[To receive the Active Travel Needs Assessment Report]
[Report is marked: To Follow]
The Consultant in Public Health introduced the Active Travel Needs Assessment report. She defined active travel as the choice of travel modes requiring physical activity for all or part of a journey in preference to motor transport. Typically, these modes were walking, wheelchair use and cycling, whether as sole methods of transport or elements of a longer journey. Increasing physical activity was a key local priority. Healthy life expectancy in Wolverhampton was below the national average. Wolverhampton was one of the 20% most deprived districts/unitarities in England and approximately 1 in 3 children lived in low income families.
The Consultant in Public Health remarked that a lack of physical activity was a major contributor to a lower healthy life expectancy. Conditions linked to a lack of physical activity included cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A third of the population of Wolverhampton was physically inactive, this meant they were doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week. Active travel was one way for people to start building physical activity into their daily lives. Active travel could bring both physical and mental health benefits. There were also the indirect benefits to improving air quality and reducing noise. It also reduced traffic and made more efficient use of road space.
The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy remarked that the Council had produced an Active Travel Strategy in 2016. He stated that the Active Travel Strategy had identified three target groups within the population. The first was those who undertook little or no physical activity and for whom there were considerable barriers to uptake of active travel and were generally resident in areas of high deprivation. The second was those who were disposed to an active lifestyle and might extend this into travel under the right circumstances and were generally resident in the more affluent west of the city. The third was vulnerable road users such as children and people with disabilities, located throughout the city.
The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy commented that the Council had conducted a survey on active travel. The answers that had been received about why people did not engage in active travel varied depending on if they were referring to walking or cycling. Common barriers to walking included, practical issues such as having to transport people to places, it being slower than other forms of transport, people having a limited range on how far they were prepared to walk, poor weather and safety concerns. There were also concerns over the common sight in Wolverhampton of footpaths being blocked by parked vehicles. This was particularly problematic for wheelchair users and people with push chairs.
The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy remarked that barriers to cycling were related to the safety of the infrastructure. People were afraid that they would not be able to travel safely in Wolverhampton whilst cycling. Close passing by motor cars, even if it did not result in injury was a clear deterrent. Some areas had implemented active travel solutions successfully, he cited the example of the Leeds to Bradford 14 mile cycle route. Leicester were also making great strides in their active travel infrastructure. Sheffield had a golden route which was a series of connected public spaces, with attractive walking and cycling routes. It was easy to conclude that some places were more predisposed to active travel solutions. To undermine this theory, he cited the example of Amsterdam in the 1970s, which was unrecognisable to its present-day haven for active travel. They were able to transform the city by taking three strategic steps, finding the capital to build the infrastructure, finding the space for the infrastructure and finding the will to change the city into one suitable for active travel.
The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy gave some examples of the work that had taken place in Wolverhampton to encourage active travel. There was now a towpath, with a good quality surface, which went from i54 to Bentley Bridge, down through the centre of Wolverhampton, onto Bilston and then joined the Birmingham network of towpaths. A route had been built at Bee Lane Playing fields from i54 down the east side of Stafford Road. A new route had been built to i54 on the Wobaston Road. There was also a new route to Compton Park and a route down to Springfield Campus from the City Centre. Whist he was pleased with the work that had been completed so far, it was only a small amount and could certainly not be considered an active travel network.
The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy commented that since the production of the active travel strategy they had been working with the developers of the Metro extension. They wanted to ensure there was proper provision for cyclists to be able to navigate safely around the metro infrastructure. They had procured the cycle hire scheme which had been launched and was intending to expand over the coming year. With Government grant support, the Council continued to train over 1,000 young cyclists every year to Bikeability level 2 standard and a growing number went onto achieve level 3 standard. They had been working with British Cycling to support community cycling clubs and had been working with Transport for West Midlands on their Cycling Charter.
The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy said that Public Health Wolverhampton had commissioned the Active Travel project Beat the Street, held in Wolverhampton over two 6-week periods. The project encouraged people to try walking and cycling by making it a game in which points could be collected and teams could compete to walk or cycle the farthest. Critically, a new plan had been launched recently for a multimillion pound cycling and walking network in the next ten years. It was a funding bid to Government for if and when funding became available in the future.
The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy stated that monitoring of active travel was important and to gather data to evidence the success of schemes. Wolverhampton Council had historically collected data on cycling rates through the biennial Cordon Survey and the deployment of automatic counters to key locations. The information had been used to contribute to both local and regional monitoring along with recording of the extent of new cycling infrastructure installed year on year. They were working with Transport for West Midlands on a review of data gathering across the West Midlands with the aim of developing a more effective and consistent system of regional monitoring. Living Streets were doing some surveys on the methods children used to travel to school. The Department for Transport conducted an annual survey on active travel. Transport for West Midlands were currently working with Sustrans to produce a BikeLife Report for the West Midlands.
The Strategic Health Lead stated that there were a number of questions which Officers wanted Members to consider, these were as follows: -
1. What were Scrutiny’s aspirations and priorities on what the Council should aim to achieve through updating the Active Travel Strategy?
2. What measures were Scrutiny prepared to support in order to make available the space necessary for a full network of continuous unimpeded pedestrian and cycling routes to be implemented (e.g. greater enforcement against pavement parking)?
3. How could the various Council Leadership teams help embed active travel into their cultures and strategic priorities?
The Chair commented that it was important that active travel schemes were not perceived as punishing car drivers. It was about promoting walking and cycling and giving them parity with the car. The use of efficient road space was important. There were many studies that showed over a course of a month cyclists spent more in city centres than people travelling by car, because they travelled more frequently to the city centre.
The Portfolio Holder complimented the Council Officers who were involved in active travel for their work. There were 24KM of cycles lanes within Wolverhampton. He suggested that the Scrutiny Panel should help promote the Bike Share scheme. The Chair confirmed that he had signed up to the scheme and had completed his first journey in the previous week. He praised Officers for always consulting with the cycling community when new infrastructure was being put in place. He stressed the importance of connectivity of cycling and walking paths within the City. The Mayor of the West Midlands in his election manifesto of 2017, had promised £10 per head across the West Midlands for cycling infrastructure. He did not believe Wolverhampton was receiving the investment funding that had been promised by The Mayor of the West Midlands and he wanted to ensure that steps were taken to ensure that the City did receive its fair share.
A Member commented that in order to implement cycling lanes, some of the work undertaken to the transport infrastructure had to be undone. He cited the example of a central reservation which took up the space for a cycling lane. The Portfolio Holder responded that they could work with the Highways team to improve cycling infrastructure but there would be some areas which would be difficult to remedy. They were always looking to improve the transport network over thousands of miles of roads within the City. Section 106 money had led to the implementation of many new walking routes. It was important to promote the good work that had taken place on active travel.
A Member of the Panel commented that the canal towpaths were not as well signed as they would like and people sometimes did not feel safe walking them. She asked where the Bike Share docking stations would be placed in the future. The Professional Lead for Transport Strategy responded that the Council was working on a list of sites within the whole of Wolverhampton and it was hoped there would be at least an additional 50 other sites.
A Member of the Panel commended the Park Safe Scheme and she hoped it would help improve active travel in the future. The Portfolio Holder commented that they had recently written to the Minister to ask for further legislation to enable the Council to take action for parking on grass verges and pavements.
Resolved: That the proposed approach for developing an updated framework for benchmarking and measuring progress, based on new data and emerging outcome metrics be noted.