A substantial 15% of the pollutants contributing to climate change come from the exhaust fumes from automotive vehicles. Whilst the advancement of electric car technology will reduce these emissions, this will only help in the global sense if the electricity is itself produced by sustainable methods. It is therefore vital that we encourage the sustainable transport movement. Walking and cycling are clearly the most sustainable modes of transport, being the best environmentally, economically and socially.
What is climate change?
Climate change refers to the gradual increase in the Earth’s average temperature. This is being caused by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, of which petrol and diesel are examples. These gasses act as an insulator, trapping heat inside our atmosphere. Studies now suggest that we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least “80% by 2050” to stay below a temperature rise of 2ºC (Compassion in World Farming, 2019). Many scientists consider that 3ºC of warming would be the tipping-point, beyond which the catastrophic changes in sea levels, extreme weather conditions and loss of species would become irreversible by human intervention. So when will we collectively start helping to save our planet?
What benefits do walking and cycling have on people and their wellbeing?
There is no doubting the substantial cost savings that walking and cycling can provide, with the price of a bike being approximately 60 times cheaper than a car and there being almost no additional running costs. Furthermore, cycling in the UK’s major cities can get you to your destination in half the time of a car. So, if it is so much cheaper and more efficient why haven’t we already switched to these methods for shorter trips?
(Transport for Greater Manchester, 2016)
Many people don’t recognise that cycling has great health benefits, helping to tackle obesity (burning 5 calories per minute), improve national fitness levels and positively impact on mental health. Exercise and the outdoor environment can increase people’s self-esteem, reduce stress and evoke positive emotions (unless it is raining). So, why is the use of bicycles in decline? If we don’t encourage walking and cycling, then we will gradually become a more sedentary race, with an increase in obesity and disease as a by-product. Education campaigns should be put in place to inform people of these benefits and encourage people to walk and cycle again.
What are the environmental benefits of an increase in cycling?
With vehicles currently being one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions it is essential that we reduce our reliance and usage of them. Walking and cycling provide convenient alternatives for short to medium length journeys, while having an extremely low carbon footprint. By switching to these sustainable transport methods, we are helping to contribute to the 80% reduction in emissions needed by 2050 and hence to saving our planet.
So why do we designate so much space to the car?
Currently around 60% of transportation space is designated to the car. However, within most major cities car ownership is much lower, due the amount of public transport and close by amenities. Therefore, the majority of trips being made using the car are short, which walking or cycling could easily substitute.
Prioritisation of particular transport methods can influence the type of transport people choose to use. By prioritising cycle lanes and making direct key routes with easy access, more people may be encouraged to cycle instead of drive. Key to their design is ensuring peoples’ perception of safety from traffic, through the implementation of barriers and buffer zones. More people cycling will reduce the amount of traffic, in turn making safer streets and reducing road deaths by up to 30% (Transport for Greater Manchester, 2016).
(Alta Planning + Design, 2017)
What further steps should we be taking?
Looking to the future, our cities need to be adapted to allow for and to encourage a greater uptake of walking and cycling. This will not only help to reduce emissions but will provide health and economic benefits to the residents. This should take the form of separate and protected paths, especially along major routes. The recent development of ‘cycle superhighways’ provides a promising picture of how this could be achieved, while increasing the efficiency of cycling in terms of speed and time. Conversely, measures also need to be taken to reduce the accessibility of vehicle use by implementing traffic calming measures, which will also increase pedestrian and cyclist safety, for one. In order to ensure we see this sustainable transport approach incorporated into future developments, it is vital that planning polices are used to enforce this.
These thoughts and questions were sparked by a lecture from Amy Priestley on 12/12/19.
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