Active Travel – why we must capture hearts and minds
It’s easy to bombard people with facts. It’s easy to tell people that travelling by car takes longer, is less reliable, more polluting, more expensive and makes you less healthy than walking or cycling.
And if you’re only using your car for short commute, or for taking the children to school, or popping into town, cars are actually pretty expensive to run, taking into account both fuel and standing costs like insurance, tax, and depreciation.
Recent politics have shown that more votes are captured by appealing to people’s emotions. We have famously ‘had enough of experts’. So why would people listen to pious preachers telling them that buses are better, when they all they perceive is greater inconvenience and lots of standing around in the cold?
Studies have shown that “car users systematically underestimate the actual travelling time by car and overestimate the times of alternative journeys by public transport”. On the other hand, public transport users “overestimated the travelling time by a good quarter”, showing that people are not particularly reliable witnesses, even of their own daily lives. And so, feelings come into play far more than ‘experts’ would like to think.
The real challenge, then, is to win hearts and minds. Tying active travel into community engagement initiatives and using it as a tool to bring people closer together means that you’re not just learning about where the good cycle routes are, but you’re making new friends as well. You’re not just getting your bike repaired, you’re supporting a local enterprise. It’s fun, it’s helpful and it makes you feel good. If all goes well, the community take ownership of events, and the neighbourhood embraces sustainable travel as part of an overall culture of friendliness, resilience, support and growth.
Travel Plans are already built into the planning system and developers are legally committed to spending money on these measures. Looking beyond the immediate requirements to measure and quantify, the Travel Plan is a fantastic tool to foster and nurture a community and engender collective responsibility for healthier neighbourhoods.
Prominent doctors talk about us being ‘architects of our own health’ and encourage us to take responsibility and ownership of our wellbeing. We are also architects of our own communities. If we are clever, we can channel Travel Plan resources into bringing about positive behavioural change, and build social capital at the same time.
Here I explore how our attitudes towards, and reliance on, the car are changing based on some lessons we’ve learned from one of our recent projects.