Active Travel is a concept whose time is coming.

The Wales government  has passed an Active Travel Act which came into law in 2014. The term ‘active travel’ means walking and cycling and the Act focuses on walking and cycling for transport rather than leisure.[1] Electrically assisted bikes would not be excluded since they are designed to require physical exertion to propel them, and clearly fall within the spirit of the active travel definition.

The Act  defines an “active travel journey” as “a journey made to or from a workplace or educational establishment or in order to access health, leisure or other services or facilities”. So this would include using the bike or feet (or wheelchair, etc) to get to work, go to the shops, visit friends. If, for example you cycled to a velodrome for a session on the track, the journey would count as active travel, but the session itself would not.

Not many people have heard of the Active Travel Act. That’s because, although there was some consultation in 2017, the purpose of the Act is essentially to seed the idea. And in order to do this the Assembly Government has  placed on Local Authorities a duty to produce maps of routes featuring local journeys that could be easily and safely undertaken on foot or by bike.  The timescale is 15 years and the local authorities also have to look at how easy it will be to implement the routes and to order them according to their relative importance.  The route maps are intended to cover areas with significant populations, so they are based around cities, towns and larger villages.

Here in North Pembrokeshire, we have an ideal example of a route crying out to be recognised and implemented as an Active Travel route, namely a route from St Dogmaels to Poppit. (Disclosure: I am a committee member of the group campaigning for this.) This route is included in the network map for the Cardigan/St Dogmaels area, and qualifies as an Active Travel route in that it would provide a means of getting to the beach and facilities at Poppit Sands on foot or awheel, rather than by motor vehicle, to take advantage of the leisure opportunities there. The idea of the route enjoys considerable public support, and has been mooted for over a decade, but faces problems in its implementation because of the particular conditions that obtain, eg narrow single track road in some places, steep gradients in others. Imaginative solutions to these problems are being devised. and the aim is to produce a route that is safe and enjoyable to use and would shield younger and less experienced non-motorists from the perils they currently face if they attempt it.

On the subject of younger road users, it should be acknowledged that children should not be included in the Active Travel debate merely as fodder for “safe routes to schools” statistics , important though this aspect remains.  Today’s children are tomorrow’s active travellers, and a safe environment in which children can walk or cycle independently or semi-independently for purposes of carrying out their daily activities away from school is as important as the travel to school situation.

What are the prospects for active travel in rural areas such as West Wales? What are the barriers?  In the short term the dependence on cars won’t diminish, and there are indeed real disincentives that need to be overcome before journeys made in this way can become routine:  sometimes  the distances are too big; the hills are too steep; there may be passengers or goods to be carried; the weather can be uncertain.

These particular issues won’t go away anytime soon, but in the end, they’re not relevant, because active travel is precisely  for when the distances are manageable, the hills are climbable, the passengers are themselves active travellers (or else they’re being pulled along in a trailer).  And even the weather itself can be resisted with suitable clothing.

For the fit and able, appropriate footwear or appropriate bicycles are already available. For the less mobile, although there is no such thing (yet) as electrically assisted shoes, there are electrically assisted bicycles and these can greatly extend the range of distances that can be covered and gradients that can be overcome, all the while offering healthy exercise, with minimal negative environmental impact.

But even as we acknowledge that local journeys are eminently doable by bike or on foot, the biggest disincentive remains the disparity in power between active and motorised travellers when they have to share the same routes. This disparity is exemplified in terms of  the relative weight, bulk and speed of the two modes and the consequent perception (and indeed experience) of danger suffered by the slower and lighter cyclist and pedestrian. So suitable routes which either segregate the streams or protect the more vulnerable are desirable and probably  a prerequisite to achieving a wider take up of active travel. The Active Travel Act is thus a vision of how things could be if we have the desire.

Feb 7th 2018


[1] “Cycling”  encompasses tricycles and quadricycles as well as two-wheelers.