Delivering healthier communities in Bristol

By Ian Barrett,

We want Bristol to be a city where everyone can choose to travel in ways that are good for their health and the environment. So, I’m really excited about the work that Sustrans will be doing with local communities to create healthier streets and transport systems as part of Bristol’s European Green Capital year.

Bristol 2015 logoWalking and cycling for more of our everyday journeys is an obvious way to improve our health, by increasing physical activity.

All four of the UK’s Chief Medical Officers have said:          

“For most people, the easiest and most acceptable forms of physical activity are those that can be incorporated into everyday life. Examples include walking or cycling instead of travelling by car, bus or train.”

For most people, the easiest and most acceptable forms of physical activity are those that can be incorporated into everyday life.

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Healthy travel is increasingly seen as the norm in Bristol, with the majority of people under 40 now choosing to walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work. We want to celebrate and build on this, promoting the opportunities for healthier travel choices provided by Bristol’s changing transport systems and reinforcing the growing social norm that “people like me” regularly walk, cycle and use public transport to get around our city.

But Bristolians also have significant concerns about our transport systems, centring on congestion and the health impacts of air pollution. Our air quality fails to meet national standards throughout much of central Bristol and the surrounding areas, and 5.8 % of local deaths are attributable to long-term exposure to particulates, which is roughly 196 deaths per year!

According to a systematic review in The Lancet, 50% of air pollution is attributable to motorised transport, which creates some real challenges for Bristol which has one of the highest rates of car ownership of England’s largest cities.

Public engagement is key to delivering a health impact

It’s key to our success in changing this, and improving the health of our city, that we take the opportunity provided by our Green Capital year to develop a shared vision for transport in Bristol and raise awareness of the opportunities for healthier travel choices, giving people the opportunity to change ingrained travel habits and try something new. 

So, public engagement will be a major theme of Sustrans’ work in Bristol this year.

We’ll be working in Southmead on one of our community-led street design projects, where local people take the lead in redesigning residential streets to reduce the negative impacts of traffic, and enable playing out and community activities.

And we’ll be introducing an innovative Street Kit that enables communities across the city to trial improvements to their streets, creating community spaces (“Street Pockets”) and safer junctions for walking and cycling.

Our streets are the largest area of public space we have in our cities and we’ll be recruiting local champions and providing the support and training required for them to engage with their neighbours in making the most of them.

We’re also going to be working hard to engage people in developing a shared vision for a sustainable transport system for Bristol by leading a team of partners to develop a Good Transport Plan for Bristol, through public dialogue and engagement.

The choices we make on how we travel and the use we make of our streets has enormous impacts on our mental and physical health and the quality of our communities.

Bristol has long been a pioneer of healthier travel options and Sustrans has been at the centre of that, from the creation of the Bristol to Bath Railway Path in 1984 and our community led street design project in St Werburghs in 2004.

Sustrans staff are working in schools and communities throughout Bristol to give people the confidence and support they need to choose active travel options. Our Green Capital year is a fantastic opportunity to engage more people in improving the way we travel to help create a healthier, happier city and I’m really pleased that Sustrans is able to play an active part in working with communities to make that happen.