Tim Burns, Senior Policy and Partnerships Advisor at Sustrans, discusses why we are calling on the next UK government to take action on the inequalities that exist in mobility.
Mobility is not about transport. Mobility is about accessing basic, everyday needs that help people live well. Access to employment, education, fresh food, green space, and healthcare are some of those essential needs.
Mobility also enables people to see family, participate in their community and to have a voice in society. And yet, mobility for many people in the UK is not inclusive or equal, and many people do not feel comfortable walking in their own neighbourhood.
Some people struggle or find it impossible to access things that others take for granted.
We want to change this.
In our Manifesto for UK Government, we have provided a set of measures to help the next Government take action on the inequalities that exist in mobility, and develop and invest in policy that makes access and mobility inclusive for everyone.
Accessibility should be a basic human right
We too often forget or ignore basic human rights when it comes to mobility. For example, international law dictates that people should have a right to:
- Life – the most vulnerable road users, people walking, wheeling and cycling, are far more likely to have a serious injury from a road collision.
- Freedom of movement – the poorest of society are least likely to own or be able to afford a car and often live furthest away from everyday services, amenities and public transport hubs, and are more exposed to pollution from vehicles
- Health, education, work, and cultural life – walking is a key part of reaching any destination as a journey or part of a journey, and cycling has the potential to extend access to longer distances. Both walking and cycling increase physical activity.
The Equality Act 2010 provides a duty in the UK to not discriminate by failing to anticipate the needs of all people to access public space and buildings.
Whilst we have taken steps to help access to buildings and public transport, the role of streets and walking and cycling can be overlooked by planners.
Therefore, taking steps to ensure human rights are upheld should be at the heart of the UK Government and a goal of any transport or mobility plan, especially for walking and cycling.
The need for an attractive and inclusive network for walking and cycling
At the very least, people should have access to walking and cycling routes that are accessible to everyone, separate people from motor vehicles, and provide safe places to cross busy roads.
A basic walking network exists in most towns and cities, however, it is often missing outside of the urban areas and too often pavement is often badly designed or not maintained, impacting especially on the elderly, disabled, and people with children.
A quick win for walking for the next Government should be to make it illegal to park on the pavement, which has become normal in many places across the UK.
Scotland has just introduced legislation to ban pavement parking, following London who did the same many years ago.
In the longer term, over the next five years, overcoming more challenging barriers such as better crossings and junctions, and reducing the impact of cars that make many streets unattractive or polluted to walk along, is vital.
Unlike walking, an adequate network for cycling does not exist in any UK city or town. A cycle network should enable a 12-year-old to cycle independently.
Instead, people usually have to share road space with cars, buses and HGVs which research suggests most people will find unsafe and uncomfortable.
A cycle network should enable a 12-year-old to cycle independently.
We urgently need to create a network of safe space for cycling. This network should be designed not only for a standard bicycle but for the use of adapted cycles and cargo bikes.
It should separate motor vehicles and people cycling physically unless traffic volume and speeds are significantly reduced with priority given for cycling.
Ensuring more inclusive design standards for walking and cycling
In the UK, we have legal design standards for the design of roads but only guidance for walking and cycling. This means authorities interpret things differently and even when relatively good infrastructure is built for walking and cycling, it can be different in different places and confusing for users including drivers.
If our walking and cycling infrastructure is going to be inclusive, it must have better consistency. For example, continuous footways and cycle tracks across side streets.
People, especially more vulnerable users, including disabled people, need to feel comfortable in our public spaces and not threatened or confused.
This is why our manifesto calls for implementing and enforcing inclusive and accessible design guidance and better standards for both walking and cycling.
Alongside this, we ask the next Government to introduce measures that reduce the dominance of motor vehicles both in speed and volume. This should start with making 20 mph speed limits the default in built-up areas across the UK, as opposed to the exception.
Supporting all people to feel comfortable walking and cycling
We also need to support all people to walk, wheel and cycle.
For example, we know large differences in everyday cycling participation exist and that you are less likely to cycle if you are a women, disabled, over 65 years old or from a more deprived community. We also know many groups feel less comfortable walking in cities and towns, especially during hours of darkness, unavoidable for most people in the winter.
We need to overcome the barriers that stop walking and cycling either being a genuine choice or feeling comfortable for people. We are, therefore calling for the next government to fund and deliver programmes that help diversify and increase participation in walking and cycling.
This needs to include better support for people to access a cycle, especially those not in work and where cycles are used as a mobility aid.
We need to take action to ensure women, disabled people and other groups usually under-represented in government decision making, have a voice and ability to participate in improving our streets and neighbourhoods.
Sustrans wants places to be for everyone in the UK. Places that are inclusive, comfortable and attractive for all people.
Our General Election Manifesto sets our clear asks that we will be taking forward with the next UK Government.