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Active Travel The way forward...

Is the Active Travel Act working for Wales?

That was the question posed by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills committee when it began to look at the law which is meant to make it easier to walk and cycle in Wales.

The committee wanted to hear from people across Wales, whether they cycled or walked regularly or always took the bus or car.

The committee held a survey to help it to understand how and why people in Wales walk and cycle, and why they don’t. More than 2,500 people responded, including more than 500 young people and 520 adult non-active travellers.

The Assembly Outreach Team facilitated focus groups across Wales including Pembrokeshire, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Mountain Ash and Llanelli. Focus groups discussed perceived barriers to active travel, current good practice and areas for improvement. Specific groups were sourced in order to obtain views from under 16s, over 60s, parents and disability groups.

This abstract outlines the evidence gathered from those who took part in the focus groups and survey, and how those views influenced the Committee’s inquiry and helped shape its recommendations to Welsh Government.

The Committee would like to express its thanks to everyone who filled in a survey or joined a focus group.

Infrastructure

Improving infrastructure was a key discussion point across all focus groups and survey responses. Participants discussed the need for more paths and improved connectivity, linked public transport and route maintenance and safety. Participants, particularly younger participants, discussed their wish for designated routes which are separate to the road.

"There is a lack of connected, off-road or protected routes. While I am privileged to have a great East to West route, if I wish to deviate from this route there is very poor safe cycle provision, particularly if I want to make trips with my family." a survey respondent said.

"We should copy the infrastructure of most other European countries. They have proper planning, route segregation, and connected infrastructure. Busses in Canada have cycle racks, which is essential in my opinion." a survey respondent said.

Road Safety

The Act sought in part to deliver good quality, integrated active travel routes that meet the needs of walkers and cyclists and, as far as possible, ensure they feel safe while travelling. Respondents to the Committee’s survey identified safety as the biggest barrier to cycling. Both adults and young people told us overwhelmingly that they did not feel safe when cycling. In fact, the more regularly our survey respondents cycled, the less safe they felt.

"I rode my bike to work every day for seven years. But, it can be really dangerous. Lorries drive by so closely and I have been knocked off my bike by a car. Drivers just don’t see cyclists" A person from Cynon Valley Church said.

"I encounter significant risk cycling to my destination from poorly surfaced roads, obstructed cycle lanes, at best inconsiderate and at worst dangerous driving on every journey." a survey respondent said.

Road safety was the most significant concern for children and parents who took part. Young people discussed their parents’ refusal to allow them to cycle to school due to concerns over road safety.

"Some people are really silly and drive their cars dangerously, there’s too much road rage which doesn’t make me feel safe when I’m on my bike" A pupil from Johnston Primary School said.

Linking public transport

For some, walking or cycling the entire journey to work or school will be impossible. However, creating links to public transport makes active travel a reality for many more.

Network Rail and Arriva told the Committee they have “delivered schemes that have increased cycle storage capacity” but the Committee heard that the reality is that commuters still need to book ahead to take their bikes on a train, and only two at a time are accommodated.

"Having to book my bike on a train, which only takes two bikes anyway, and not being able to get my bike on public transport" a survey respondent said.

"There is a lack of good facilities to store bikes at railway stations. There is also insufficient space on public transport to carry cycles (and pushchairs / wheelchairs)" a survey respondent said.

"I would like the ability to take my bike on public transport - it can be very difficult on trains and is impossible on a bus" a survey respondent said.

In rural areas, integration with buses is likely to be more impactful. One focus group told the Committee that where distances were significant, the opportunity to hire a bike once public transport had taken them to a bike hire station would help remove barriers to cycling.

"People who live in rural villages need a cycle path that’s not part of the road. Our infrastructure needs to be better connected so we can get from our house to town. I’d like to cycle around town but I couldn’t cycle all the way there." A person from Pembrokeshire People First said.

Route maintenance

The Committee’s survey results were clear on the need to maintain active travel infrastructure. 63% of active travellers considered the condition of cycle routes as poor. Some comments related to poor maintenance having an impact on safety, especially as the consequences of hitting a pothole when cycling are likely to be more severe than hitting one in a car.

"Poor quality paths, mud and deep puddles make areas impassable, along with dog fouling and a lack of pedestrian crossings" a survey respondent said.

Some local authorities told the Committee that maintenance for new routes was scheduled as part of the ongoing programme, but that some off road paths were more costly to maintain as they were considered an addition to the programme.

The Committee agreed that once built, ongoing accessibility of the routes is key. Maintenance of routes will be crucial too.

Infrastructure

What has the Committee recommended to Welsh Government?

Recommendation 1. The Committee considers a lack of strategic leadership at both Welsh Government and local authority levels to be responsible for the lack of progress made to date. The ambition of the Act cannot be realised through the actions of a few dedicated cycling/transport officers alone. Leadership from the Welsh Government should be strengthened, and it’s expectation of leadership at local level made clear.

Recommendation 7. The Welsh Government should use the current Planning Policy Wales review and the planning guidance review as an opportunity to strengthen support for active travel and restate the importance of considering active travel in all new infrastructure projects. Active travel should be considered a must have, not an option.

Rural areas

Participants from rural areas said that cycling and walking routes were not effectively connected or not connected at all. Many participants described how they could not access a cycle or walking route from their home and needed to drive or take a bus to get to the nearest route.

"There aren’t many paths where I live. I can’t walk along the main roads because there’s only a grass banking and no pavement. There’s not even a pavement outside my house" a pupil from Johnston Primary school said.

"There’s a trampoline park in Haverfordwest which, if you haven’t got a car, you have to walk half a mile along a road with no path to get to. It’s the road that takes the lorries to Fishguard. It’s the most scariest thing ever." a person from Pembrokeshire People First said.

Participants from rural areas agreed that many destinations are impossible to walk to.

"Where I live there’s no path and my house is right on the road, so we don’t tend to do much walking. There’s no footpaths in rural areas. There’s not even footpaths between the bus stops!" a person from Pembrokeshire People First said.

The Committee heard about the challenges of delivering active travel routes in rural areas from one of our focus groups. They said that as a result of two secondary schools in the area combining, from September 2018 secondary school pupils from Johnston, Haverfordwest, will travel 2 to 3 miles to attend Milford Secondary school. Access to the school is along a rural road with no cycle lane or pavement which they share the road with the lorries bound for Milford Haven. They view walking or cycling along it as “the most scariest thing ever”.

"By not having a path or cycle route for us when we go to our new comprehensive school, they are encouraging us to go in the car, going against the active travel scheme" a pupil from Johnston Primary School said.

Rural areas

What has the Committee recommended to Welsh Government?

Recommendation 8. The Welsh Government should amend its guidance to enable “associated Settlements” to be brought within the Act, enabling the development of active travel routes between smaller rural settlements.

Recommendation 10. The Welsh Government should consider making funding available to progress smaller rural walking and cycling schemes that do not necessarily deliver on active travel, but would be impactful for local communities who may otherwise miss out.

Pavement parking

The Committee agreed that pavement parking is an ongoing issue that has biggest impact on the most vulnerable in our society. It is a complex issue to tackle, but it remains a key symbol of the dominance of the car on our streets. Fewer cars will on the road will ease parking problems, but more should be done to tackle this issue now.

Even where good infrastructure already exists, pavement parking is limiting its accessibility.

Some respondents to the Committee survey felt that pavement parking was not being tackled in their local area.

"Poor driving from other road users and little respect to cyclists given by drivers. There are also cars parked in cycle lanes and dog walkers showing little regard on cycle paths" a survey respondent said.

Pavement parking

What has the Committee recommended to Welsh Government?

Recommendation 21. The Welsh Government should work regionally with police and local authorities to agree innovative ways to tackle pavement parking, including raising awareness of its impact to change driver behaviour. Community co-production should be used to identify locations to target and potential solutions to this issue.

Access to bicycles

Some focus groups discussed the cost of buying and maintaining a bike, along with the cost of repairing a broken bike. Younger participants discussed this in more detail explaining that some of them, and many children within the school, had a scooter rather than a bike as they were cheaper for parents to buy.

"My Mum can’t afford to buy a bike, we could have charity to help children afford a bike" a young survey respondent said.

All focus groups discussed accessible bike hire as a way to overcome barriers to cycling more and as a way to address the perceived cost in buying and maintaining a bike.

For some, bicycle ownership poses a challenge. Others may own a bike but struggle to maintain it to a roadworthy standard. The Committee heard calls for bike hire to be available more widely, and for training in cycle riding and maintenance to be more widely available in schools.

"Not everyone can buy a bike and it’s a job to look after it too, it can be quite expensive, especially if it gets stolen" a person from Amgueddfa said.

"I don’t have a bike, I’ve got a scooter. Maybe schools and councils could hire or borrow bikes for kids to get to school" a pupil from Johnston Primary School said.

The Committee heard that there were limitations to the UK Government’s Cycle to Work scheme, which encourages cycling by allowing employees to buy bikes up to a value of £1000 tax-free through their employer. Disability groups told the Committee that adapted bikes are not included as they are often priced above the upper limit of the scheme.

Access to bicycles

What has the Committee recommended to Welsh Government?

Recommendation 23. The Welsh Government should create incentives to encourage the recycling of former Cycle to Work Scheme equipment and other good quality cycles back in to the community at an affordable price.

Recommendation 24. The Welsh Government should encourage the provision of cycle maintenance classes in schools and communities across Wales.

Recommendation 22. The Welsh Government should lobby the UK Government to include provision for adapted cycles to be included in the Cycle to Work Scheme.

Encouraging active travel

The Committee heard from a number of witnesses that enabling young people to become more active travellers could have the greatest impact long term, yet only 8% of schools are engaged in the Active Journeys to School Programme.

All focus groups discussed how more road crossings, particularly in rural areas, slower speed limits and cycling safety classes at school could encourage more people to become active travellers.

"We get a week in school to learn about cycling safety, I don’t think that’s enough. I’d like help to get better at cycling. And schools should give out high-vis jackets to children who cycle to school as a prize for cycling" a pupil from Johnston Primary School said.

"I don’t like walking on my own. Maybe parents and teachers could start a walk to school group. You would feel safer with your friends and a grown up to watch over you" a pupil from Johnston Primary School said.

"When I was a teenager I did a cycle safety course. I would like to ride a bike but I’d need help to learn how to cycle safely again" a person from Pembrokeshire people First said.

The Committee agreed that there is scope for further work with schools to deliver opportunities and skills. There is also scope to encourage and support people across Wales to try cycling for the first time or join a walking group, but there appears to be little being done in this area. In fact, the Welsh Government has stopped funding for Let’s Walk Cymru.

Encouraging active travel

What has the Committee recommended to Welsh Government?

Recommendation 17. The Welsh Government should provide opportunities for people to try walking and cycling for the first time, including through the funding of walking initiatives such as Let’s Walk Cymru.

Listening to your community

If the Act is to increase the number of people cycling and walking, the Committee considers it essential to for consultation to reach the people not currently doing so. That has failed to be the case to date.

Although good examples of consultation have been identified across a handful of local authorities, success elsewhere is patchy with some local authorities’ lack of capacity and concerns around managing expectations potentially hampering meaningful engagement.

The people best placed to advise on local barriers to active travel are the people who use, or want to use, those routes. Meaningful consultation with local groups is therefore essential when developing new infrastructure, and wherever possible should extend to co-production.

The Committee heard that good consultation can do more than shape the design of infrastructure: it also serves to promote active travel and create buy-in. The Committee’s consultation for this inquiry demonstrated this effect with one disability focus group in Pembrokeshire setting up a walking group as a result of their discussions with us. The group’s discussion had identified confidence as a barrier to walking and so developed a solution that worked for them. The Committee wishes them every success in their new activity.

"I’m not confident but I want to get out more. When I’m walking at night, if I see a car coming I’ll hide, that’s my own personal demon" a person from Pembrokeshire People First said.

The Committee agreed that the danger of not consulting in a meaningful way is that infrastructure is delivered but is not welcomed or used by the local community.

Listening to your community

What has the Committee recommended to Welsh Government?

Recommendation 3. The Welsh Government should lead a lessons learned exercise on Active Travel consultation to seek best practice and capture innovative ways of reaching people who do not currently walk or cycle.

Recommendation 4. In future consultations, local authorities should involve the Access groups that exist across Wales.

Recommendation 5. The Welsh Government should revise its statutory guidance to include co-production as a minimum standard for the delivery of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, involving stakeholders not only in the identification of an issue, but enabling them to be a part of the solution.

Recommendation 11. The Welsh Government should make it clear that in cases where the guidance can only be applied flexibly, co-production with diverse local groups should be undertaken to ensure that as far as possible the solutions being developed are suitable for the needs of the community. Welsh Government funding for projects should be conditional on this expectation being met.

What next?

Welsh Government will respond to the 24 recommendations made by the Committee by accepting, rejecting or accepting in principle.

The whole Assembly will then debate the report and recommendations in Plenary. Plenary is the meeting of the whole Assembly which takes place in the Siambr, the Senedd’s debating chamber

You can book a seat at the Senedd to watch in person, watch on Senedd TV or follow the Siambr on Twitter @SeneddChamber

You can also keep up to date with the Committee and its work by following them on Twitter @SeneddEIS or by visiting their webpage.

Credits:

Created with images by Jamie Street - "untitled image" • rawpixel - "untitled image"

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