We couldn’t agree more with the recent report from the BMA (available here) which argues that health should be integrated into our transport system. If you think about how much time we can spend getting around – and the impact that traffic has on our air quality – it’s no surprise that how we travel has a big impact on our health and the health of those around us. The more we can walk and cycle and the less we rely on our cars (especially for short journeys) the healthier we will be – it’s as simple as that. Not only that, but by taking to two wheels or two feet we free up road space for those who have to get about by car, such as the disabled, those going long distance or delivering bulky goods.
The BMA are asking for a complete shift in government thinking to transport policy. Rather than just building new roads they’re asking for a transport policy which encourages a shift away from cars and towards walking and cycling – through reallocating road space to bikes, restricting car access, area-wide 20 mph zones (not just in a tiny part of the centre of town!) and most importantly the provision of a comprehensive network of routes for walking and cycling – giving everyone convenient, safe, well-designed and direct access to workplaces, homes, schools and anywhere else people need to go. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!
Dumfries does have some great cycling paths, and we’ve been pleased to see that connectivity has improved in a few places here and there – but I don’t think anyone would call our network comprehensive. For instance, where’s the safe, well-designed, direct access to the council offices on English Street? How do you safely get from Collin into town by bike without taking your life into your hands? Designing the summer rides we’ve been struck by actually how limited the options are for family-friendly cycling, even with the paths we’ve got. Just to go up and down the banks of the Nith last week we had to get off and cross two big roads at toucan crossings. If your cycling route takes you across town, you very quickly find yourself tackling big fast roads designed to speed cars along, or else just getting off and pushing. No wonder many cyclists end up riding on the pavement … or giving up altogether because it’s easier and safer to drive.
The BMA also say:
Ambitious growth targets for walking and cycling should be set at national and regional levels, with increased funding and resources proportional to target levels
It may surprise them to learn that the Scottish government has set exactly such a target – for 10% of journeys to be by bike by 2020. And yet the second half – the bit about funding and resources proportional to target levels – hasn’t really materialised. And that’s why cycling – even in a Smarter Choices town like Dumfries – feels like a bit of a marginal activity.
We’d urge the council, the government, and everyone else involved in health and transport to read this report and rethink their priorities a bit. All the recent spending announcements recently have been about big trunk roads (including our own A75). Where’s the investment in the real health of the nation, getting people moving again?