Cardiff Active Travel

 Image:  Nick Treharne  

Image: Nick Treharne 

It’s been five years since the introduction of the Active Travel Act in Wales. This surprised me as the first time I heard about the Act was in May, when BBC Wales reported that since introduction there hadn’t been an increase in the numbers of people walking or cycling to work. 

Briefly, when introduced, the Act placed obligations on councils to provide network maps to show existing routes and to show plans for new routes and route improvements. Knowing this something clicked with me - the old railway line in my town has been resurfaced, and is now a popular traffic free way to walk or cycle to and from the town centre. From walking regularly on this track I sense it being used more for recreation rather than as a commuter route that would support the ambitions of the Act. Although in fairness I rarely use it during “rush hour.” but importantly it is being used, and people enjoy it.

However, with the Act in place, the challenge isn’t just about maps and cycle routes, instead the challenge is also to bring about a lasting behavioural change. This raises the question: How can you encourage people to adopt cycling and/or walking as a means of transport for work?

I was recently asked to think about cycle usage in the context of Cardiff, so the following will focus specifically on cycling. For walking a slightly different approach may need to be adopted.
So here are my initial thoughts on ways to increase the number of people who cycle to work in Cardiff.

From the outset I will stress that, if not already undertaken research to find out why people aren’t cycling to work would be highly beneficial. Such research would identify the barriers, perceived or real, and this would help to guide ongoing strategy and communications to help effectively encourage people to cycle to work.

Ways to increase Active Travel, by cycle in Cardiff:

Set a vision.
The Act has great intentions, that the Council has the opportunity to deliver. This could be effectively supported by having a singular vision for Cardiff. For example, Copenhagen made the proactive decision to be “the best city in the world for people.” Such statements help to focus action to achieve the vision, and so for cycling in Cardiff’s case a great starting point would be to declare that the City is going to be the “Best City in the UK for Cycling”. 
This is a big ambition, however it sends a clear and strong message both to citizens and the wider world. It’s says “We are doing this” it’s positive and would initially get people thinking and talking about cycling in the city.
 
Understand the barriers from a people perspective.
For example, these could include:

  • Cardiff still being commutable by car
  • The ongoing love affair with cars
  • Personal financial pressures - is the cost of buying a bike and the associated kit a barrier?
  • The possibility that cycling is seen as a leisure actIvity
  • Are areas of the city too cycle unfriendly?
  • In older residential areas of terraced homes, is bike storage an issue?
  • When you get to work, where do you store a bike, grab a shower and be work fresh?

 

For barriers consider solutions. 

A good starting point would be, through Social Media, to ask people to complete one statement; “I would cycle to work if……..” Whilst the responses may not be statistically valid, this exercise would get people thinking about cycle commuting, and also should help to give a useful insight to the key barriers that need to be overcome. 

However, it is possible to assume some of the barriers, and consider innovative solutions for them as follows:

Practicalities
Consider cyclists coming into the City Centre. In the main these will be people working in: offices, shops, cafes, bar, restaurants and hotels. In these types of roles understandably people want to appear clean and fresh. So on a practical level a daily commute by bike would need: somewhere secure to put your bike, somewhere to shower and storage for your cycling kit. 
For many small businesses in the City Centre there physically isn’t the space to provide these facilities, and even larger offices can struggle to provide sufficient ground floor space for secure cycle storage.
Other practicalities include, the cost of becoming a cyclist and the encouragement needed to get you in the saddle. Here are some thoughts about how these practicalites could be overcome. 

Dedicated Cycle Parking Facilities
Such a facility could offer: secure parking, lockers for kit storage, showers and ideally towels. This would mean a cyclist could keep a set of toiletries in their locker - less to transport. Not have to worry about their bike being safe. Have access to clean showers. Be able to leave their bikes there overnight, if for example they were away on business or attending evening functions. 
It would also be the logical place to locate a cycle shop, especially useful if it offers servicing and repairs. A cafe would no doubt prove popular, and different levels service could be offered. For example; a basic monthly fee for parking, locker and gym style showers, to a higher level fee for private shower and changing facilities. 
Employers could be encouraged to pay or subsidise the cost of the parking for their employees as part of their employment packages. 
Considering the number of big name retailers disappearing from the High Street this could also prove to be an innovative way for a large vacant unit to be given a new lease of life at ground floor level, with an opportunity to create apartments and/or office space on upper floors.
Such a facility would mean that many of the practical issues facing potential commuter cyclists were overcome. It may also present an innovative opportunity to work with the private sector, for example an existing car parking company, to run the service commercially.

Give it a Go
How do you start travelling to work by bike? Of course it’s obvious, you need a bike. However, you also need to factor in clothing, a helmet and possibly some panniers. If someone doesn’t have any of the above then the cost of getting all the kit could well be a barrier, especially if they are unsure if cycling to work would prove to be practical for them.
So a “Give it a Go” scheme the offered access to a loan bike for a month or so could help encourage more people to try using a bike to travel to work.
Sponsorship from key employers in the City could be targeted, and as a “pilot” the experiences of the users, if documented and promoted via Social Media, would further help to promote active transport in Cardiff. 

Calculate the savings
Do you know how much it costs to drive a car 5 miles a day? I don’t, but I’m sure it can be calculated along with other distances. In doing this the amount of money people could save on an annual basis by cycling to work would become a powerful tool to promote active transport. At a time when working families are under increased financial pressures promoting the economic benefits of cycling seems logical. 

Targeted activity
Whilst Cardiff is a small city, it’s worth considering concentrating initial activity to the
neighbourhoods closest to the City Centre in the first instance. This would have the benefit of seeing a more immediate result, which in itself would see more cyclists heading in and out of the city centre, and the sooner more people see more people on bikes the sooner more people will be encouraged to become active travel cyclists. 

Proactive promotion
Role models would be a positive way to show the benefits that can be achieved by switching to cycling as a means of active travel. As in many cases this would be a significant behavioural change it lends itself to creating a trial group of people, drawn from a mix of neighbourhoods to be supported to make the change. Fully documented their experiences have the potential to create compelling stories to attract media interest. If Cardiff decides to become the “Best City in the UK for Cycling” this group would help to bring the ambition to life in a way that would resonate strongly with other citizens.


Overall the Act sets down a positive ambition to increase Active Travel. As there hasn’t been an increase in active travel, in this post I’ve looked at the issue from a people perspective, acknowledging that for an increase to be achieved a lasting change in behaviour is needed. To effect such a change understanding and overcoming the barriers to making that change needs to be addressed. 

Additionally, by understanding that councils continue to operate under significant financial pressures, I’ve avoided suggesting big and costly media campaigns, and believe that a number of the suggestions could well attract support and funding from the private sector. There is also scope for significant and highly cost effective Social Media engagement.

Cardiff has excellent potential as a city for Active Travel, and it’s hugely encouraging to see the popularity of the recently introduced Next Bikes. Of course more proactive steps will need to be taken before Cardiff can gain the type of global reputation enjoyed by Amsterdam and Copenhagen as being cities where cycling as a means of daily transport is the norm. However, this ambition is truly worth following as it brings with it multiple benefits to citizens, the City itself and importantly to our environment. 

If you have any thoughts on how active travel can be fully embraced in Cardiff please feel free to add them in the comments section, or contact me directly if you would like to discuss this in more depth. 

John JacksonComment