Active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, and it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health cost alone make worthwhile). So, with a general election looming, I thought I would make a few suggestions, which the political parties might like to adopt for their Manifestos with regard to active travel.

First off, what is active travel? Well, at its simplest it is making short journeys by active means, such as walking or cycling. So how do we encourage active travel, here is a proposal from an unexpected source:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities
  • Go beyond minimum design standards
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve non-motorized facilities during maintenance projects

Now these might sound like the sort of policies you would get from a liberal neo-socialist European country, but just look at the spellings, this was cut and pasted from the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation. If the Americans can do it, why can’t we?

Here are a few more suggestions:

Strict liability, this is common in most western European countries, in fact the UK is one of only five countries which does not have a law of strict liability, the other four are: Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Romania. The principle is simple, the person who is in charge of the heavier vehicle should be presumed liable in a crash. For example, if a lorry was in a collision with a car, the lorry driver would have to take the greater responsibility. So where the driver/rider of a motor vehicle is involved in a crash with a cyclist or pedestrian, the motorist would be presumed liable. This is not always popular with motorists, there are people who are not willing to take responsibility for their actions, but this is why we need to enshrine strict liability in law. The other objection which is often given by motorists is that this would lead to cyclists and pedestrians deliberately running into motor vehicles in order to claim compensation. This seems unlikely, but where the motorist could prove the cyclist or pedestrian was at fault, i.e., if the motor vehicle was stationary and a cyclist ran into the back of it, then the motorist would not be liable (as is currently the case for crashes between motorists).

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, not just around schools, but throughout all built up areas. This would make the streets safer for everyone, as around two-thirds of crashes in which people are killed or injured occur on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph. According to RoSPA the probability of serious injury to a person wearing a seat belt in a front seat at an impact speed of 30 mph is three times greater than at 20mph. At 40 mph it is over five times greater. Impacts at higher speeds are more severe than at lower speeds, and so lead to more serious injuries. At 35 mph a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30mph.

It is sobering to realise that:

  • Hit by a car at 20 mph, 3% of pedestrians will be killed – 97% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 30 mph, 20% of pedestrians will be killed – 80% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 35 mph, 50% of pedestrians will be killed – 50% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 40 mph, 90% of pedestrians will be killed – 10% will survive.

Added to this, drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions, and they are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close to the vehicle in front. A DfT 2007 Speed Survey showed that on 30 mph roads, 49% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph. Tougher enforcement of the existing traffic laws would also help, currently the police are reluctant to prosecute drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, unless they are travelling in excess of 40 mph. This is a major reason for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling in areas with busy roads. [Update: this is now creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, all be it slowly.]

Cycle training. All school children should have cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills). In addition, training needs to be made available to adults, there is a “lost generation” of adults who have received no cycle training and who don’t understand that the correct place to ride is on the road rather than the pavement, and that the rules of the road apply to them too.

Scrap Vehicle Excise Duty, and instead raise the tax revenue by increasing fuel duties and tax on car sales. This would discourage the excessive driving which has become the norm. People choose to drive short distances rather than walking or cycling because driving is relatively cheap. According to the RAC, in real terms it is 24% cheaper to buy a car and 57% cheaper to run a car now than it was 20 years ago! At the same time the cost of public transport has risen significantly. Overall, tax incentives are pushing people towards driving rather than using other forms of transport.

Reduce VAT on bicycles, the car scrappage scheme was used to encourage the sale of new cars (which helped to lift France and Germany out of recession), why shouldn’t there be an extra incentive to encourage people to buy bicycles?

Tax car parking spaces, another change over the last twenty years is the growth of retail parks and shopping malls. These use large car parks and generate significant traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling small High Street retailers. One way to redress the balance would be to tax car parking spaces. This could also be applied to workplace car parking to discourage commuting by car and so reduce congestion. Rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to the building. As a planning requirement, all new developments should have to provide secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the main entrance to the building, at a minimum rate of one bicycle space per 500 m2 of floor area for commercial offices, and one bicycle space per 900 m2 of floor area for retail and most other commercial uses.

Require planners to count pedestrians and cyclists when they carry out traffic surveys, by law. Every traffic planner in the country can tell you how many motor vehicles there are on the roads in their area, but few (if any) can tell you how many cyclist and pedestrians use the same routes. How can you plan for non-motorised traffic if you don’t know how many people are travelling by these means?

Commit a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. Currently less than 2% of the total transport budget is spent on active travel, and yet we are all pedestrians at some time in the day. No one can drive absolutely everywhere, no matter how much some people might want to…!

A lifetime driving ban for drivers who kill, without exception. Currently drivers who cause death by dangerous driving are given a five year ban, starting from the date of sentence (this runs concurrently with any prison term). Drivers who kill, but are convicted of lesser offences, often leave court with little more than a fine and six penalty points on their licence. Anyone causing the death of another by means other than driving can normally expect a substantial prison term, so why are we so lenient with drivers?

Lets give people back their travel choices, lets help them to choose active travel, for a longer, healthier, and happier life!

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