Interested in active travel? Confused by the vocabulary? We can help.

Active travel for everyone

Active travel is quite rightly high on the current sustainability agenda. You don’t have to look far to find evidence of new cycle lane consultations, low traffic neighbourhoods, and fitter, happier people. It’s also quite easy to spot disconcerted drivers on social media.

But not down streets like the one below.

What is active travel?

As always, when something moves up the discussion agenda, it generates new vocabulary and terms. Some of which might be harder to understand than others. The first thing we need to do though is come up with an active travel definition.

Here’s what the House of Commons library has to say.

'Active travel means making journeys by physically active means, like walking or cycling.' House of Commons library.

Does active travel include e-bikes?

YES! If the electric bike (or e-cycle) is in line with current regulations, it requires the rider to make physical effort to move. In other words, riding an e-bike is a physical activity.

'An electrically assisted cycle’s motor must have a maximum power output of 250 watts, provided by a rechargeable battery. When the cycle is travelling more than 15.5mph, the motor must not be able to operate.' Government Business 

Does active travel include e-scooters?

NO! Because e-scooters are powered entirely by motor and battery. But they do offer a cleaner alternative to petrol and diesel vehicles.

The jury’s out on this one. It’s currently only legal to ride an e-scooter on the public highway (including cycle lanes and pavements) if it’s part of an approved rental scheme. Trials are taking place.

'When considering the legalisation of e-scooters, the needs and safety of other vulnerable road users must also be considered, including setting limitations on speed and power and banning their use on the footway, except where you are legally permitted to cycle.' Sustrans.

Does active travel include wheelchairs and mobility scooters?

YES! Active travel is all about people getting out of their cars and safely onto our streets. That said, some disabled people have experienced problems with active travel innovations, including around low traffic neighbourhoods.

'According to Wheels for Wellbeing’s Annual Survey of Disabled Cyclists18, inaccessible cycle infrastructure was cited as the biggest barrier to cycling. The majority of the UK’s cycling infrastructure is designed with a standard two-wheel bike in mind, on the assumption that the rider is able to dismount and lift their bike where necessary.' Transport for All - Pave the Way report.

Active travel vocabulary

Do you know what a LTN is?

Or what the term ‘pedestrian pounds’ means?

No? Despite being a keen advocate of active travel, especially when I’m getting from A to B in my local area, neither did I.

So I did a bit of research.

And gathered together as many active travel terms as I could. It took me some time.

Because it’s such an interesting subject.

Here are the results of my research (plus a few interesting facts I came upon along the way).

It’s important for us to get to grips with this.

So we can keep track of how legislation, and our travel spaces are changing.

But also so we can have our say in the matter

Active travel definitions

What are LTNs – Low Traffic Neighbourhoods?

Have you noticed an increase in traffic on your residential road? Pandemics aside, there have been a few causes of this.

Popping up all over the place during the pandemic, low traffic neighbourhoods have been designed to make residential streets safer for the people who live on them.

Remember playing out on the street as a child?

The general idea is that residents have access but other motor vehicles do not. The result is streets that are far safer and healthier to walk or cycle on.

These streets also increase community interaction and bonding.

But LTRs are controversial.

  • They could shift traffic onto even smaller roads
  • People worry about their businesses
  • Drivers have to increase their journey distances

What are modal filters?

Modal filters do exactly what they say on the tin. They filter traffic by mode of transport, and can often be seen demarcating traffic free neighbourhoods.

Modal filters can be something as simple as a large flower planter, or as sophisticated as a rising bollard, or camera system.

They can even appear in the form of road signs.

Some modal filters are time limited (see school streets). All have to allow for emergency vehicle access.

What is traffic evaporation?

Traffic evaporation is a really interesting phenomenon because it flies in the face of the assumption that building more roads decreases traffic congestion.

But more roads = more cars.

What researchers have discovered is that reallocating road space (previously used by motor vehicles) to cyclists and walkers leads to changes in travel behaviour. In particular more active and public transport methods.

But they also found the following.

  • Drivers staggered their travel times
  • More people shared transport
  • People wanted to move to areas that supported active transport
  • People wanted to work in areas that supported active transport

In other words less roads eventually led to less cars.

What are school streets?

If you’ve ever walked or cycled near your local primary school at pick-up time, you’ll know how crowded, and confused school streets can become.

You’ll have also wondered why there aren’t more accidents.

A school street restricts motorised (school and through) traffic access at key times such as drop-off and pick-up. This leaves the streets around schools safer for those who want to walk or cycle, thus encouraging more people to get involved with active travel.

It also decreases pollution around our schools.

What are play streets?

Just like school streets but on residential roads, play streets are usually organised by residents. They are temporary road closures, which allow children and families to play happily and safely out on the street.

Great for community spirit!

What is street space?

Street space refers to everything I’ve explained above. It could also include.

  • Weekend traffic closures
  • Reduced on-street parking
  • Active travel access for popular amenities
  • Active travel access for popular tourist destinations
  • Wider pavements and cycle lanes
  • Speed limit reductions
  • Junction changes
  • Cycle and walking corridors

What is active design?

Active design is all about creating spaces for life that encourage us all to lead a more active lifestyle.

I’m not just talking about living at the top of a hill.

As well as active travel, active design includes ideas you might not have previously considered.

  • Locating community facilities closer together
  • Providing space for activity inside and around buildings
  • Ensuring access to greenspace
  • Creating cycle and walking corridors between key locations

What are pedestrian pounds?

Two thirds of all shopping trips in 2018 were made by car. Even the trips that were short enough for most of us to walk.

This isn’t good for us or our high streets.

One of the big things people worry about when active travel is mentioned is a possible reduction in business income and property value.

In fact the opposite happens.

Research has shown that the pedestrian pound (money spent by people travelling on foot) is more valuable than we thought.

Creating safe active travel spaces can increase footfall and spending. In fact, some evidence suggests that pedestrians and cyclists spend more than car travelling shoppers.

Active travel zones can also increase property values.

In other words people want to live in neighbourhoods where walking and cycling are safe travel options.

Support the cause – give active travel a go

Last week I did some active travel of my own. I walked to the station, and went to Cornwall by train. It wasn’t a long journey because I live in Devon.

But it was a bountiful one.

On the way, not only did I enjoy an almost empty carriage, I also got to do a bit of nature spotting. As well as lambs (hooray) I saw two herons, two Clydesdale horses, and a little egret.

I can thoroughly recommend the experience!


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