Making our roads safer needs a fresh approach

The world is changing, fast. Technological advances in transport and communication, political upheaval across the western world, and the ever-emerging reality of climate change are all forcing constant revaluation from the leaders of all sectors. The need to rethink tactics is not only essential in business, but also in campaigning.

Against this backdrop of change, transport and cycling activists from some of the most prominent organisations in Britain have reacted by joining forces to get more people walking and riding. But why form an alliance of six campaign groups, with a combined membership of more than 300,000?

One of the institutions involved is national sustainable transport charity Sustrans, the organisation who brought about the introduction of the National Cycle Network (NCN) in 1995. Sustrans was established in 1977 in Bristol, with the simple aim of improving conditions for people walking and cycling.

The charity’s work across the UK now involves maintaining parts of the NCN, campaigning for safer cycling and walking infrastructure, and advising authorities on sustainable transport policy. Now Sustrans also forms part of the ‘Moving the Nation’ alliance, which was unveiled at the Cycle City conference in Manchester in June.

Policy and public relations director at Sustrans, Steve Brooks, explains why the charity became involved: “We, along with other partner organisations, have a common understanding of the barriers to get more people walking and cycling. There’s a broad range of organisations involved – from people thinking about pedestrian safety to people thinking about where the next Geraint Thomas will come from.

“One of the most exciting things is it brings together those partner organisations. We’ve got 300,000 members between us. We can flex more muscle.” Brooks says the partners can now present a unified front when lobbying decision-makers, including the Department for Transport (DfT).

The alliance is made up of Sustrans, national cycling organisations the Bicycle Association, British Cycling and Cycling UK, as well as walking charities the Ramblers and Living Streets. Born after conversations between chief executives, the coalition launched its ‘Moving the Nation’ manifesto in Manchester this summer, outlining the first five steps it would like to see the Government take to improve cycling and walking provision.

Among those supporting the manifesto is Olympic gold medallist turned cycling ambassador Chris Boardman, recently appointed walking and cycling commissioner  for Greater Manchester. Boardman says: “Getting more journeys happening on foot or by bike has a transformational effect, as we’ve seen in many cities around the world.

“These asks make logical sense and will go a long way to realising our ambitions to create better towns, cities and neighbourhoods across the UK.”

The five policy points that make up the backbone of the manifesto are not revolutionary – lower speeds to 20mph in built-up areas and 40mph on rural roads, adopt consistent, safe infrastructure design, revise the Highway Code to improve safety for walkers and cyclists, particularly at junctions, ban pavement parking, and provide cycling training for all schoolchildren.

While these suggestions have been on the table for years, funding for cycling and walking-led infrastructure remains haphazard and sporadic, but the ‘Moving the Nation’ organisations hope singing from the same hymn sheet could help change the tune.

Joe Irvine, chief executive of walking charity Living Streets, says: “As part of the alliance, we hope to further Living Streets’ mission to promote walking as the natural choice for local, everyday journeys. For our streets to be more pleasurable for people on foot, cycling and indeed driving, they mustn’t be designed just for motor vehicles. Most of the levers are in the hands of the public authorities. We hope that acting together as non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) we can build the momentum for change.”

Living Streets was formed in 1929 and over the last 80 years has been responsible for huge changes on our roads, including the introduction of the first zebra crossing and even the introduction of speed limits. Irvine adds: “Together, we have a stronger voice. The threats to people walking and cycling are largely the same, as are many of the simple measures needed to make walking and cycling safer and more enjoyable for everyone.”

Also involved is British Cycling, the governing body for all things pedal-powered in the UK, which played no small part in the first ever Welsh Tour de France victory courtesy of Geraint Thomas this year.

Thomas was a graduate of the British Cycling Academy and climbed to victory on the biggest stage in cycling within the Team Sky system, which grew from the previous Olympic success of the governing body, led by ex-performance director Dave Brailsford, who runs the World Tour team.

But British Cycling also strives to promote cycling across the country, which prompted the move to join forces with the five other organisations. Chief executive Julie Harrington says: “More people cycling and walking will reduce congestion, lower the cost of ill health on the NHS, and make our local communities safer and more pleasant places to be. By speaking out for the first time with one voice, we have set out a clear vision for the future, which will help our country become happier, healthier and greener.”

The alliance’s next step is clear – make its voice heard through the Government cycling and walking safety review, and continue to push for more money to be spent on sustainable transport.

Sustrans chief executive Xavier Brice says: “For too long now, our towns and cities have been designed around cars and motor vehicles, leaving them unsafe, unattractive and difficult to move around on foot or by bike.

“We are setting out a tangible vision of what good would look like and are calling on the UK Government to take urgent action to unlock the incredible benefits in terms of health and economy which walking and cycling can deliver.”

But campaigning organisations are not the only key players. Sustrans’ Brooks says the might of cycling business can bolster the voice of the new alliance: “Businesses know the value of walking and cycling, having a more active and happy workforce, or having greater footfall for shops. Businesses and particularly small businesses understand that.”

While it’s easy to leave the campaigning to the campaigners, cycling business can lobby their local chambers of commerce, or even their MP, to add weight to the economic argument put forward by the alliance. After all, more cyclists on the road means fewer bikes on the shop floor and more cash in the tills.

This new alliance have formed an effective chorus – but it remains to be seen if they will find a receptive audience, or if they’ll just be screaming into the void.

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