The message is clear if you’re trying to live a more active and healthy life – ‘every little bit of movement can help’.  So what could be more beneficial than to try to adopt a more active way to travel?  Yet of course most of us have become subconsciously hard wired to think about jumping in the car whenever we think about going anywhere.  I say most of us, because we are starting to see some change in that trend in cities where they are driven by overcrowding and a realisation that a car (with its average of 1.1 passengers per journey) takes up a lot more space than a pedestrian, cyclist or indeed public transport.  I attended the Living Streets National Walking Summit in Birmingham earlier in the year where we were told that, as a result of trying to make active travel the priority since the 1990’s over 50% of Parisians now don’t even own a car.


This is interesting and the really positive sign for Shrewsbury (and the people who live and visit the County town) is that The Big Town Plan – which has been drawn up by Shrewsbury Business Improvement District (BID) and signed off by both Shropshire Council and Shrewsbury Town Council also states that in future the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in the town centre will be considered first.  In other words the aim is to promote cycling and walking, and the use of public transport as the primary way to travel to and from and within the town centre.  An exciting proposition – which no doubt will be fraught with challenges.  Most specifically because most of us all (ie the public) have become indoctrinated that the most convenient way of travelling is by our cars and there’ll be a raft of complaints if this becomes less convenient.  Even if the less convenient way will also help us to live better quality and longer lives.


It's counter intuitive you see – similar to the belief that the world was flat?!  So half the problem is ourselves and our ingrained beliefs.  Our behaviour systems which need a little re-educating to design an active lifestyle back in.   The intuitive approach is to talk a lot about having better cycle paths and paving for pedestrians / wheelchair users and whilst this is important we also know that these infrastructure changes alone won’t change our behaviour and our intuition – so I thought I’d share some other possible approaches.  Which might not cost quite so much either?


One of the things I found out recently was that traffic lights in the UK are designed and set to favour motorised traffic.  So that when nobody is around (cars or people crossing) traffic lights automatically set themselves on green for vehicles – and red for pedestrians.  Okay I hear you say that sounds fine but automatically this sends out a subconscious message to those on foot that your needs are secondary and you should wait.  And boy do you have to wait as most pedestrian crossings won’t change to green for the people on foot until after approx. 90 seconds.  That’s a whole minute and a half of waiting – which most people don’t do – again another interesting fact is that something like 86% of people using a pedestrian crossing on foot cross with the lights on red – aaarrrgh!  Rendering the crossing almost useless – and potentially dangerous although that has yet to be tested in court.  So I hear you asking what would the result be if they were set to default on green for pedestrians?  I can tell you – as I visited Barcelona last summer (where they have quite a lot of pedestrian crossings – all of which seem to default to the pedestrian) and the answer is you would feel a lot more like walking.   I certainly did anyway.  So why don’t we try it?  My understanding is that traffic light settings can be altered and of course changed back too so why don’t we try?  I’m not suggesting completely random approaches – clearly they need to be safe and properly assessed which I’m sure will have costs.  I also know that, following the campaigning of a local group, Transport for London have trialled different approaches and have amended settings to better favour those on foot and I also understand they are planning to roll out some of the changes right across the capital city.  So it is possible.


I was also really pleased to see the ‘pocket park’ in Shrewsbury Town centre being hailed a great success – making our streets and what they call the public realm (ie places that public can access free of charge) more attractive can only encourage people to stop and enjoy life.  Just haring around everywhere in a car is no way to live.  Reclaiming the streets as places to be able to stroll or amble as well as stop and enjoy green spaces is critical to our mental wellbeing.  Another idea that I’ve heard has worked successfully elsewhere is having a car free day – in neighbourhoods – in town centres – around schools.  Obviously planning and communicating it is really important because it will need some additional planning in individual households.  But it can help us to see what might be possible.  There’s lots of help and ideas to make this a reality on the Living Streets website if you feel inspired?


And finally here’s a very simple idea – which works – and which we can all do.  Next time you suggest meeting someone – consider a walking meeting – i.e. go for a walk and talk.  Particularly useful if you want the other person to talk and share more – because for some reason when we’re walking side by side – rather than facing each other over the coffee table - we open up more.  Give it a go – especially good if you’re working with a young person who you’re struggling to get to open up but same can be true of others too – at work or outside.


If you’re interested in improving opportunities for active travel in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin we’d like to hear from you.  Get in touch with Chris Child