Making it feel safe for people of all ages and abilities to walk, cycle and wheel locally is a vital component of a "just transition" to a sustainable transport system, says Bruce Whyte of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health
“Walk on by”, “Walking on sunshine”, “I walk the line”, “Just walkin’ in the rain”…..walking gets a mention in many a song, at least in part because walking is a relaxing activity and can inspire creativity.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not provided much in the way of inspiration in itself, but the accompanying restrictions, particularly during the first lockdown period, did lead to far more people walking around their neighbourhood. There wasn’t much else we could do!
Walking was not the only activity to become popular, apparently more people have taken up golf - a safe outdoor activity when other sporting activities were curtailed – and more people cycled, at least in the early part of the pandemic, when many people were furloughed and had time on their hands, the weather was good and the roads were empty.
The learning from this strange period is that when the conditions are right more people will walk or cycle around their local neighbourhoods and beyond. A key condition at this time was the reduction in traffic, which made it feel safer to be out on our streets. So going forward we need to not only think about how we improve active travel infrastructure – which we must do – but also how we make it feel safe for people of all ages and abilities to walk, cycle and wheel locally.
This is a vital component of a ‘just transition’ to a sustainable transport system that addresses transport poverty and inequalities in access and affordability. The Scottish Government has ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, including a proposed 20% cut in car use. This will not be achieved through increased investment in public transport and active travel alone, though that is needed and has been promised. As well as ‘the carrot’ we will also need ‘the stick’, which equates to increasing the costs of car use relative to other forms of travel, including a reform of motor taxation, stopping the building of new roads and ending out-of-town developments.
There are many environmental, social and health co-benefits that will accrue from a shift to a just and sustainable transport system and that is the subject that I will be expanding on in a paper to be presented at this year’s Active Travel conference.
Bruce will be presenting in breakout session 2A. View the whole conference agenda here.