‘Walking & Cycling: The contributions of health and transport geography’ session at RGS 2013

This session was co-sponsored  by the TGRG and the Geography of Health Research Group (GHRG).  It brought together what appeared to be an eclectic mix of presentations exploring the contribution of geographers’ research in active modes.

Firstly Anna Davidson’s‘A political ecology of the body in urban cycling’, looked at the potential for new theoretical approaches to understanding the interaction between the cyclist and their environ, then Esther Rind and colleagues used a modelling approach to explore whether a measure of environmental quality impacts upon active travel behaviours.  David Lindelöw presented a compelling argument for more research into walking as a mode of transport, then drew on principal component analysis to examine factors influencing walking. His work drew parallels with Maslow’s hierarchy of need after the work of Alfonzo (2005).  Rachel Lee and Rebecca Johnson each presented case studies evaluating interventions to encourage active travel, using a Pecha Kucha style; a copy of Rachel’s can be view below.  Rachel focussed upon how Living Streets’ community partnership approach to delivering environmental improvement encouraged walking, whilst Rebecca evaluated the role of adult cycle training in promoting confidence in Tower Hamlets.  Each emphasised the ability of simple and relatively cheap interventions to facilitate behavioural change.

The session proved that despite the breath in approach, in reality there was a strong link between each paper with themes such as community, health, the built environment, policy (and in some case politics) and practice being emphasised throughout.



Rachel Lee’s pecha kucha presentation. 

Continue reading to see the accompanying text.

Fitter for Walking Pecha Kucha for the Royal Geographic Society Annual Conference 2013.

Rachel Lee, Living Streets.

  1.  Hello I’m here to talk to you about Living Streets’ Fitter For Walking Project, a tried and tested model that enables local communities to improve their walking environment and gets more people out walking. It was launched in 2008, completed in 2012 and supported by a £1.7million grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Wellbeing Fund.
  2. Living Streets is the UK charity that stands up for pedestrians. We work with partners to create safe, attractive and enjoyable streets where people want to walk. We believe that in order to do this you have to look at streets from the perspective of the people who use them, not the people who manage them. Sometimes this happens naturally. Often this requires support.
  3. People want to be proud of where they live. But often the places where we want to walk lack appeal. Busy lives mean we don’t invest time in improving where we live and we don’t feel involved in the process. We want others to fix things for us. But often we don’t want what we get. Efforts are not joined up and little thought is given to what makes a good, liveable and walkable environment.
  4. The project focused on 12 local authority areas across 5 regions of England, selected on the basis of low levels of reported physical activity and high levels of obesity. The first step was to motivate communities to get involved. 5 coordinators (one for each region) recruited a total of 146 community.
  5. Speaking to a group of local people, we would ask ‘why is walking important to you as an individual?’ Their responses varied; for some it was about their health, fitness, even personal freedom. Elderly people often said if they didn’t walk, they might as well just give up now.
  6. The next question would be ‘why would more people walking be good for the community?’ People are very quick to understand the social elements that come from walking, such as neighbourliness and safety. Ultimately this is the reason that communities come together.
  7. Having got people interested, we then needed to map walking journeys in order to focus efforts where they would matter most. Where do people walk in this area? To this shopping parade (it’s not very nice), to school (a lot of people drive, it’s shocking), the doctors, the park, the bus stop, the river
  8. Focusing on walking was new for virtually all groups. The project co-ordinator provided support identifying a particular route or local area of concern and helped them to view the project as a way of achieving their broader aims. By now we have started a consultation process to register the aims and establish priorities. Next, comes an audit, followed by actions and finally reward and celebration.
  9. Residents from across the wider community were consulted to identify barriers to walking on this specified route or area, often through a community street audit. Walking the route concerned we concentrate on the experience of the street environment. Is it a comfortable, is it safe, clean, is it enjoyable and attractive? We draw on the community for solutions.
  10. We used a poster to prompt actions that a community could take – each with an accompanying action guide. This was part of the toolkit that we provided to registered community groups. How can we organise a street party or a community litter-pick or a planting session? What can we do to improve an alleyway?
  11.  The audit report listed the issues raised and presented solutions that the community could take forward themselves, and where partners, like the local council, could take action. Aims could be short term and achievable, but also longer term. This was about empowering communities, to develop meaningful partnerships to get what they want.
  12. More than £450,000 was match-funded by local authorities for street improvements, such as, new dropped kerbs, improved street lighting, resurfacing of paths and removal of encroaching vegetation. The total is still growing as local authorities continue to implement street audit recommendations.
  13. No two projects were the same, differentiated by the needs identified by the community, the location and the ability of the local authority to prioritise funding. Improvements led by the community included litter pick-ups or bulb planting, promotional and awareness-raising activities, the development of walking maps and street parties.
  14. Our aim was to promote walking. While a core group got involved in community activities, everyone can walk more locally – and this way we spread benefits of the work to the wider community. We engaged people through schools, churches, community centres, even old people’s homes to encourage personalised walking pledges.
  15. Personal pledges were very effective at encouraging walking. 1,673 individual walking pledges and 1,282 family pledges were received. These were collected and analysed by Sustrans. Most people kept their pledge, said they were walking more, were walking more with family and friends, and were driving less. They also felt fitter and healthier and more positive about their community.
  16. Communities assessed their progress against four criteria: improving the walking environment; evidence that people had walked more (e.g. pledges made); evidence that the community had worked together, with secondary groups signing up, and; a demonstrable commitment to sustaining progress.
  17. The project was evaluated in three ways (1) follow-up surveys of individual and family pledges[1] (2) an analysis of the benefit to cost ratios (BCRs) of improved walking environments utilising the World Health Organisation’s HEAT tool[2], and (3) in-depth analysis involving interviews and focus groups with community members, local authorities and Living Streets staff, together with pedestrian counts, route user interviews and residents’ surveys[3].
  18. HEAT estimates the mortality or life years saved connected with a change in levels of walking and estimated resource savings. The assessment, conducted by the University of the West of England, calculated the BCRs using data (frequency of trips, trip duration, approximate distance and intervention cost) collected from five communities. The BCRs were positive at between 0.9 and 46:1 in four out of the five locations.
  19. In-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis was conducted by the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health at Loughborough University. One of the key findings was that the coordinators were critical to the success of the project, liaising between the communities and the local authorities.
  20. An increase in the number of pedestrians using the improved routes was observed in six out of seven of the case studies evaluated. 25% of route users perceived that they had used the route more often in the last 12-18 months. Social changes were seen to be as or more important for increasing the number of people.

[1] Sustrans (May 2012) Living Streets Fitter for Walking: pledge follow-up summary. Bristol, UK.

[2] Sinnett, D., Powell, J. (2012) Economic evaluation of Living Streets’ Fitter for Walking project. University of West of England, Bristol, UK.

[3] Adams, E.J., Goad, M.A. & Cavill, N. (2012) Evaluation of Living Streets Fitter for Walking project. BHF National Centre for Physical Activity and Health, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK.



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