Why We Need to Change How We Think and Talk About Safe Cycling

The UK has a rare opportunity to rethink our approach to transport, particularly in urban areas – it’s important we don’t waste it. Many people are now more open to considering alternatives to overcrowded public transport. And there is greater awareness than ever of the health and environmental benefits of people abandoning private cars in favour of travelling by foot or bike.

The way forward needs to be carefully planned if we want to make permanent changes to the way the population moves around. Perhaps the first step is to stop talking about cycling and walking as alternative ways to travel. This type of language is loaded with the implication that private cars and public transportation are in some way the expected choices.

If we can ride the current wave of awareness we could advance the tide of sustainable transport in a way that would be difficult and illogical to reverse. We can be less fixated on how to manage traffic and more focused on the journeys people need to make and the most efficient and beneficial ways to facilitate those journeys.

From Pop-Up to Permanent

The £250m Emergency Active Travel Fund is helping to make a difference in some towns and cities. Further funding is to follow as part of a £5bn investment announced in February 2020. Thanks to the emergency funding, pop-up bike lanes have been established with protected space for cycling. The aim is also to create wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors.

All of these measures are welcome. The danger (and it’s back to language again) is that ‘pop-up’ sounds like a temporary fix. And, of course, there are many towns and cities that are yet to see a noticeable improvement in opportunities to use sustainable modes of transport.

There are many elements needed to support a long-term shift in travel choices. The aim has to be to make sustainable transport a completely safe and easy choice for individuals and families. Creating safe cycle and pedestrian routes will need creativity as well as technical skills such as working in live transport environments.

There also needs to be clearer thinking around integrated transport systems and the practicalities of where journeys start and end. We have to have convenient options to store bikes securely when not in use. All of these aspects will have to be addressed if we want to see busier safe cycle routes and quieter roads, and for us all to enjoy breathing cleaner air.