In early January 2023, Transport North East published the draft of the North East’s first Regional Active Travel Strategy for consultation and invited organisations and individuals to send their comments to help them shape the final document.
There are different ways to respond – by completing a survey and/or by emailing email@example.com by midnight on Sunday 5 March 2023. The survey is a relatively short set of “tick box” questions where you can record your support for active travel, and there are some additional text boxes for you to add comments and suggestions. If you have more substantive comments, you might want to email.
Not everybody will have the time the read and digest the 59-page document so here are our key takeaways for you to use in your response, so that the strategy delivers its target of over half of all short, everyday journeys made by active travel by 2035, but also and most importantly, puts active travel at the heart of the future of transport in the region unlocking huge health, environmental and economic benefits.
“Build it and they will come”
We welcome the key commitment statements including creating “Active travel friendly places” and “World class active travel network” which clearly set out the importance of safe and attractive space and streets to enable people to walk, wheel and cycle more. Safety is a real issue, not just a perceived one. Without connected, pleasant and direct protected cycleways, safe junctions, and measures to stop rat-running in residential areas, cycling levels, even for short journeys, will remain abysmally low, especially amongst children and young people, women, and older people. The state of our pavements (often the result of bad parking), the quality and convenience of pedestrian crossings, and limited public space make walking unpleasant, unsafe and difficult, especially for disabled people and parents and carers with buggies and/or small children. All this impacts on not only on mobility but also on our social lives, as playing on neighbourhood streets, interacting with our neighbours, and accessing essential services and shopping (in local centres and on high streets) are difficult and sometimes dangerous.
We ask Transport North East to more clearly focus the strategy on designing, building and maintaining quality active travel infrastructure to enable people of all ages and abilities to walk, wheel and cycle more, and ensure there is a clear thread through the document making a case for it.
Money matters but what about leadership and political will?
Is £500m enough over the next 12 years? Most definitely not and we would argue that £15 per head per year is not enough to achieve the target and create a “world class network”; in the Netherlands, with the kinds of infrastructure we aspire to, levels of investment are twice this amount.
But the success of the strategy does not solely rest on securing funding.
It is very concerning that caveats such as “where feasible” and “where possible” recur repeatedly throughout the strategy. A walking and cycling route is only as safe as its weakest section; any strategy must confront head on the limits to safety such that decisions about what is possible or feasible must be routinely and robustly challenged. What limits feasibility? Political will, fear of upsetting drivers, capacity, skills and technical expertise? In short, the boundaries of what is conceived as feasible need to be pushed.
In North Tyneside, all emergency active travel measures installed in 2020 have been removed and despite funding secured early 2021 to build a permanent sustainable seafront route, as of March 2023, the work hasn’t even started.
We ask Transport North East, the 7 local authorities (including their planning authorities), the combined regional authorities, and other decision-makers to demonstrate leadership through uncompromised, consistent and sustained action in support of active travel.
We also believe that building leadership and political will around active travel demands that local and regional decision makers engage proactively with local walking, cycling and wheeling campaign groups, not just with the national organisations identified in the draft strategy. Local campaign groups can build local support for active travel schemes, share their experiences of walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructures, and work together across the region to amplify the value of active travel in the North East.
We ask for local active travel campaign groups to be recognised as key stakeholders in the strategy. Their participation in the Active Travel Forum and their representation on future governance is essential.
Targets and accountability
What is missing in the document is a set of outputs and outcomes linked to the key commitments leading to the overall aim of increasing active travel trips by 45% by 2035.
These could include, for example:
- Number of school streets across the North East
- Miles of new protected cycleways built
- Number of low traffic neighbourhoods
- High street pedestrianisations
- Number of improved junctions for pedestrians and cyclists
The programme of schemes needs to be further developed and reviewed annually – it is a very mixed bag which lacks coherence and would be more impactful being presented in a series of maps. We need an honest baseline and progress should be reported including spend on active travel capital schemes, schemes delivered, infrastructure outputs, and key achievements. This should be followed by a review of the programme to enable schemes to be amended and new ones added.
Delivery of quality schemes at pace will put the region in a stronger position to secure funding. It will get more people active and generate more demand and support creating a positive loop.
We ask Transport North East to set targets for the strategy aligned with their commitments and show accountability and transparency by publishing annual progress reports and regularly updating the programme of schemes.
Everyday cycling and walking
The focus of the region’s active strategy must be emphatically on everyday walking, wheeling and cycling. This means prioritising not only journeys to work, but also trips to school (accompanied and independent), shops, cultural venues and sports facilities, friends and family, doctors/opticians/dentists and so on. Higher rates of working from home increase the potential for all kinds of everyday walking and cycling within a mile or two of home for everyday errands, lunch breaks, school runs etc. These are probably some of the easiest targets in terms of reducing car usage, but can only be achieved with quieter, safer neighbourhoods, and safer crossings, as well as a dedicated safe network between neighbourhoods and local centres.
At times in the strategy, through its use of images of leisure cycling and its juxtaposition of work and leisure, the focus shifts away from everyday walking, wheeling and cycling. A strategy focused on achieving a target of 50% of all short journeys made by active travel by 2035 needs to emphasise everyday active travel – for families, for older people, for those with limited mobility and additional health needs – and this needs to be integrated into every part of the strategy – the planned schemes, the political priorities, the framing of the strategy, and the visuals.
We ask Transport North East to emphatically and consistently focus on everyday active travel in all aspects of the strategy and in all communication and action around the strategy.
Who is this strategy for – share your experience
In its focus on safety as key to enabling more walking, wheeling and cycling, the strategy identifies many of those who have less experience of and confidence in the region’s existing active travel infrastructures – women, disabled residents, families, those on low incomes, and so on – as absolutely central to the development of the strategy.
As you respond to the strategy, think about your own needs, and those of your friends and family. What would enable you to walk, wheel or cycle more often in the region, and in your neighbourhood, for your everyday trips?
What are your experiences of walking or cycling on the school run? Or of walking to your local shops? Or cycling home in the dark from a gym class? Or wheeling to the metro station?
Let Transport North East, and other regional decision-makers, know what you need to help them reach their ambitious target.