Our blueprint for urban transport can deliver transformational change

Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus and Chair of the Urban Transport Group, offers his thoughts on our new report – Policy Futures for urban transport.

Over the coming few weeks the major political parties will be getting together to debate their policies for the next few years. Ensuring our urban economies can grow in a sustainable and inclusive way has to be a key part of those debates. We believe modern and efficient transport networks can be the link between policy objectives and delivered results.

Very few other services brings together – or facilitates the success of – the goals of many government departments and agencies. The Urban Transport Group calculated that in 2014 local bus services alone contributed to the policy goals of half of all government departments and 46 policy goals of those departments (41 outside of the DfT).

That’s why we are launching our latest Policy Futures vision – a blueprint that can lead to transformational change for everything from economic development, social mobility and inclusion through to creating the cities we will need for the future.

At its heart, the Policy Futures vision requires a national framework that brings together government and civil service at the national level with the urban transport authorities delivering services in their local areas. Potentially, the barriers between departments and agencies can be lessened so that the benefits that joined-up transport thinking might be realised – in such disparate policy areas such as health, employment and education.

Not only that, a national framework could also deliver real economic and budgetary goals – funding decisions for transport schemes and infrastructure can be streamlined and made more efficient enabling transport authorities to have more control over a more stable funding regime. A more focussed transport framework will unlock additional job opportunities by helping people get into work and increase the skills base of the population by easing access to education and training.

The Policy Futures vision has 16 specific policy changes we would like to see implemented – I won’t list them here, but we will be on hand at the Labour and Conservative party conferences to explain them in detail.

Our member authorities deliver vital urban transport services for millions of people  in the UK – and we hope to make their voices, and the voices of our members heard this party conference season.

 

Super-charged cycling

A couple of weeks ago, we (me and Tom) went out for a cycle. What’s so special about that I hear you say? Well, we were riding E-bikes, the pair of E-bikes pictured below to be precise. We went out for a lunchtime ride along the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway to test out these bikes with a difference, and we had a beautifully sunny day for it too!

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So, the bikes we were riding were Emu electric bikes, with an integrated frame battery and several different modes for electric assistance. From ‘Eco’ which just gave you a little assistance on the hills to ‘BOOST’ mode, which had me flying up the fairly steep hill out of Bradford on the return trip. As well as testing out the powered modes, Tom wanted to see how they bikes performed with the electrics off. They are heavier than normal bikes but still enjoyable to ride. He’s still smiling at the top of the hill in the picture below.

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Riding along the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway was enjoyable, it’s great to see commitment to delivering high quality cycle infrastructure. And it’s fantastic that Bradford is hosting the Cycle City Active City Conference this week too, really putting West Yorkshire on the map for its commitment to active travel.

The thing that struck me most about riding the E-bike was, that even after more than 2 hours of cycling, I didn’t feel hot and bothered. I felt like I’d been for a brisk walk but not a 2 hour, 28km ride. I loved it!

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For me, that’s where the beauty of E-bikes lies. You can ride a reasonable distance, for example to work, without having to wear special clothes or shower when you get to work. They are more inclusive, you don’t need to be particularly physically fit to ride an E-bike and the electric technology is transferable to hand-cycles, tricycles and cargo bikes. And, if this is coupled with enhanced cycling infrastructure, we really could super charge the cycling revolution.

You can find out more about Active Travel on our website.

Guest blog post: Healthy Streets, Thriving Cities

Lucy Saunders is a Consultant in Public Health at the Greater London Authority and Transport for London leading on transport. Lucy developed the Healthy Streets Approach set out in the recently launched recently launched ‘Healthy Streets for London’ policy which sets out an important new approach for the Mayor and TfL, working with its partners and stakeholders to make London’s streets better for everyone’.


Transport has a huge influence on the character of our cities, and the experience of living, working and spending time in them.

As urban transport authorities, we don’t just help move people around cities, we tackle strategic challenges, from poor air quality to improving access to employment opportunities. It is clear that investment in transport is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

For many years, our cities have depended on cars for people to get around. Reliance on them is resulting in congestion and air pollution as these cities grow. It has also tied too many of us into living inactive lives, contributing to one of the most serious health challenges we have ever faced.

Inactive lifestyles are one of the biggest threats to public health, increasing the risk of developing a range of chronic diseases including diabetes, dementia, depression, heart disease and cancer.

Urban transport authorities have a crucial role to play in addressing that threat. After all, walking, cycling and using public transport to get around are the easiest ways to stay active in urban areas.

That’s why UTG recently convened a meeting bringing together a range of bodies, from Public Health England to the Treasury, to look at how what we can do to deliver the greatest health benefits from our transport systems, working together.

At that meeting, I presented the Healthy Streets Approach the Mayor and TfL are taking in London.

While we have had some success in moving people out of cars in London, we know there is more we need to do. Our new approach is about putting people and their health at the heart of transport planning to deliver the Mayor’s determination to help every Londoner live an active life, to improve air quality and make London a fairer, more inclusive city.
It is our ambition for all Londoners to walk or cycle for 20 minutes every day. Two 10-minute periods of brisk walking or cycling a day is enough for adults to get the level of physical activity recommended to avoid the greatest health risks associated with inactivity. At present, only about a third of adults in the Capital are reporting this level of activity on a given day.

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If we achieve this, one in six early deaths among Londoners could be prevented and many more people would avoid cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It would help combat social isolation, and reduce congestion as well. As more than 90 per cent of Londoners already walk each week, we are building on a strong foundation.

Most journeys made by Londoners start, end, or happen entirely on our streets. Indeed, 80 per cent of Londoners’ travel time is spent on our streets – including bus trips and journeys to and from Tube and rail stations.

We are putting the Healthy Streets Approach at the heart of everything we do. We will prioritise walking, cycling and public transport over private vehicles, investing record sums to ensure that we improve outcomes for customers. The funding we have allocated will be invested in a fundamentally new way, looking not at single transport modes as we have done in the past, but taking a wider ‘whole streets’ view of how streets function to best deliver for people.

We will make streets less traffic dominated and more welcoming, tackle poor air quality and ensure that housing, shops and services are built close to transport interchanges, to make sure more people have what they need within walking distance of home.

Every part of our business will prioritise Healthy Streets. Across the Capital, we will focus on improving the experience of travelling through and spending time on London’s streets. The Healthy Streets Approach uses 10 evidence-based indicators of what makes streets attractive places. Working towards these will help to create a healthier city, in which all people are included and can live well, and where inequalities are reduced.

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The benefits are not limited to good health and wellbeing. The things that make a street work well for people are the same things that make a street work well for local and international businesses, and that create a resilient and sustainable environment.

We cannot deliver Healthy Streets alone. We need to work in partnership with public, private and community sectors to make sure we deliver against the 10 Healthy Streets Indicators.

We are already working with London boroughs, developers and landowners to ensure they can embed the approach in the design of their streets and public spaces. The Metropolitan Police provide on-street enforcement and education to help people to feel safe on our streets. We are working with businesses which will benefit from the economic improvements the Healthy Streets Approach will deliver, and freight companies to manage the impact of freight on our streets. We’re providing training and support to schools and community groups to promote cycling, walking and public transport.

This is a challenge common to all cities across the UK and the Healthy Streets Approach can be adapted to address the unique challenges and opportunities of any city. We will continue to share our experience with other cities. Working together, we can create attractive, thriving streets which encourage active travel and also incorporate sustainable servicing and deliveries. This can start to address our nationwide health crisis, while supporting local businesses and regional economies.

Lucy Saunders, Transport for London