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Keep active, keep healthy

Keep active, keep healthy

It is well known that, to be healthy in both mind and body, it is important to keep active. As Juvenal (55 – 138 AD) put it, Mens sana in corpore sano. These days there is plenty of advice on how to keep active. My personal preference is for active travel, as it is the easiest way to include regular physical exercise into your daily life. These days, when there is an app for everything, there are of course apps to help you lead a healthy life. One that recently caught my eye is the Human – Activity Tracker, not so much because of the slick graphics on their website (although those are very nice), but more because of the data it has collected and presented in the video below –

 

 

The thing that fascinates me about this is the way it shows us the different patterns of activity across different cities, for different modes of travel/activity. At this point it is necessary to add a caveat about the way that the data have been collected. This app is only available for the iPhone and therefore represents the activity of only a small section of the community, but it is never the less fascinating. See more visual data here, sadly Edinburgh is not one of the 30 cities listed.

 

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It is time to stop the killing on our roads

It is time to stop the killing on our roads

This year has seen an upsurge in the number of people dying on our roads, sadly those with the power to change things don’t seem to be interested, so we need to send them the message: It is time to stop the killing on our roads!

Our roads are not a war zone, this is not the fog of war, people dying on our roads are not some poor buggers who have wandered into their covering fire, they are not collateral damage. They were just ordinary people going about their business who died needlessly before their time. Now is the time to make it stop, we can do something about it, but it needs political will. Throwing money at dualing roads won’t save lives. Lowering speed limits, better infrastructure to protect vulnerable road users, strengthening the law and enforcing it, these are things which save lives. It is not rocket science, there is much we can learn from just across the North Sea. We can make our country a better place to live for all, Active Travel IS a matter of social justice. Here are some Manifesto suggestions for Active Travel, let’s push our political representatives to take them seriously. After all, they are there to serve the people.

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An open letter to my MSPs

An open letter to my MSPs

Dear MSPs,

There’s a short window of opportunity to gain a modest one-off boost to Scottish cycling investment. The Scottish Government is to receive £279m for capital investment projects as a result of the UK Chancellor’s Spring Budget.

The reasons for spending a significant proportion of this money on cycling infrastructure should be obvious: active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer), it reduces congestion in towns and cities, and it is good for the economy as people who arrive by active travel are more productive (the smart companies, like Google, are relocating to city with good cycling infrastructure for this very reason), and it reduces peoples reliance on expensive fossil fuels.

This extra money gives the chance to try something different, how about using £20m to set up a into a special award fund to which councils could bid for a large sum, so that Scotland could implement two or three ‘exemplary projects’ providing high quality European-style cycling infrastructure in an area of a city or town, and including at least one main-road corridor. This is an opportunity which really should not be missed, the potential return on investment is huge, as has been shown south of the border where the cycle demonstration towns showed returns of 19:1!

However, time it short please press John Swinney and Keith Brown to cease the day, Carpe diem!

Yours sincerely,

Kim Harding, Bsc, MPhil

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So far I have had one reply to this letter:

Thank you for your email.

The vast majority of the £279m comes from allowing the Scottish Government to administer funds arising in Scotland from the state-backed mortgage plan. This is why it has been derided as ‘funny money’ by John Swinney, as you may have seen in the media. There is a robust exchange in progress between the governments over how much flexibility there should be over this money. I would certainly be supportive of additional funding for sustainable and active travel, and in particular your suggestion of a flagship community approach is an interesting one – provided of course that there is a local authority keen to bid for it. If there is sufficient flexibility this should be a very strong contender for funds.

There is also however a cut of £103m to year-to-year funding. This includes a £50m+ reduction in the budget for the financial year starting the week after next, when a budget has already been set. Services that have to absorb this cut may well argue that they should be at the front of the queue for any flexibility in the capital funding if that can be used to offset the effect of these cuts.

Yours
Marco Biagi (SNP)

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Addendum:

Next reply –

Thank you for contacting me about this important subject. Increased investment in cycling would help us address health and environmental issues. It is affordable, and without a significant increase in funding for cycling and walking, the Government will be unable to meet its obligations under our world leading climate change legislation.

I wholeheartedly share your desire to see the Scottish Government spend a substantial proportion of the £279 million allocated for capital spending in the recent UK budget on improvements to cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure. When the Danish Cycling Embassy visited the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, I asked what steps were taken to achieve the high number of commuting cyclists in Copenhagen where almost 40% of citizens cycle to work and education. In response the Cycling Embassy representative said that investment in a project that clearly demonstrated the many benefits of a segregated cycle way was key. With this in mind, I along with fellow members of the Cross Party Group on Cycling, Jim Eadie MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP, wrote to Keith Brown outlining a proposal for introducing a competitive award for an urban on-road segregated cycle lane project design. In Mr Brown’s response (attached) he reiterates his pledge to make a strong bid for cycling infrastructure funding should more money become available. Now that more money has become available, I intend to do everything I can to ensure he honours this commitment. It is vital that the Scottish Government delivers the levels of funding required to encourage people to take the affordable, active and environmentally friendly option of cycling in the Lothian Region and across Scotland.

Please be assured that I will continue to push the Scottish government at every available opportunity for more funding for cycling, and to target the funding at the projects that will have the most positive impact on cycling in Scotland.

Best wishes

Alison Johnstone (Green)
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Next Reply –

Dear Kim

Thank you for writing again following the UK Government’s recent budget and the allocation of new money to Scotland for capital projects.

I well appreciate your support for further investment in active travel, particularly cycling and I am happy to draw your comments, as well as those of others who would also like to see the Scottish Government focus more on cycling infrastructure rather than road spending.

I will be back in touch when I have a reply from Keith Brown MSP as the current Transport Minister but if there is anything else that I can do for you, in the meantime, as your Regional representative in the Scottish Parliament then just let me know.

Again, with all best wishes.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Boyack MSP (Labour)
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A further update from Sarah Boyack, with a reply from the Minister for Transport Keith Brown –

Dear Kim

Keith Brown MSP has replied to me arising from your concerns about the Scottish Government’s opportunity to provide more investment toward cycling infrastructure. His response, as Transport Minister, as you will see unfortunately does not provide any additional resources to enhance the cycling experience all over the country, even though its benefits to the nation’s health and environment are well-known.

I am sorry that the Scottish Government was not minded to prioritise cycling for additional resources within its augmented spending capabilities but I thought that you ought to see the terms of the official response nevertheless, given your interest in the issue.

As ever, with very best wishes to you.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Boyack MSP (Labour)

And the reply to Sarah from the Minister:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your letter of 26 March on behalf of a number of constituents, regarding additional spending on cycling infrastructure as a result of the UK Chancellor’s spring budget.

The Scottish Government is to receive additional funding for capital projects as a result of the UK Government’s spring budget. However, as the additional capital is for financial transactions (i.e. loans and equity investment), which must be repaid, we are severely restricted in the use of this money.

Investment in cycling is paramount if we are to increase the numbers of people using bikes and realise our shared vision of 10% of all journeys being made by bike by 2020. Over this Spending Review, this Scottish Government will invest almost £58 million on infrastructure, training and road safety projects through Sustrans, Cycling Scotland and local authorities. I hope these commitments reassure your constituents that this Scottish Government is committed to investing in cycling infrastructure to make Scotland an active and safe cycling nation.

Kind regards

Keith Brown MSP (SNP)
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A reminder that Pedal on Parliament 2 is on the 19th May, meet at 15:00 on the Meadows, the more people who join this protest ride, the louder our voice calling for change will be.

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Manifesto suggestions for active travel revisited

Manifesto suggestions for active travel revisited

With the Scottish elections coming up in May, I thought I would revamp my manifesto suggestions for active travel.

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, it can boost local economic activity, 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 for the coming Holyrood elections 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 (or Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá), 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?

So here are a few other suggestions:

Strict liability. As I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog, this is an issue which the Scottish Parliament can and should legislate on.

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, throughout all built up areas. People living in built up areas want to feel safe on the streets. One of the major reasons for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling is the speed of traffic in areas with busy roads. The thing with 20 mph zones is that not only do people feel safer, they are safer. There is a wealth of data on the effects of these lower speed limits, studies have shown that introductions of 20 mph zones are associated with a reduction in road casualties of up to 42%.

Enforce the speed limits. 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. This is creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, but all too slowly.

Cycle training. There is an excellent training programme available for all school children in Scotland, but less than half of Scotland’s school children get the training. Cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills) should be part of the school curriculum, this is an import life skill, not just a leisure activity like golf.

A tax car on parking spaces. Over the last twenty years is there has been significant growth of retail parks and shopping malls, these use large car parks and have greatly increased levels of traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling the life out of 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 again reduce congestion.

Encourage the provision of cycle parking. This could provide real economic benefit, an Australian study has shown each square metre of space allocated to cars contributed A$6 per hour in expenditure, whereas each square metre of space allocated to bicycles brought in five times as much (A$31 per hour). A significant element is that a bicycle take up 12% of the space used by a car, therefore, one car parking space can be used by 8 bikes. So it can be seen that replacing car parking with bicycle parking makes economic sense as part of a parking management plan.

Even the Westminster government has recognised that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users provide as much if not more spending power than car users in town centres. However, there is a consistent misinterpretation by traders that the majority of their customers arrive by car, and this is not just a UK phenomenon. In Graz, Austria, traders reported that 58% of customers arrived by car when objective data showed that this was 32%, while 68% arrived by sustainable travel modes and yet traders believed just 42% did so. Surveys in Edinburgh, Bristol, and Leicester have shown similar results.

To encourage the provision of cycle parking, rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to buildings. Also, to introduce a planning requirement that 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. Of course people also need secure bicycle storage at home, and this should be encouraged.

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 cyclists 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. Let’s face it, 5% isn’t a big ask, the return on investment from active travel infrastructure is far higher than for other forms of transport, by as much as 20:1! This is far greater than the return on investment from providing infrastructure for electric cars. However, 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…!

Introduce 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?

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

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Time for change?

Time for change?

On a day when: a new report suggests that the UK is among Europe’s unhealthiest nations, another shows that 18.7% of children leaving primary school in England are obese (33.4% are overweight), and the Government wants to cut the cost of the NHS, maybe it is time we changed the way we do things? But what to do? Well, maybe we should think about making our towns and cities healthier places to live. Maybe we should look to the countries with the lowest levels of obesity in Europe (which include Switzerland, Italy, and the Nordic Countries) and see if there is anything we can learn from them. As it happens, the Danish Architects and Urban Quality Consultants, Gehl, posted this Infographic yesterday:

ic neighbourhood graph_large" /Infographic by The National Building Museum in Washington DC, USA.

They suggest that active travel is an important part of the mix in keeping obesity rates low, along with a healthy diet. Interestingly, Switzerland and the Nordic Countries also have low levels of road traffic deaths, and lower levels of heart disease and stroke than the UK. If we really want to reduce our health cost then we really need to tackle obesity, after all health care expenditure for an obese person at least 25% higher than for someone of normal weight. With the UK now being the fattest nation in Europe, it is time for change!!

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