution
Posted: Fri, 04 Dec 2020 14:14
2020 is undoubtedly a year that none of us will forget in a hurry and the Coronavirus pandemic has been responsible for many challenging and painful situations. One change however, which has been received positively by many, is an increase in Active Travel and there are hopes that this is one outcome which can be sustained into the future. The latest wave of the National Travel Attitudes Survey containing data to July 2020, (1) suggested that 39% of people were walking more and 38% were cycling more, and 93% of this group expected to continue with this new trend even when restrictions were lifted.
In May this year, a £2bn investment into walking and cycling was announced (2). Many local authorities were quick to access the first tranche which was a £250m Emergency Active Travel Fund. The aim of this was to create temporary road layouts to support safe walking and cycling in a socially distanced world. With lessons learned from those initial trials (3), a survey by Kantar in September this year (4) shows almost 8 out of 10 people support measures to reduce traffic in their neighbourhood, and the more recent tranche of government funding, £175m released in November, is earmarked to support more permanent, high-quality walking and cycling infrastructure (5).
In addition, 2020 has seen the government backed cycle repair scheme (6), bikes for keyworker schemes (7), new bike subscription models (8) and the creation of the grassroots movement Slow Ways, which is mobilising an army of volunteers to map the best off road walking routes between towns, cities and villages across the country (9). The Department for Transport have been holding a consultation over the summer (10), exploring support for a proposed new 'Hierarchy of Road Users', which places pedestrians, as the most vulnerable users at its summit. There is no doubt then, that Active Travel is a firm feature on the agenda as we emerge into the twenty-twenties.
Against this backdrop, capitalising on the many benefits of Active Travel might seem like a no brainer, particularly for those who advocate for a greener and more active lifestyle. Pushing forward the notion of an idyllic car-free world however, where there are no down sides for anyone, could prove costly to the cause in the long-run.
Because make no mistake, Active Travel is not a panacea for all the travel needs of our society today and, in my view, if we really want see a step change in how Active Travel is embedded in day to day living, we need to start having real conversations about all the sides of an Active Travel revolution - the ups, the downs and the in-betweens.
A few things worth considering:
We need to talk about sweat As the title of this article alluded to, there is no getting away from it, getting physical often leads to getting sweaty. Of course there are things that can help; like magic deodorants that reduce sweating, technical fabrics and high-quality changing facilities in the places where we work and learn. However you look at it though, there will always be times and places where we just don't want to show up sweaty; nobody wants to be the person who turned up sweaty for a first date.
Carrying stuff For small loads, innovations in cargo bikes are very promising (11) and the humble shopping trolley has made quite the comeback in recent years, with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel and high-street favourite Cath Kidston all getting in on the action (12). In fact for many people these days a folding bag has become the third essential item, after keys and phone, that they never leave home without. Nonetheless motorised vehicles are pretty handy when it comes to carrying big stuff, whether it's suitcases to the airport, tools for work or bringing home your weekly 'big shop'.
Looking the part Activewear has taken the world by storm in the last decade and is suitable for many situations beyond the remit of getting active. The year of working from home has only enhanced our love of activewear as a style essential and joining zoom calls in casualwear has become very much the norm. Nonetheless, whether it's date night, a job interview or your daughter's graduation, sometimes trainers and helmet hair just don't cut it and sadly heels or a fancy suit are never going to be a natural fit for a pedal powered chariot.
Some journeys are just too far and there isn't always time Many cycling and walking activists advocate that journeys under 3 miles should always be made on foot or two wheels and this certainly isn't a bad guideline to give us pause for thought. However, if you have 3 children to collect from 3 different after school clubs, 8 hours to get home, shower, eat and sleep before your next shift, or frankly, you've just had one hell of a day and need to see your sofa ASAP, sometimes the comfort and convenience of your car is the only thing that will do.
Perhaps even more important than this array of inconveniences is the fact that not everyone is so easily able to embrace Active Travel. Around 1 in 5 people in the UK having a long-term health condition or disability (13) and around 1 in 5 are over 65 (14). There are many within these groups for whom mobility is a daily struggle and some of these most vulnerable members of our communities rely on cars as the only way to keep them connected to friends, family and local services. This is particularly true in rural areas, where public transport budgets have seen major cuts since 2010 (15).
What all of this adds up to is that, like most things worth doing, the Active Travel picture is far from black and white and, though innovation keeps coming every day, change won't happen overnight. Nevertheless, the benefits to our communities and our individual lifestyles will be significant if we get this right, so to harness the best outcomes for everyone here are a few simple principles we can adopt.
- Consult, consult, consult - to understand what people need to help them walk or cycle and also what they require for when they can't
- Trial, trial, trial - whilst you're talking to your communities, don't fall into the trap of consultation paralysis; one of the only ways to find out if something will work in practice is to give it a go and see what people think
- Don't vilify people for driving when they need to - this shouldn't need to be a binary choice and in fact having citizens who engage with more than one mode of transport will promote compromise and enable consensus to be reached on what works to support a range of different needs within communities
- Get the infrastructure right - so it's easy for people to choose Active Travel when the opportunity arises; yes that includes the quick wins, but it also means longer-term commitments alongside collaboration between transport, housing, parks, environment, physical activity and more
- Celebrate the joy of Active Travel – last but by no means least, don't make it a chore or something people have to do; rather help people to enjoy the experience so they want to do it again as often as they can
I have seen a quote a few times lately which relates to reducing waste. "We don't need a handful of people doing 'zero waste' perfectly, we need millions doing it imperfectly".
I believe this is the perfect sentiment for our Active Travel aspirations. Seeing a cultural shift in the way we travel as a society won't take a handful of zealots doing car free perfectly, instead it will be driven by millions of people doing their version of car-free-ish; filled with flaws, imperfections and a whole lot of learning along the way.
from Dannielle Roberts