Active travel: solutions for changing cities

Over the last decade promoting active travel has moved from the fringes of urban transport policy to a much more central role in the planning of cities and their transport networks.

This is because the promotion of active travel, and the creation of places and streetscapes where people want to walk and cycle, is such a good fit with where cities that are going places want to be.

Those cities want to be healthier and happier places where the costs of treating diseases associated with inactive lifestyles and poor air quality are being tackled. Cities which are places where good growth happens because they are great places to spend time in and people positively want to visit, live, work and invest in them. Cities that want to make the most of available road space by prioritising the most space efficient ways of getting about.

The big shift in thinking in the value of investing in, and promoting, active travel is reflected in a new wave of influential city active travel commissioners, in the benevolent arms race between cities on spend per head on active travel and in the re-shaping of streets from cycle superhighways to healthy streets. It can also be seen in the greater number of cyclists and pedestrians where effective infrastructure and programmes are put in place.

Having said that there is a very long way to go before all Britain’s cities get close to catching up with where many counterpart Nordic, Dutch and German cities have been working towards for much longer. We have a long cycle path ahead of us and part of the role of the Urban Transport Group is to accelerate the take up of what works on active travel. Our new report – active travel: solutions for changing cities – is part of that process.

It shows how and why active travel schemes can work in any urban area – from gritty Northern cities to the heart of the City of London. And it also shows the potential to go further and faster on implementing more good schemes.

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.