I love all things active travel and sustainable transport related and I enjoy meeting people, so a day representing BetterPoints at the Healthy Streets Conference last Friday was no hardship. What resonated for me across all the presentations and discussions was that partnerships that cut across sectors are key.
Being successful at Healthy Streets really is about much more than transport, as the name suggests – health is at the very heart. Opening proceedings, Alistair Moss from the City of London pointed out that a bold approach to travel is essential to achieve the improvement in air quality and health that is urgently needed.
I was excited and inspired in equal measure by Maria Vassilakou, Deputy Mayor of Vienna – it’s clear why the city has consistently been named a top place to live! A real joy to hear of somewhere taking bold measures both in rethinking existing spaces and in planning and development. Maria’s shiny silver trainers paired with her business suit assured me that she isn’t just a woman of words but walks herself!
What struck me was the pragmatism: the car is not the enemy, but the Viennese are boldly and positively creating spaces where the car is just surplus to requirements most of the time.
In 2013, when public opinion was divided on potential pedestrianisation of the city’s main shopping street – the 1.6km stretch of Mariahilferstraße – they implemented an eight-month experimental closure followed by a public referendum.
At the time, 53% voted in favour of making it a permanent feature; today, 70% say they would have voted yes. A lesson in how to take people with you when implementing change!
Closer to home, Heidi Alexander, Deputy London Mayor for Transport rightly highlighted the inactivity crisis: 35% of Londoners don't walk at all, many won’t have stepped out of their door at all today and others will have jumped in cars for every trip.
Heidi identified key areas needing focus to tackle transport issues and deliver the Healthy Streets agenda in London: showing strong leadership, getting buy-in from the public, overhauling outdated internal structures and forging alliances with stakeholders – some of these are bold indeed.
Partnerships are again at the heart of moving forward the Healthy Streets agenda and the potential benefits for health in the widest sense of the word are massive.
George Gillespie from Glasgow City Council and Dr Jon Lamonte, Chief Executive of Transport for Greater Manchester echoed much of the above and it was encouraging to hear of Healthy Streets style agendas with bold measures being rolled out in areas other than London.
Throughout the day there were numerous presentations highlighting fantastic work being carried out all over the country, most memorable for me being ‘Bank on Safety’. Who would have imagined that cars could be removed from one of the City of London’s busiest junctions?
Seeing the transformation of Bank junction by removing cars Monday to Friday 7am-7pm and the positive impact on safety, air quality and even bus travel time was just fantastic. A space that prioritises pedestrians, cyclists and those taking public transport over cars and vans! Walking to the Guidhall from London Bridge station on Friday morning I had been amazed by the change in the junction and it was inspiring to hear from Gillian Howard (City of London) how the 18-month trial was implemented and has now been made permanent.
The changes were sparked by the number of accidents at the junction and, sadly, a cyclist fatality in 2015. What struck me was that the City just got on and made a start on the experiment, it wasn’t massively costly and there have so far been very few on the ground physical changes to the junction – just a change in the rules.
From the large to the small-scale, Andy Martin from TfL spoke about ‘Small Change, Big Impact’, localised, temporary interventions which were generally community led and were always light-touch and low-cost, reminding me that change doesn’t always take the form of big schemes and that residents really can make a big difference, something which Maria had also spoken about in the first session. Projects run hand in hand with residents do so much for local communities and the sense of ownership is clear.
Guilio Ferrini from Sustrans and Christopher Martin from Urban Movement shared presentations which were both fascinating and inspiring. Something we’re passionate about at BetterPoints is small steps – encouraging people to make one part of their journey active travel resonates with this. We don’t and can’t expect everyone to give up their car completely overnight but if we can encourage them to walk or cycle to the station instead of drive then we’re winning!
Christopher’s presentation dreamed some big dreams – what if cities were designed around people walking and cycling instead of driving? What if cycleways and footways were the main carriageways and cars had to give way to bikes, not the other way around? Wouldn’t that be amazing, and it truly would make for Healthy Streets for all!
For me, it’s not all about infrastructure and hard measures though - the final session reminded us of the human aspect of Healthy Streets. My passion has always been, and still is, encouraging and enabling active travel for those who need it most. I feel that BetterPoints ticks these boxes with our easy-to-use app and incentive-based behaviour change management system, encouraging people to make small changes which impact their own health and wellbeing and also their wider community and environment.
What we have to offer complements so much of what was highlighted on Friday and I would have liked to have seen more time given to engagement-based interventions. After all these are also key to creating Healthy Streets.
We enjoyed meeting with many delegates and particularly sharing how our app and behaviour change management system incentivises behaviour change and we’d love to hear from anyone we didn’t speak to – we’re all in the same business, the business of helping individuals and communities being more active, healthier, less reliant on private cars and, ultimately, enjoy their streets more. Let’s change our cities, one step at a time.
Rachel Maile is now marketing officer for BetterPoints but has spent much of her career running sustainable travel programmes. She was Sustainable Transport Officer at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets as part of their Healthy Towns programme and, prior to that, Outreach Officer for The Ramblers’ Get Walking Keep Walking campaign.