Saturday, 12 May 2012

Wales leads the world with plans to make councils provide routes for ‘active travel’

Posted on Left Foot Forward on May 10th 2012

If local councils are expected to provide a network of roads for cars, why not a network of routes for people to walk and cycle?

That was the initial thought that sparked the campaign which yesterday saw the Welsh government announce plans to make Wales the first country in the world to place a legal duty on councils to provide a network of routes for ‘active travel’.

If local councils are expected to provide a network of roads for cars, why not a network of routes for people to walk and cycle?
That was the initial thought that sparked the campaign which yesterday saw the Welsh government announce plans to make Wales the first country in the world to place a legal duty on councils to provide a network of routes for ‘active travel’.

As the bill’s ‘active travel’ title suggests, the proposal is as much about health policy as it is about transport. The NHS in Wales spends £1m every week treating obesity-related illness.
As some of the country’s leading health experts said in an open letter to the newspapers this morning:
“Physical inactivity and sedentary living are among the leading causes of chronic disease, ill-health and death in Wales.

“Obesity amongst children and adults in Wales has increased to an extraordinarily high level and, as a consequence, we are beginning to experience an epidemic of type 2 diabetes and other conditions related to this weight gain and sedentary living. These conditions have an enormous personal and financial cost but they are largely preventable if people change their behaviour and take every opportunity they can to be physically active.”
To reverse the infamous entry into the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘For England, see Wales’.

There’s no doubting the potential is there. UK-wide statistics show more than half of all car journeys are less than five miles, and 20% are less than two miles, distances that could easily be covered on foot or by bike. With families struggling with the costs of running a car and prices at the petrol pumps set to rise even higher, how can we make ‘active travel’ a viable option for more people?
We need to approach the problem from the point of view of an unaccompanied 12-year-old child. What make them and their parents confident to cycle on their everyday journey?
The Lancaster University research points to some of the things that can be done:
• Fully segregated cycle and pedestrian routes wherever possible;
• Restrictions on traffic speeds and parking provision;
• A change in legal liabilities on roads to protect the most vulnerable road users;
• Changes to structure of cities to make accessing services on foot or by bike easy;
• Changes to give people more flexibility to travel more slowly (for example, flexi hours);
• A change the image of cycling and walking.
They are all doable.

The forthcoming Active Travel (Wales) Bill will not be a panacea. Its vision is an ambitious one which will require considerable resources and political will to implement over a generation. The combined pressure of rising petrol prices, climate change and an obesity epidemic means it is a vision worth striving towards across the UK.

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