Mark Kemp, Chair of ADEPT’s Transport and Connectivity Board, talks about ADEPT’s Active Travel policy position.
Towards the end of 2019, following the climate change emergency declarations made by many local authorities, ADEPT began working on an Active Travel policy position, with partners including Public Health England, Association of Directors of Public Health and Sustrans.
We already knew that active travel - non-motorised forms of transport that involve physical activity, such as walking, cycling and manual scooting – is a vital component of the transport solution. We also recognised the far wider health, economic, and social benefits, which can contribute to improved wellbeing and help to prevent or manage a range of chronic health conditions.
Described by the Committee on Climate Change (1) as an ‘essential element of the transition to a net zero carbon economy, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality’, ADEPT began putting together an active travel policy position that sets out challenges and recommendations for members across the country.
Just a few months after we began work on the policy position, Covid-19 struck, and strict social distancing measures were introduced. As a result, we began to see real changes to how we travel, with unprecedented levels of people walking and cycling.
For us, this created opportunity. Now we had a real chance to embed active travel into our communities, helping to ensure it really does become a vital part of the transport solution.
We continued to work on the policy position with our partners, knowing that it had a real chance to make a difference and hoping that active travel initiatives introduced during lockdown could be extended.
Across the country, local transport authorities have been working with community representatives to refine measures implemented to enable social distancing in areas with a high footfall and narrow footpaths, which both supported the economic recovery and showed communities how such places could be made more accessible.
What has been striking is the way that some of these schemes have polarised community views and so, whilst many have survived, others have had to be significantly adjusted depending upon the pressure applied by local interested parties. There is still a long way to go to win over significant elements of the population.
We know that switching to active travel on a more permanent basis presents challenges for many people. Some people are likely to revert to their previous forms of transport, whilst many experience barriers to continuing active travel, such as public transport availability. Others, however, are keen to embrace the opportunities around active travel. ADEPT members need to ensure the infrastructure remains for this group, while ensuring that we encourage behaviour change towards attitudes to travel.
Active travel is the top priority for policymakers and planners, as it can make a significant contribution to the quality of place and the health of the community. In order to future proof our transport networks, we all need to choose the most appropriate method of transport for the journey we are making. Crucially, the use of active travel needs to increase significantly, particularly for the first mile/last mile elements of our journeys.
Other challenges include funding – while the government announced significant funding for active travel, it is imperative that both capital and revenue long term funding continue to allow development, delivery and maintenance of the infrastructure. Government also need to take a central role, by championing active travel and providing leadership at a national level.
As outlined in the policy position, local authorities need to work closely with partners, stakeholders and communities to understand priorities, identify flaws in existing travel networks, and deliver new infrastructure where required.
I cannot underestimate the importance of active travel to meeting to climate targets. It needs to be embraced and embedded into our transport network for our economic, green recovery, placing it at the heart of the transport solution.