This article was originally published in Scottish Planner.
Chiquita Elvin, Licentiate member of the RTPI and Land Development Officer at Sustrans Scotland, explains the importance of walking and cycling infrastructure in new developments.
We all want to live and work in places that are vibrant, healthy, more active and less congested. To create such places, we need our cities and towns planned and designed to prioritise people on foot and bike over vehicular movement.
Helping more people walk and cycle
Over the past few years, we have seen a real appetite amongst politicians and decision-makers in Scotland to do more to encourage people to travel by foot and bike for more of the journeys they make every day.
From government strategies such as Cleaner Air for Scotland or the National Walking Strategy, to the recent doubling of the Active Travel budget to £80m per year, Scotland has set ambitious targets to improve air quality and boost the number of people walking and cycling.
But whilst political will in Scotland is geared towards enabling and encouraging walking, cycling and sustainable transport, what we see developed doesn’t always marry up. This is often down to the planning decisions which are made both at regional and local levels.
Where a new development is located, and how it is laid out, will impact on its ability to encourage people to walk and cycle. It is essential that consideration is taken on how a site links to surrounding streets, green spaces and travel networks throughout the design and delivery process.
Admittedly, this isn’t a radical notion and most planners may consider this to already be a given, yet Sustrans still frequently sees missed opportunities in sites across Scotland.
Sustrans Scotland are typically asked to introduce active travel infrastructure, through our Community Links, Street Design or National Cycle Network programmes, after streets are built and properties are occupied.
Roads are seen as an economic necessity whilst quality paths for walking and cycling are often regarded as 'nice to have'. Infrastructure for active travel should be in place before properties are occupied. A 2016 RICS study shows, walking and cycling infrastructure is a key part of placemaking, and placemaking adds value to a development. Sometimes by as much as 50%.
More importantly, people often reconsider how they travel when they make life changes, such as moving house or starting a new job. Having good quality active travel infrastructure available to them from the outset, makes it more likely they will choose to make journeys on foot or by bicycle.
Delivering active travel infrastructure
So where do we see change coming from? Change lies in collaboration. High-quality regional planning has the ability to influence local policy and decisions, helping to deliver innovative, sustainable and comprehensive active travel infrastructure as part of every new development in Scotland.
For example, the inclusion of regional active travel networks in the most recent SESPlan2 means Local Development Plans in the region are required to take account of this network and safeguard land accordingly.
The creation of this network was only possible due to partners working together at a regional level. It is very unlikely to have come about with individual local authorities working on their own LDPs in isolation, despite the additional shared value. Better collaboration, in particular with active travel partners, will be necessary to make a success of the proposed changes to Regional Partnership Working.
It would be unfair to suggest there had been no progress. Sustrans Scotland have been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of professionals across different sectors. We work in partnership with local authorities and key agencies and our experience of working with landowners and developers has been very positive.
In this we have gained significant experience in the consultation, design and delivery of active travel infrastructure. To enhance this experience, we have the necessary behaviour change knowledge that is required in order to maximise the potential of built features.
It is essential for developers to be more attuned to the value of walking and cycling. Urban designers, engineers, and architects should familiarise themselves with effective design techniques which encourage people to travel on foot or by bike.
And, most important of all, planners, designers and developers alike need to be bolder, more ambitious and innovative, in order to be a catalyst for real, sustainable and long lasting change to people’s travel habits. In doing so, we can help create places; cities and towns that put people truly at their heart.