Some reflections on active travel in Glasgow

The Glasgow Centre for Population Health has done a lot of useful research into the importance of active travel (indeed we’ve quoted some of it in our briefing notes). In a guest post here, Bruce Whyte,  one of their Public Health Programme Managers, provides some Friday afternoon thoughts on the importance of active travel and the case for more investment.

Glasgow cycle pathAs sometimes happens I start thinking about work on my cycle into work! My commute takes me across Glasgow from west to east, along the Broomielaw path on the north side of the river Clyde, past the Squiggly (or Tradeston) Bridge. With the completion of the South West City Way between Tradeston and Pollokshields, the relatively new West City Way connecting the city centre with the west of the city (and rising usage on both routes), work starting on a South City Way and proposals for a ‘mini-Holland’ style development in Woodlands, it feels like there is real progress being made toward providing a good quality cycling and walking environment in Glasgow.

The area around the Squiggly Bridge is busy with walkers and cyclists and there is a buzz about the place – the good weather also helps. As I continue along the river past the Briggait I come to a stop at a crossing of a busy road leading to Glasgow Green. Although by no means perfect, this route feels safe because of the separation of cyclists and pedestrians from cars, lorries and buses. It is also sociable. I enjoy it for the people you meet on it and for those you don’t know, like the family that transports their very small children on two cargo bikes. This social aspect is not something that can be enjoyed by drivers and not something we would see without safe infrastructure separated from motorised traffic.

Into Glasgow Green, on a wide path which follows the river. I pass swans, geese, black-headed gulls and the odd cormorant, while rowers scull up and down the river. I leave the park heading to Bridgeton. At Bridgeton Cross you get the sense of a busy local hub for shopping and travel which has benefited from renovations to the built environment around the cross, including the repurposing of historic structures such as the Olympia building. At one side of the cross, there is a bike hire station. The scheme, established just prior to the Commonwealth Games, has been a great success with increasing numbers of hires and plans for expansion. It is arguably one of the few lasting health legacies of the Games.

But Bridgeton is also where the case for simply building new infrastructure starts to hit problems. Leaving Bridgeton Cross, a segregated cycle lane runs on one side of London Road and there is further segregated infrastructure around the Emirates arena. However I suspect a cycle counter on many of these routes would struggle to hit double figures on most days. This is where culture, preference and necessity become important. Glasgow has a growing ‘car dependency’ culture. Despite only 49% of households having access to a car in the city, car ownership continues to rise – in some Glasgow neighbourhoods over 75% of households have a car and across Scotland, over 25% of households have two cars. 50% of Glasgow’s school children currently walk to school, but 28% are driven to school – a much higher proportion than in other Scottish cities. In some of the more disadvantaged communities in Glasgow the issue of ‘forced car ownership’ has been identified. This is the notion that a small but growing proportion of poorer families despite financial difficulties see a car as a necessity to gain and maintain employment and to transport their children, perhaps in situations where public transport is lacking or expensive.

The stalling of the Bears Way cycle route in Bearsden and Milngavie and the removal of a new segregated cycle route on Holmston Road in Ayr are manifestations of the strength of our car dependency culture. The completion of the Bear’s Way will depend on changing people’s minds in the local community and in part this comes down to challenging a culture that puts car use above all. But why should we challenge this? Well there are many good reasons…

Global warming and climate change have been fuelled by our burning of hydrocarbons since the industrial revolution and in part have been driven, quite literally, by the growth of transport. The transport sector contributed to 25% of total Scottish carbon emissions in 2012 with 70% of these emissions derived from road transport. There has been no reduction in carbon emissions from transport since 1990 and road transport emissions have actually increased. Linked to this, it is estimated that air pollution accounts for 40,000 deaths in the UK, equating to between 2500-3500 deaths per year in Scotland. Transport sources contribute 40% of NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions and 20% of PM10 emissions – two of the main air pollutants affecting human health. Changing the way we travel to more active and sustainable modes will directly help in reducing carbon emissions and air pollution.

Our sedentary lifestyles and an obesogenic environment contribute to two out of three adult Scots being overweight and three out of ten being obese, while just less than two-thirds of adults meet the physical activity guideline level. The 2016 Active Healthy Kids Scotland Report Card makes grim reading, in terms of the amount of time children in Scotland are sedentary, their low physical activity levels (only 21% of boys and 15% of girls achieve the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of daily moderate physical activity) and the relatively low levels of active travel to school.

Getting more children and adults travelling actively for short journeys will help to address these ‘lifestyle’ challenges. Declining functional active travel has been associated with population-level decreases in physical activity[i] and countries with the lowest levels of active travel generally have the highest obesity rates[ii]. In contrast, lower levels of BMI and fat have been associated with active commuting.

We need to address safety issues. We should not accept rising cycling casualties as inevitable as levels of cycling rise nor socioeconomic inequalities in risk whereby child pedestrian casualties are three times higher in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived. And we know that safety concerns put people off cycling and letting their children walk to school, evidence from Glasgow shows that people appreciate the separation from traffic provided by segregated lanes. The introduction of 20mph speed limits in urban settings (for example the new scheme in Edinburgh) has the potential to reduce casualties and their severity, improve air quality and to encourage more people to travel actively.

We also need to think about what kind of communities we want to live in? The pedestrianisation of Buchanan Street in Glasgow and the centre of Milngavie in the 1970s were no doubt controversial at the time but would anyone  propose reintroducing cars to these streets now? Sometimes brave decisions are needed. The creation of better cycling and walking routes in our cities and towns, more pedestrianised areas and addressing parking blight would help transform local travel, and not only contribute to better physical and mental health but more vibrant local economies and more liveable communities.

Many European cities have invested in active travel and have been transformed from places that were car dependent, car dominated and congested, to places in which a variety of modes of travel are used, with public transport, walking and cycling much more prominent.

Bike parking Gothenburg
Outside the main train station in Gothenburg, Sweden

At a political level, we need to change mindsets. There is evidence from Europe that leadership, longterm commitment and sustained increased investment in active and sustainable travel, particularly infrastructure, can benefit public health and increase public support for such measures. There are signs of such positive developments in Scotland: Edinburgh’s commitment to increasing the share of the transport budget spent on cycling (currently 9% in 2016/17); and, Glasgow’s Strategic Plan for Cycling over the next 10 years, which aims to create an integrated network of cycling routes. But we need more and we need to shift investment toward more active and sutainable modes of transport. Part of this includes investment in public transport, particularly buses where passenger numbers have been in long term decline. This will enable more walking journeys and if the right regulatory conditions are in place, could provide cleaner, less polluting travel. Edinburgh has shown that a high quality bus franchise can increase bus use (slide 11) and start to address environmental issues.

I have tried to be positive in this piece about developments to support active and sustainable travel but I am also under no illusions that much, much more needs done. Nationally and locally, we need much greater investment in new active travel infrastructure, integrated with public transport, at a level sufficient to enable significant modal shifts towards more active and sustainable modes of transport to be achieved.

I cycle to and for work. Why? Because it is the easiest and the quickest way for me to get around the city, gives me flexibility, is inexpensive, gives me a bit of exercise and I have a pleasant journey to work. As we plan for the future, we need to create active, sustainable and integrated transport networks in our towns and cities that take into account people’s needs, preferences and motivations, so that more people choose to travel actively.

At a recent seminar we played a film showing how Glasgow gets to work from 1935. A lot has changed in 80 years, but is it so hard to imagine a film of Glasgow in the 2020s, where commuters on the Glasgow Bridge (crossing the river Clyde at Jamaica St) are travelling in low emission buses rather than trams, what was the horse and cart lane is now a segregated cycle route, many people are walking and the level of cars on the bridge has dropped to that seen in 1935?

Still from Glasgow Gets to Work
From Glasgow Gets to Work (1935) – http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-glasgow-gets-to-work-1935/

[i] Pucher J, Buehler R, Bassett D, Dannenberg A. Walking and cycling to health: a comparative analysis of city, state, and international data. American Journal of Public Health 2010;100:986-1992.

[ii] Bassett DR Jr, Pucher J, Buehler R. Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia. Journal of Physical Activity & Health 2008;5(6):795-814.

Get Briefed!

There’s no shortage of evidence for the benefits that investing in active travel can bring – so much, indeed, it’s hard to take it all in. So we’ve been through the latest reports and boiled some of the key points down for you, in a handy two-page document which you can print out to take to meetings, or easily share.

Briefing page 1

Briefing page 2

All of this evidence – which has links and references to the original sources – should give you the backing you need when you’re taking any of these simple actions to help our campaign.

The hard work starts here!

mothers day launch
Gathered at Five Ways Junction with our banner

Thank you to the families who took the time this Mothers’ Day to help us with our informal launch of  this year’s campaign.

mothers day ride

Despite a chilly start, the sun put in an appearance, and it was nice weather for a relaxed ride, photos, a bit of leafletting and a return to Bangholm for tea and (naturally) cake.

mothers day cargo bike

It’s paths like these that gives families the freedom to ride which is why we’re campaigning for more investment, in the sort of infrastructure that everyone can use, that goes everywhere that people need to go – not just for commuting to work, but the school run, shopping trips and visiting families and friends.

mother and daughter

That means more freedom for children to get themselves around once they’re old enough to travel independently – and thus, mums might get a lie in more than just once a year …

If you’d like to help make this a reality, then here’s how you can help.

2017 Local elections – timetable of events

wcv_signpost_1The elections are approaching fast, and things get busy from here. Here’s a quick cut-out-and-keep guide to what happens over the next few weeks as the campaign gets into gear:

  • 26th March (Mother’s Day! We kick off our campaign with a family photoshoot and leafletting extravagnza on the cycle paths of Edinburgh. Join Suzanne Forup and a crew of family cyclists at Bangholm Outdoors Centre 10-12.  More details (Facebook event)
  • 29th March: Nominations close for candidates for the local elections. We will take around 1 week to get all the details up on our find-a-candidate interactive map, so bear with us as we get this ready.
  • 1st April Alyth Blairgowrie and Coupar Angus campaign cycle organised by Coupar Angus Cycling Hub 10-12. More details (Facebook event)
  • 4th April Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland Hustings, 6-8pm at the Glasgow Women’s Library. Not your typical political event, but a friendly and constructive series of round table chats. More details
  • 5th April Dunbar Candidate’s ride. Join the Dunbar Cycling Group and local council candidates at Bleachingfield Community Centre to look at the local issues acting as barriers to cycling in the town. 4-5:30pm. More details (Facebook event)
  • 6th April. Spokes Lothian Hustings, Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. 6:45pm for a 7:30 start. More details
  • 7th April (approx): Candidate info site goes live.
  • 17th April Deadline to register to vote. Don’t miss out! Register here
  • 19th April Friends of the Earth Glasgow Hustings, Adelaides, Glasgow, 7pm-9pm. More details (Facebook event)
  • 19th April Go Bike Hustings, The Admiral Bar, Waterloo Street, Glasgow, 7:30 pm. More details (PDF flyer)
  • 20th April Dundee Election Hustings with Dundee Cycling Forum and Friends of the Earth Tayside. Butterfly Cafe Dundee 7pm. More details
  • Poster22nd April, Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh. Pedal on Parliament – join this mass family-friendly demonstration in three of Scotland’s cities. More details for Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness
  • 23rd April Pedal on Parliament will also be in Glasgow! More details
  • 24th April, St Andrews Space 4 Cycling 6.30 to 8.30pm (details coming soon!)
  • 26th April Glasgow Public Transport Hustings hosted by Get Glasgow Moving at 7-9pm Renfield St Stephen’s Parish Church. More details (Facebook event)
  • 26th April, Cycling Dumfries candidates’ ride – 4-5:30pm, Dock Park, Dumfries. More details
  • 4th May Local elections held. Don’t forget to go to the polls!

 

What’s missing from this list? If you’re planning an election-related event – or are thinking of doing so – please let us know at contact@walkcyclevote.scot. We’d love to list anything that’s at all relevant from a candidate’s cycle ride to a hustings on transport, public health, pollution, or the environmemt

Pestering more politicians: Perth, Glasgow, Aberdeen

As the local election campaign nears, things are starting to get busy! Not only has We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote been gaining new supporting organisations almost faster than we can keep up (see here for the full list – so far!), we’ve had people at the last three party conferences, spreading the word.

In Glasgow, we were grateful to GoBike for taking our message to the Green party last weekend

In Perth (again), the tireless Emilia and Esmond were tackling Lib Dems:

This weekend was the SNP’s conference in Aberdeen – but the real good news came first from Glasgow

Hopefully a little cargo-bike love from the Aberdeen Cycle Forum will help persuade other parties to follow suit, up and down the country

Thanks  to everyone who gave up a Saturday to help out with these – now all you have to do is forego breakfast in bed next Sunday and help us really kick off our campaigning effort!

Mum’s the word for We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote

suzanne_picWhile most mothers will enjoy flowers, chocolate and breakfast in bed this Mothers’ Day, some of us will ditch the pampering to instead campaign for better walking and cycling provision for families across Scotland. Can you join us by taking to the paths of Edinburgh to kick off our local election campaign? From 10-12 on Sunday March 26th, when others might be enjoying breakfast in bed, a few of us plan to be cycling around the cycle paths of Edinburgh with children in tow handing out #walkcyclevote leaflets to families. There a good chance of cake too!

We’ve booked a photographer so any families that come and join us should be able to get a good photo of themselves! Please come along and invite others – with or without mums. We’re meeting at 10am at Bangholm Outdoor Centre, close to Victoria Park. We’ll be back at Bangholm by 12ish so you can still do Mother’s Day activities. There’s a Facebook event here if you want to let us know you’re coming – or just email contact@walkcyclevote.scot

So if you can spare us a couple of hours, please come along!

Pestering Politicians in Perth

Conference season is upon us, and that means only one thing – getting out and about round Scotland to talk to politicians, local and national, about our policy pledges.

Thanks to Esmond and Emilia who gave up a Saturday lunchtime to talk to Labour Party members at their spring conference.

Joan Coombes
Esmond with Joan Coombes, deputy council leader for Falkirk

 

Armed with our postcards, and our fabulous new banner, they had some good chats and met a mostly enthusiastic reception from most of the people they chatted to.

Keith Walters
Emilia with Keith Walters, candidate for Dumfries and Galloway Council

These kind of events really help raise the campaign’s profile – so can you join us at one or other of the coming conferences this month? You can join GoBike members in Glasgow for the Greens and Conservatives’ events, or join Emilia again in Perth to meet the Lib Dems, or some of the Aberdeen Cycle Forum to meet the SNP in Aberdeen on the 18th March.

Kenneth Duffy and Louise Roarty
Kenneth Duffy, candidate for Motherwell SE; Louise Roarty, candidate for Murdostoun

Alternatively, if you are attending as a delegate yourself, why not pop out and say hello?

Frank Stevenson
Frank Stevenson, candidate for Strathtay