Mark Kemp, Chair of ADEPT’s Transport and Connectivity Board

In April, the Government announced ambitious new targets to speed up the target to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. Active travel – defined as ‘non-motorised forms of transport that involve physical activity, such as walking, cycling and manual scooting’ – will play an integral role in meeting these targets. In 2020, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) published its policy position on active travel. Mark Kemp, Chair of ADEPT’s Transport and Connectivity Board, explains more about the policy position and how active travel is a vital component of the transport solution.

Active travel has many benefits to health and wellbeing, helping to prevent or manage a range of chronic health conditions. It also provides environmental, economic and social benefits, and can contribute to economic performance by reducing congestion.

It was described by the Climate Change Committee (1) as an ‘essential element of the transition to a net zero carbon economy, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality’. In addition, transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government wants “half of all journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030”. The importance of active travel cannot be underestimated.

ADEPT began working on a policy position for active travel at the end of 2019, together with partners including Public Health England, the Association of Directors of Public Health and Sustrans. We began this work following the climate change emergency declarations made by local authorities, with the aim of setting out the challenges and recommendations for members across the country.

Just a few months later the pandemic hit, meaning travel patterns significantly changed across the whole country. We continued to work on the policy position with our partners, knowing that it had a real chance to make a difference and hoping that active travel initiatives introduced during lockdown could be extended.

Social distancing measures introduced as a result of Covid-19 meant immediate changes to how we travel, with levels of walking and cycling across the UK soaring to new levels. This change in how we travel created opportunity and meant our policy position document was even more pertinent.

For example, Covid-19 gave the opportunity to accelerate active travel in our communities. Local authorities across the country introduced new measures, often focused on locations that have presented a challenge for enabling social distancing with high footfall and narrow footways. This included working at speed to introduce reduced waiting times at pedestrian crossings, installed temporary roadworks and signage, and reallocated road space.

Since Covid-19 began, the definition of ‘local’ also changed. There is a growing trend of people shopping more locally, using high-street and local shops to meet their needs. The concept of ‘20 minute neighbourhoods’, where services are in easy reach for active travel solutions, has gained support and reflects the way many of us have existed over the last year.

The government also announced significant funding of £2bn for cycling and walking and recently the Department for Transport announced the second part of the ‘Transport Active Travel Fund’, which will see a further roll out of innovative initiatives that seek to promote and support active travel. Local authorities have introduced innovative new ways of funding active travel.

ADEPT’s Active Travel Policy Position was published in July 2020 and argued that to truly usher in the Government’s ‘new era’ and ensure active travel is here to stay, walking and cycling must be designed into the travel network to maintain the changes that Covid-19 has brought about.

Yet ADEPT recognises that there are barriers to sustaining these levels of active travel. As social distancing is relaxed, and as life returns to ‘normal’, many are likely to revert to their previous modes of travel or avoid transport options that they perceive carry greater risk. Already in some instances local authorities have taken out temporary active travel measures, following pressure from communities. There is still a long way to go to win over significant elements of the population. However, in others, measures are being extended as communities realise the benefits for their communities and high streets. The speed of implementation was clearly a challenge and so thorough consultation on maintaining these measures or introducing new ones is a key element to addressing this.

We know that embedding behaviour change is key to maintaining habits and attitudes to travel. It is important that we don’t lose the progress we have made so far. At ADEPT, we are committed to continuing to promote active travel and it remains a top priority for policymakers and planners.

This means local authorities need to continue promoting and training, to encourage the public to select active travel more often. This will include working with behavioural change experts to help people make the appropriate travel choice for the journey they are making.

It’s also important to recognise that we cannot rely on the emergence of electric and hydrogen powered vehicles alone in order to meet the 2035 climate target. Active travel remains the most sustainable transport option and will make a critical contribution to climate targets. Significantly, the use of active travel needs to increase significantly, particularly for the first mile/last mile elements of our journeys within towns and cities.

Other challenges include funding – while funding for active travel has been announced, it is imperative that both capital and revenue long term funding continue to allow development, delivery and maintenance of the infrastructure. Government also need to take a central role, by continuing to champion active travel and providing leadership at a national level.

Active travel is essential not only for our economic recovery, but also for our health, wellbeing and environmental recovery and sustainability. We need to act now, to ensure active travel becomes embedded into the ‘better normal’.

The Active Travel policy position can be found on the ADEPT website: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/documents/adept-policy-position-active-travel

• More information about ADEPT can be found on its website: www.adeptnet.org.uk
• More information about ADEPT’s work on climate change can be found here: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/projects/climate-change-hub
• The Active Travel policy position can be found on the ADEPT website: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/documents/adept-policy-position-active-travel
1. Climate Change Committee (2019) Behaviour change, public engagement and net zero https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/behaviour-change-publicengagement-and-net-zero-imperial-college-london/