Fifty years ago there was no obesity problem. Fifty years ago people would think nothing of walking or cycling to work. A mile walking or five cycling. The decline in daily physical activity, as well as junk food, is a major factor increasing waistlines.
While the strategy in the West Midlands Metropolitan Area's Local Transport Plan has some fine words to say about getting people to walk and cycle more (that's active travel in the jargon), when it comes to proposals for action things are rather different.
According to the Implementation Plan, the transport priorities for Coventry over the next few (2011 – 2026) years are:
- Regeneration, road maintenance, the north/south transport links, highway management and local congestion.
Yet a 2009 Cabinet Office Strategy Unit report on urban transport found that while the costs to society due to congestion were £10.9bn, the costs of road casualties (£8.7bn), poor air quality (£4.5-10.6bn) and physical inactivity (£9.8bn) were in total about three times as much.
Some more detailed points about what the Local Transport Plan says about cycling:
- While its good to see school pupils being targeted for promotion, it seems to me that opportunities to influence the over-16 market, students in particular, are overlooked. Student parking is a significant issue for residents while active modes are attractive to students on tight budgets. An exclusive focus on under 16's may increase the perception that cycling is something for children.
- Cycle civil engineering infrastructure. Why not
- Remove all anti-motorcycle barriers which are not Disability Discrimination Act compliant? These are a hinderance to all cyclists as well as being an insurmountable barrier for many wheelchair users and disabled cyclists.
- Assess every one-way traffic scheme for its suitability for conversion to cycle-contraflow?
- Training. There's a national aspiration to give all children the chance to achieve BikeAbility Level 2. For anyone unfamiliar with BikeAbility, traffic light controlled junctions, roundabouts, multi-lane roads, hazard perception and route planning are not covered until Level 3. While it's reasonable to say that a "safe cycle route" doesn't need BikeAbility Level 3 skills to use it, the unfortunate reality is that most journeys under 5 miles currently made by car do require Level 3 skills. Route planning skills are needed to discover BikeAbility Level 2 routes! While it may be the case that it's too much to give Level 3 training to primary school pupils, it should be regarded as standard for teenagers and adults. Level 3 training not only gives people more confidence and reduces their exposure to risk, it's also a tool to combat pavement cycling.