Be part of the solution

The challenge could hardly be greater. More than 80% of the UK suffers from illegal levels of air pollution, according to UK Government figures. Traffic congestion in our cities costs local businesses billions of pounds a year. Our big cities record hundreds of thousands of car journeys every day of less than one mile, which could be made on foot or by cycle.

We need to rethink how we get about, for lots of reasons, and there is some encouraging evidence that we are.

The pandemic has driven lots of lifestyle changes and many people are still walking and cycling more, even after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

Switching to electric cars is not the answer, whatever those glossy ads may say. What we need is a sustained and massive effort to shift our perspective about owning a car in the first place and to reconsider what’s aspirational and what’s marketing.

The alternatives to private cars often provide additional personal health and social benefits, particularly ‘active travel’ – walking, wheeling and cycling. Here are just three powerful examples of the potential impact when these things join up:

E-bikes, if used to replace local car travel, could cut car carbon emissions in England by up to 50% – that’s about 30 million tonnes per year. The strategic potential of e-bikes as a mass-transport option has been overlooked by policymakers so far. For example, e-bikes could give us better access in rural areas to feeder bus and train services, so they can become part of the transport network in more remote areas.

Slow Ways is a network of active travel routes connecting all of Great Britain’s towns and cities and many villages. Identified and mapped out by hundreds of volunteers, this network has revived over 8,000 pedestrian routes for us to use – many dating back centuries to a time without cars and all with public right of way.

The Bee Network is a vision for Greater Manchester to become the first city region in the UK to have a fully integrated cycling and walking network, covering 1,800 miles. The current plan includes over 75 miles of segregated cycling and walking routes, plus 1,400 new crossings that will connect every community in Greater Manchester.

Changes in the way you travel locally can have an immediate impact in reducing air pollution and traffic congestion, with benefits that could make you and those around you breathe easier.

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