Why we need to adapt travel infrastructure for genuine sustainable travel choices

by Chiquita Elvin, Sustrans Scotland Infrastructure Manager, Places for Everyone

Our transport infrastructure and built environment needs to adapt in order to provide people with genuine sustainable travel choices.

We need fundamental changes to the way we travel.

In order to respond fully to the climate crisis we need to reduce our dependency on cars altogether, not simply change the type of cars we use. The importance of this cannot be over emphasised enough.

Too often electric cars are seen as the answer to how we respond to the climate crisis, be that as individuals or within the transport planning and design community.

But although electric vehicles appeal to our sense of newness and novelty, whilst keeping the status quo, they do not address a number of the key issues faced by professionals working to ensure climate adapted infrastructure is integrated into master planning and regeneration.

Ultimately, an electric car is still a car, and they impact on place, safety and sedentary lifestyles in the same way as conventional cars.

People need genuine sustainable travel choices

Our transport infrastructure and built environment needs to adapt in order to provide people with genuine sustainable travel choices. And not just in Scotland, but across the UK and across the rest of the world as well.

Not only would this bring many positive environmental impacts, from lowering net carbon emissions, reducing noise pollution and the environmental cost of building and maintaining news roads, but active and sustainable travel infrastructure offers improved health and economic benefits too.

Designing for everyone

In practice, this means accounting for the most vulnerable groups in society first in the design process. By designing our streets and public places to be accessible to all, we end up with places that work for everyone.

So, for example, if we make our footpaths safe, attractive and appropriate for the setting, then this has a knock on effect for other road users and the natural environment.

Slowing and/or reducing traffic volumes and the types of vehicles which use our streets then makes them safer and more pleasant for people to walk, wheel or cycle through.

Making sure we include green and blue infrastructure, such as trees, rain gardens or other sustainable urban drainage systems, means that our streets and public places are more pleasant to spend time in.

Thinking about the context

As planners and designers we must also consider the context in which people travel and how their lives can often dictate this. Responding to the needs of women as a group, for example, means taking into account travelling with children, fears around personal safety and recognising that women more often trip-chain than men.

By then, for example, ensuring there is widespread, affordable public transport which is more accommodating of all users, would provide people with a realistic option to leave their car at home for more (if not all) of the journeys they make every day.

Equally, creating an extensive network of continuous, safe walking and cycling routes in an urban area would enable parents with children, along with everyone else, to travel more actively and sustainably. This could be through addressing the way traffic flows through our streets, as above, or by incorporating protected cycle lanes where this is more appropriate.

The knock on effect of this would allow all groups access the vast range of benefits that active and sustainable travel brings. From a boost in health and wellbeing through increased physical activity, air pollution and carbon emission reduction, inclusivity, economic benefits (can we add a hyperlink?) and a number of other outcome areas.

The best way to ensure that future urban transport systems support people’s wellbeing, and support flourishing, healthy communities, is to invest in infrastructure that can be shown to make a positive impact.