It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing cycling as primarily a transport issue, or a sport.
Of course it can be both of these things, but one of the most heartening things we heard at the Cardiff Cycle City Assembly Hustings was the recognition that it is increasingly being seen as a public health issue as well.
As a society we are getting larger and living increasingly sedentary lifestyles. The result of this is obesity and type-2 diabetes.
To add insult to injury, a symbiotic relationship between our sedentary lifestyles and car dependency has developed, meaning the more we grew to depend on our cars, the more sedentary we have become. So, we planned and designed cities around cars, entrenching this dependency and fuelling a growth in lifestyle related diseases like type-2 diabetes.
“The physical or built environment plays an important role in facilitating physical activity for many people. Urban planning and active transport policies can ensure that walking, cycling and other forms of non-motorised transport are accessible and safe for all.
Finally, there is recognition at various levels of government and of respected organisations like the World Health Organisation that people are indeed a product of their environment and if you force people into a world of car dependency and inactivity, you are going to see a ballooning of avoidable health problems –and of waist sizes.
Sadly, we have also managed to conflate “exercise” with “gym membership”. If you are going to exercise chances are you will do this at a gym. The upshot of this is that it has become optional and therefore easy to overlook, not to mention heavily dependent on having the motivation to do it. So, whilst many have gym memberships, relatively few people are getting their money’s worth.
Also, where money and/or time is scarce, the gym is not always an option.
“The poorest groups in society, especially women, may have less time and fewer resources to participate in leisure-time activity, making policy interventions that target active transport and incidental physical activity throughout the day much more important.”
We already know that active travel, particularly cycling, is the obvious solution to all of this. If you make exercise part of your daily commute, or your trip to the shops, you will feel better and you will lose weight.
However, to change the behaviour of a population, you have to plan for it and this takes time. It not only takes time to develop the infrastructure, but it takes time to get people used to the idea that this is actually going to be good for them.
Meanwhile, we probably haven’t seen the peak of this growth in obesity or type-2 diabetes yet.
Whilst time is of the essence, taking the time to get it right is vital too. The council could rush to install ill-conceived cycle infrastructure, but if it fails to attract the harder-to-reach groups it will ultimately be a waste of time and money.
“It’s come out pretty clear in terms of the gender difference”, she says. “Women seem to have stronger preferences from separated infrastructure, protected from motor traffic, than men do.”
Ambition is the watchword here. Many of the people cycling around Cardiff today are doing so despite the Council’s best efforts. Much of the Enfys network remains solely a paper exercise and many who do cycle are fairly dependent on the Taff Trail.
Good quality protected infrastructure is what is needed to broaden the appeal of cycling in Cardiff.
As we head to the polls next month, please have a read through the manifestos of the parties vying for your vote. If you want good cycle infrastructure on the streets of Cardiff and the wider capital region, give careful consideration to the party willing to stump up the cash to do it properly, whichever party that may be.
If the hustings are anything to go by, Plaid and the Lib Dems actually had a figure for how much they would spend per head. Labour and the Greens were somewhat coy about funding levels, but at least they gave up their time to be there, unlike some…