17 May 2022 | Net Zero | Our Work

A bold vision for active travel

Paula Claytonsmith highlights the importance of active travel and the work being done by both central and local government to make change happen.

Earlier this year the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) held one of its most popular #AsktheDfT webinars. On the 8th of February #AsktheDfT showcased an open discussion on Active Travel Policy between DfT’s Matthew Eglinton, Head of Local Highways Maintenance, Innovation, and Resilience, Local Infrastructure, and Kevin Golding-Williams, Head of Cycling and Walking Policy, Active Travel. The webinar brought an opportunity to hear more about the importance of one of the biggest new policy areas for local government in over a decade.

The seeds of this landmark policy were set out in the Government’s July 2020 white paper, Gear Change: a bold vision for cycling and walking.

Call it a revolution. Call it a step-change. Call it bold action. The era of active travel is upon us, and every council is involved. Highway managers have a big part to play and whilst the focus has seemed initially on the implementation of a new design, longer-term the quality of maintenance will be critical.

During the online seminar Kevin talked about the importance of recognising that whilst there has appeared to be an emphasis on cycling, walking is also critically important, and Gear Change makes clear references to the importance of walking with clear health benefits across all age ranges.

“Places will be truly walkable. A travel revolution in our streets, towns, and communities will have made cycling a mass form of transit. Cycling and walking will be the natural first choice for many journeys with half of all journeys in towns and cities being cycled or walked by 2030.”

From theory to practice 

How do local authorities translate the theory of active travel into practice? Into a network where people want to walk and, cycle?

It is done through working with highways engineers and asset managers and not just Active Travel Teams. It is highway engineers and asset managers that will be the ones to deliver something that works on a practical level and over a longer time frame.

Both Kevin and Matthew discussed how councils can take the maintenance lead in helping local authorities transition to the new age of active travel. How Active Travel is a key plank in driving overall government and local government policy to become a Net Zero country, drive down health issues in the population, and create a more active society with all the benefits this brings.

A change of perspective 

 There was recognition from both speakers that networks need to be considered in a new way – through the prism of cycling and walking. It was for this reason that in 2019 and 2021 DfT asked Gaist to analyse the Gaist national databank and provide a high-level review of the state of footways across England. Kevin talked about how this in-depth piece of analysis had been used internally as a background document to help build a funding case for future funding considerations.

The report referred to is called “Healthy Pavements, National Assessment 2021”. It is a re-calculation and comparison of a previous 2019 footway report of the same title that originally used sorted base data of 30,577 miles (49,178km) with the subsequent 2021 report using sorted base data of 48,406 miles (77,871km) (additional data inputs of 17,829 miles (28,693km)). The findings have previously been presented to the UKRLG’s Footways Condition in 2021 but now the report is being released here for consumption by the wider stakeholder ecosystem.

 

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With over 2.5 billion continually refreshed high definition roadscape images in the Gaist national databank, the base imagery and subsequent analysis provided a transparent and accessible sole source of truth about footways. The key objective defined by Kevin, Matthew, and their teams was to assess the condition of footways at a high level, ascertain those that are in poor condition and identify the types of damage with the greatest impact on the condition.

The report also provides a summary evaluation of the work potentially required to ensure all footways in England are in a healthy state. A work bank was created and using statistical modelling techniques a total cost of maintenance to bring and keep all sections of footway in good condition was calculated. The report has been useful for DfT, and whilst written in 2021 the findings and information are still useful for those interested in both maintenance and walking as part of active travel policy.

Kevin reiterated towards the end of the webinar, that while cycling is referred to regularly. Walking activity is critical too. The significance and proportion of the government funding for future active travel is a clear signal that Active Travel is being taken seriously by the Department and Government with future inspections to come. Additionally in Gear Change it unequivocally states that cycling and walking measures must no longer be an afterthought. Cycling and walking are to be at the heart of transport decision-making. At all levels of leadership.

The importance of condition 

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One thing the DfT’s guidance on cycle infrastructure design does makes clear is that improved cycle infrastructure is a key part of general highway improvement and maintenance. (See in particular principle 13 from the Gear Change report). Matthew, was keen to point this out throughout the webinar.

Again, this requires a mindset shift. Considering, for example, road condition from the standpoint of its impact on cyclists, for whom the consequences of hitting a pothole are likely to be far more serious. The same can be said of footway condition, if there is to be an increase in people walking, having well-maintained footways will be key.

 

Encouraging active travel 

While there are multiple departments and people within local authorities with the responsibility of encouraging active travel, there are several factors that relate to how highway and asset managers can increase active travel. One of the major areas is maintaining “route attractiveness” from a user perspective.

 

Maintaining route attractiveness 

Active travel routes need to remain “attractive”, Though attractive is a commonly a subjective term, many users will immediately understand this term. Some users will immediately judge whether they will walk or cycle based on their perception of how safe a route is, it’s ride/walk condition (particularly if they are less mobile) alongside families with young children or a vulnerable or less confident user. Without route attractiveness, people will not make a habit of cycling or walking as their preferred mode of travel.

Consider the ‘broken windows theory in criminology. Improving a neighbourhood’s environment sees crime and anti-social behaviour fall. You can apply the same logic to active travel. Local authorities will struggle to encourage more cycling and walking where cycle paths, footways, or roads that cycles might use are poorly maintained or pose a threat (perceived or otherwise).

 

Hierarchy of travel 

Matthew mentioned the hierarchy of travel versus the normal hierarchy of roads. For instance, the routes cyclists prefer might not be your traditional maintenance and inspection priorities. This is something increasing in importance as highways teams divert active travel routes away from busy, vehicle trafficked routes.

 

An active role for highways managers 

Finally, active travel means planning for the long term. It means highway managers at an early stage integrate good maintenance and management practices. A mindset shift towards understanding maintenance not just from a cycle or walking perspective but also from the experience of different genders, ages, and encouragement perspectives will be a new way forward, enabling more of us to enjoy active travel routes in the long term.

 

 

Paula Claytonsmith is Director, Government and Strategy for the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG).

For all enquiries relating to Gaist, please contact Christina Liassides, Head of Professional Services at christina.liassides@gaist.co.uk

 

Feature image source: Centre for Ageing Better.