Bill Bryson OBE, a lover of many things British, returned to live in the USA for a while in the late 1990s. He wrote a series of ironic sketches about his neighbourhood in New England. A passage from one of these has stuck in my memory for more than 20 years ...
"An acquaintance of ours was complaining the other day about the difficulty of finding a place to park outside the local gymnasium. She goes there several times a week to walk on the treadmill. The gymnasium is, at most, a six-minute walk from her front door. I asked her why she didn't walk to the gym and do six minutes less on the treadmill.
"She looked at me as if I were tragically simple-minded and said, 'But I have a programme for the treadmill. It records my distance and speed, and I can adjust it for degree of difficulty.' It had not occurred to me how thoughtlessly deficient nature is in this regard."
He goes on to describe how little is spent on facilities for pedestrians in the United States. He gives an example from a family trip driving across Maine. They had stopped for coffee and he had spotted a bookshop across the street.
"Although the bookshop was no more than 50 or 60 feet away, I discovered that there was no way to get there on foot. There was a traffic crossing for cars, but no provision for pedestrians and no way to cross without digging through three lanes of swiftly turning traffic. I had to get in the car and drive across. At the time it seemed ridiculous and exasperating, but afterwards I realized that I was probably the only person ever even to have entertained the notion of negotiating that intersection on foot."
I have personally had a similar experience, not only in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia, but also on many occasions attempting to get from my home town of Faringdon, Oxfordshire to Fernham. Both on foot and on a bicycle. Imagine attempting that crossing using a mobility device! I've had a few narrow misses but there have been pedestrians who have been less fortunate.
Trouble is, there really is no other sensible way for Active Travellers to get from Faringdon to the villages and towns to the South, including Swindon.
And so we are forced into cars when a short healthy journey could absolutely be possible.
A definition of Active Travel (AT)
Here goes with a personal attempt to define AT:
Any form of travel that requires some degree of self-propulsion, including wheelchair-use, walking and cycling, and not excluding devices that provide some carbon-neutral form of assistance.
My skimpy definition is a precursor to working through more detail of the benefits, together with the components of any plan needed to designate, upgrade or extend the transport infrastructure of our County and of our town.
First the benefits
Think of AT as a vaccine against poor health, climate change and environmental ills ...
The picture above summarises the benefits that accrue to the community from pursuing a vigorous Active Travel policy. These have been assembled from wide-ranging sources and consolidated by Robin Tucker, a Cycling UK Trustee.
The importance of raising these now is that there is a County Council election in Oxfordshire in a few days' time, on Thursday the 6th of May.
I shared in a previous blog how a significant portion of the local County Councillor's responsibility is for Public transport, road works, parking, footpaths, street lighting, pothole repairs and the Environment. These are all essential building blocks for the Active Travel network that will be the significant part of delivering the benefits in the picture above.