Interview with Dr Audrey de Nazelle
Climate Change Collective,  fitness,  health,  midlife,  News

The benefits of active travel – could it save you and the planet?

Middle aged people are lazy, car obsessed and speedily killing the planet. Not my words, but those of numerous surveys into the health of the population and the planet.

According to the Government’s Active Lives survey, 44.9% of men and 37.9% of women aged 40 to 60 walk less than 10 minutes continuously a month ‘at a brisk pace.’ However, 82% of us use a car regularly – mostly for journeys of less than five miles – and, by so doing, are helping to contribute to around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The answer to this recipe for personal and planetary disaster, however, could lie in active travel.

Walking, cycling, running, scooting, rollerblading, skateboarding…however you propel yourself to your destination – without the use of an engine – active travel is by far the simplest way to improve your own physical and mental wellbeing, as well as the environment.

But unfortunately, while choosing to travel under your own power is a simple choice for individuals, bringing about societal change in favour of active travel can take decades.

Decision makers at the highest levels are needed to bring about policy shifts, to instigate the remodelling of our towns and cities in favour of bikes and pedestrians. Fundamental cultural change, meanwhile, is also needed to persuade people to leave their cars at home and take self-propelled alternatives.

To find out more about the challenges facing us all and the benefits of active travel, I spoke to Dr Audrey de Nazelle, Senior Lecturer at the Centre of Environmental Policy at Imperial College, London:

On a personal level, running and walking have always been my preferred modes of transport. However, I admit that the pressures of family, work and general living have often meant that I’ve plumped for the car instead of my trainers. Total fear of cycling in cities, meanwhile, has meant that my bike is now slowly rusting away at the back of the garage.

A few years ago, when working in central London, I would commute from the suburbs into Waterloo by train and then cycle the two miles to my office. However, during that brief time, I had more near misses than James Bond; dodging buses, swerving taxis, almost being taken out by tourists looking the wrong way and narrowly avoiding car doors – all happened far too frequently. It was enough, eventually, for me to retire my bike, catch an earlier train and walk to work instead. London was not, and is still not, bike friendly.

The challenge facing Dr de Nazelle and her colleagues is therefore a monumental one. How do we persuade those in power to be brave enough to prioritise cyclists and pedestrians? The age-old infrastructure of many British cities was designed first for the horse and cart, then for the car, resulting in chaotic networks of roads that struggle to cope with the increased amount of modern day traffic. The introduction of congestion charges and low emission zones has attempted to reduce traffic and ease pollution, but both are simply band aids on a problem that is negatively impacting people’s health and the environment.

We should be looking towards the likes of Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Paris for examples of best practice. In the French Capital, for instance, the number of adults who cycle to work has increased by 50% since 2008, air quality is the cleanest it has been in decades, there are now 20% less traffic accidents involving cyclists and there are fewer obese people, while over a billion Euros’ worth of transportation savings have been made since 2001.

So, what can we each do about it?

For starters, following Dr de Nazelle’s advice, if you feel that your local town or city is unsafe for you to cycle, write to your local MP to let them know. Change won’t ever happen unless the people demand it. So, while I’m not suggesting anyone glues themselves to a road or interrupts a major sporting event to make their point, the least we can do is to ensure our voices are heard with our local elected representatives. If they don’t listen, well, you can return the favour at the next election.

Thereafter, we each need to think a little more about the journeys we take. Is it really necessary to take the car to the shops? Is it actually quicker to walk than wait for the bus? Would a 30 minute stroll in the morning make me feel better than being stuck in traffic?

And we need to set an example to our children. With less than 50% of children in the UK reporting that they are regularly active, choosing to walk, cycle, scoot or skateboard to school every day, could see you gifting them a new healthy habit that will improve their health and academic performance.

Meanwhile, every time your car remains in the driveway, it’s not contributing to climate change and helping to improve the air quality in your local neighbourhood. Multiply this by a few million to reflect the general population and that’s real change, for the health of the nation and of the planet.

So, when will you next leave your car at home?

Top five apps for cycling and walking around cities

Here are six great apps to help you to plan your self-propelled journeys, wherever you are in the world.

RunGo: Find and follow popular running routes across the world, with audio navigation to help you find your way.

Google Maps: Fail safe and free, Google Maps has been around forever, but it’s still a simple and effective way to find the quickest way to get from A to B.

Komoot: Cycling, running, walking or hiking, Komoot will help you plan routes based on how scenic and enjoyable they are, not just on time.

Garmin Route Planner: You need an account, but Garmin’s route planner taps into its users’ routes and recommendations to showcase the best in your area.

Strava Route Planner: Subscription required, but a brilliant app for highlighting routes that are popular with runners and cyclists, including offroad.

Climate Change Collective

Climate Change Collective

This post has been written as the June submission for the #ClimateChangeCollective – a worldwide group of bloggers who write and share personal posts on climate change issues that matter to them.

Climate Change Collective is the brainchild of two superstar bloggers, Michelle from Boomer EcoCrusader and Jamie from Jamieadstories. The pair came up with the idea of asking bloggers to come together, to write and share posts on the theme of climate change.

Each month, members of the Collective take it in turns to post a unique and personal piece on the climate issues that concern and impact them – such as the benefits of active travel – with other members then sharing it and furthering the conversation through their own blogs.

This isn’t cold, clinical news reporting on climate change, this is personal, relatable, passionate and considered content on climate issues that affect us all, and which we can all do something about.

Read next: Looking to the past for climate change solutions


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