By Simon Brammer, Ashden UK Programme Manager
As someone who worked in sustainable travel before joining Ashden, I’m getting really excited about what’s happening. Take for example the biggest ever London cycle protest ride that took place at the end of April, or the Times newspaper’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign. And at the end of April, the first ever cycling hustings took place before the mayoral election here in London on 3 May. I’ve never seen cycling escalate so far up the political agenda. Exciting times!
This is reflected in all six finalists for this year’s first ever Eurostar Ashden Awards for Sustainable Travel, which show that this renewed energy for sustainable travel isn’t just happening in big urban metropolises like London. Take Cycle Cambridge, which now has an amazing transport modal share of 22% cycling. That is almost one in four trips by bike! Their innovative activities and infrastructure development are making cycling the natural choice of transport. Or take Devon County Council’s tireless efforts in creating a new cycling culture from scratch, with the miles of ‘off-road’ cycle routes they’ve developed, or Octopus Plan’s innovative software that’s promoting walking and cycling to schools in Belgium.
The city of Ghent, also in Belgium, is a fantastic example of what’s possible - if you visit it you’ll see there are often more bikes than cars on the road. This has been achieved through developing car-free city centres and great infrastructure (bike hire, routes, parking) and the determination to transport the city centre (excuse the pun) from a congested, polluted and unpleasant city to a place where people actively choose to spend time in.
Interestingly, the London Cycling Campaign (LCC)’s current campaign for London is called “Love London, Go Dutch”, recognising what we can learn from our European counterparts and aiming to bring those lessons here. I’m going to encourage them to look at Ghent too!
Of course for longer distances, where public transport isn’t always an option, and the bike can’t cut it unless you’re very intrepid, sometimes we need to use the car.
Now I’m going to let you into a secret. Often, for fun (ok so I’m a little weird like that) I count the number of sole occupants in cars as I cycle past them on my way to work. Pretty much every car has a single, rather frustrated-looking person sat in it. Occasionally I might see another passenger, or a dog, but not often in the rush-hour.
Norfolk-based liftshare.com offers a far better option – sharing your vehicle. By helping employers set up car-sharing schemes and providing a free national online database of car sharers, 100,000 car journeys are being taken off the road every year. What struck me about the folks who have joined the scheme is that as well saving money through car-sharing, a lot of them talk about how many new friends they have made. Some of them have even found love through car-sharing!
Meanwhile, Taxi Tub in Brittany, France is also helping rural communities connect with each other by providing an affordable form of semi-public transport in Brittany – it’s a facility that allows you to book can book a shared taxi in advance, making it almost as cheap as jumping on a bus.
Sustainable travel does of course reduce CO2 emissions and that’s really important. But it does it in non-hair shirt-ways. It helps people connect more with each other, and the places they live in. It re-engineers cities, making them so much more liveable and pleasant, without all the air pollution and noise. It helps folks save money which is so important in these hard economic times.
For me, I simply enjoy my cycle to work every day …. Who’d have thought saving the planet could be so much fun?
Find out more information about this year’s Ashden Sustainable Travel finalists here
Or come and hear them speak at this year’s Ashden Conference