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Opinion

The role of active travel in transforming our transport networks

06 Mar 2024 5 minute read
A cycle lane in Wellington Street, Cardiff

Chris Evans

Previously I have written about how public transport networks need radical changes to be fit for use in the 21st Century and to see the sort of modal changes necessary for us to deal with the climate crisis, which include a shift from widespread car ownership to other forms of mass transportation.

Now is the time to look at active travel and how it also plays a part in the bigger picture.

I do not argue that all car ownership is bad and that everyone should switch to public and active transport, as that is simply not possible. Many differently abled people require a vehicle to be able to play a full role in society rather than be stranded at home. Similarly, tradespeople and musicians require access to their own vehicles to move heavy equipment and tools around.

Rural communities

People in rural communities also need private vehicles to ensure they are able to go about their daily lives too as everything is more spaced out. So, there will now always be a certain level of private vehicle ownership necessary. However, what we can do is reduce the amount of journeys the rest of us make via private vehicle, as well as reducing the need for there to be so many of them clogging up our streets and public spaces.

Unfortunately, there are barriers to active travel. One of the biggest of these barriers is the feeling that our roads are not safe enough for cyclists or pedestrians. The Welsh Government has made an excellent start in reducing this problem by providing Capital funding for Active Travel Networks. Many great schemes have been implemented aiming to provide specialist cycling routes, however, design flaws have also meant some not so great ones have also been built, including in my own ward.

What the Welsh Government lacks is a vision, a big picture. The type of modal change required is similar to that implemented successfully by the Dutch, and we can learn lessons from them. Rather than small scale piecemeal schemes, creating a patchwork of paths with fluctuating levels of inherent design flaws, we need a grand overarching plan.

Rethink

A vision of what we want our cycling network to look like. From there we can then put in to place the important pieces of the jigsaw to get to where we want to be from where we are now. At the moment, too little money is available at any one time, and councils are encouraged to bid for small projects each year which creates this patchwork effect. We need to fundamentally rethink how we both fund and manage active travel to ensure we get a network for the 21st century.

It’s all well and good having capital funding for active travel schemes, but this is likely to be wasted over the long term if we do not also provide the necessary revenue funding streams to ensure that these new active travel paths are maintained properly. Across the country, cash strapped Highways teams usually focus on the road network which takes up all the dwindling funds provided by the increasingly miserly Westminster regime.

There is no separate pot made available for the upkeep of active travel routes. This is most apparent during Winter, when commuters are forced into their cars and off the active travel routes by the lack of gritting equipment provided. Councils claim to focus on the “main” routes, by which they mean the main car routes.

National Cycle Routes

Even National Cycle Routes, the motorways of the bike world, are ignored and do not get a grain of grit to keep them clear for cyclists when the temperatures drop. This leads to more accidents for the most vulnerable of Welsh commuters during the Winter months.

Finally, we need to look at what happens when we reach destinations. Cyclists need a system of safe, secure and dry bike parks that allow cyclists the same protection car drivers already get across the country. Providing bike sections at our multi-storey car parks and at supermarket car parks, where cyclists can park up e-bikes and e-cargo bikes, could be a cheap, easy way to begin this process.

The great thing about all this is that if we achieve the kind of modal shift required, then active travel networks almost pay for themselves in terms of reduced costs to the NHS caused by air pollution and a large reduction in respiratory illnesses.

In summary, what we need to provide healthy active alternatives to car use that are fit for the 21st century are

  • a clear national vision of the network we want to build
  • Capital funding specifically tailored to achieve this vision
  • Revenue funding to ensure the network is maintained
  • Safe, secure and dry storage facilities similar to the network of car parks but for bikes.Chris Evans is a Green Party councillor for Mayals ward in Swansea.

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Jeff
Jeff
4 months ago

Safe storage comment. Absolutely. Indeed needed at supermarkets. I can cycle to my nearest for a the few items I get and a car is the only real option. I can cycle to town for my shopping, but there are no safe cycle storage available. I watch the politicos trumpet the cycles paths but I can only go so far then have to return. I have to watch out for toilet facilities (seeing as there are none, then that also limits how far). I look at the Dutch and the methods and options for SAFE storage they have is amazing.… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Yeah, park a bike in Cardiff and there’s a good chance it’ll get stolen, heck, even the OVO bikes scheme had to be ended because so many were being stolen! Why hasn’t the UK grappled with the issue in a similar way to the Dutch and the Danes? Maybe because cycle usage has been a norm for so long, from before the age of mass car ownership, plus of course the infrastructure was always provided, separate lanes for cycles and mopeds pretty much everywhere. I remember visiting Copenhagen in the early 70s and being struck by the numbers of cyclists.… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
4 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Reading an article on cycle parking at the Hague a year or 3 ago. UK is still in the dark ages. Public engagement in the places on the continent seem to be massive, even in Switzerland (more hills than Wales).
https://www.denhaag.nl/en/getting-there-and-around/cycling/

Alun
Alun
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Yes, I used to hear people saying Wales was too hilly for people to cycle much and thought maybe they had a point. Then I went to Switzerland and Austria and realised it’s nothing to do with that, it’s about civic culture.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
4 months ago
Reply to  Alun

For a while as a child I lived in Norway which is a country where bicycles are popular, even, it seems, in the depths of winter, which in some parts means lots of snow and ice between November and April. I was often quite surprised to see bicycles being ridden, three up, two acting as outriggers using their legs, and one doing the pedaling and steering!

Last edited 4 months ago by Padi Phillips
Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
4 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

I can think of a number of places locally to me in Cornwall where cycle routes exist, but then just stop. Usually this is in fact the very point the cycle lane would be most needed.
They also seem to like to provide unsegregated shared use routes, which despite being the approach least recommended by national guidance seem to be the most common thing to do.
There’s also one route which is on the National Cycling Network which goes off on a unsurfaced track which is on a 1 in 4 gradient.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
4 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

I don’t know if you mean routes shared by pedestrians and cyclists, but if you do, I agree as to how inappropriate they are. I remember using the Taff Trail as a cyclist from the city centre end and receiving the evil eye from pedestrians because I was on a bike and wanting to pass them. I don’t mind being considerate of all other users, but the responsibility for that falls on all users – anyone familiar with the Highway Code would know this. I’ve also experienced the failings of shared use routes as a pedestrian, usually on my trips… Read more »

Adrian
Adrian
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

I would never leave my bike for more than 5 mins locked up in Cardiff city centre. I always double lock mine outside Cardiff Central police station in the hope that nobody is stupid enough to try and steal a bike from there. It is also 200m or so from queen Street so win win.

Jeff
Jeff
4 months ago
Reply to  Adrian

I know the station. Next to the courts where people (allegedly) of various attitudes to property are often in attendance (and found innocent)…. 😉 I think a decent lock is £100 or so, then you have quick release wheels and so on. Finding a good spot for a bike that can be a massive investment for many people is a big pain. I just look at the mentality and facilities provided on the continent and the UK are hardly scratching the surface. Town centre for example. You will need something that has 24hr monitoring. I would suggest our local car… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
4 months ago

I would suggest a reliable, frequent and affordable public transport system would do more to attract people to use their cars less if at all. Cycle lanes are all well and good for the tiny minority who wish to travel this way but they are not a solution. Cardiff cycle lanes are hardly used while those who do cycle often go at high speed on pavements, pedestrian areas and parks with little regard for pedestrians young or old. While many doing wheelies on the roads are a threat to motorists too. I think we meed a rethink on cycling and… Read more »

Glwyo
Glwyo
4 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Buses get stuck in the same traffic on the same roads as the cars. This means there is no advantage to using them so few people do. Classic prisoner’s dilemma. This is why cities with any real interest in public transport have trams, and cities that are merely larping, because they never have to commit to them, instead promote upgrading buses.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
3 months ago
Reply to  Glwyo

So you think if Cardiff had a free bus service running every 15 minutes everywhere throughout the day and most of the night people would still choose to use their cars? They would choose to continue to spend on car costs including petrol and extortionate parking charges rather than than go free and conveniently by bus? Sorry I beg to differ

Adrian
Adrian
4 months ago

As both a driver and cyclist in Cardiff, the policy and implementation of cycle lanes is pure madness. For a cycle lane to be of use it has to link places where people want to cycle between and provide an efficient way of doing so. Neither of these requirements are met be the majority of cycle lanes installed by Cardiff Council. They are poorly designed and aren’t fit for purpose for the majority of cyclists and are more suited for nervous fair weather riders. I am more likely to be knocked off my bike by potholes and substandard road surfaces… Read more »

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