Change is never easy. But as we navigate the twin challenges of the pandemic and the climate crisis, conversations around ambitions for the year ahead is a good opportunity to stay positive.
A new year is a time when many of us resolve to put our health and wellbeing first by making sure we eat well, drink less and get more exercise. For younger members of the family, spring is around the corner, promising long warm evenings with plenty of time to explore.
Whatever your ambitions for the year ahead, many people are feeling ready to create some positive change and put their best foot forward into 2021.
Given the lockdown restrictions we have experienced, many of us are walking and cycling more as part of our daily activity. In my own community, I have seen many people walking through muddy fields or heading off for a family bike ride – far more than I ever saw before Covid hit. People have also been walking and cycling more for essential journeys, feeling safe to do so due to the low traffic volume. This however has been quickly followed by a realisation that we are lacking the space to enjoy these activities safely.
In the initial lockdown, traffic was greatly reduced, allowing children to play outside and giving parents the confidence to allow them. People who never before would have cycled on the road felt confident to do so. We saw a glimpse of what communities could look like if we reduced the number of cars on our roads. Since then however, car use has crept back up to pre-pandemic levels, with a real risk of a car-led recovery which would be devastating for us all.
This pandemic has come at a time when Wales is already facing a multitude of other challenges – the climate and ecological emergency, rising levels of poverty and ill-health. We know that traffic is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions and the recent flooding, which has been so devastating for communities affected, is testament to just how urgent the need for action is.
One of the main things we need to do is reduce traffic volume. To achieve this, we need good quality walking and cycling infrastructure, linked up to an accessible, reliable and affordable public transport system to give people a safe and viable alternative to the car. Welsh Government will need to deliver ambitious leadership, bold action and prioritise budgets accordingly to ensure a sustainable recovery that is fair for all people in Wales.
And we should prioritise people over cars. For the past 40 years, communities and services have been developed on the assumption that people will drive. As a result, many people are prevented from accessing services and facilities, or unable to live in new developments which in turn leads to isolation and exclusion. Put simply, we need to stop building things that people can’t get to and work to reduce the ever-widening access gap.
Public health has been the number one priority during the pandemic. We’ve seen that, when it’s really needed and there’s a political will, it is possible to put people’s health before all else. We now need to see this commitment applied to place-making and transport planning, creating communities that prioritise connection and wellness through active travel facilities, public transport and green space.
Whilst not taking action affects us all, it has the greatest impact on the poorest and most vulnerable who are disproportionately hit by the impacts of climate change, poor air quality and poor access to services. The fall in passenger numbers on public transport along with the drive for electric vehicles is likely to push the cost of travel far beyond the means of many. To counter this, sustainable transport needs to be a prioritised for investment, with a fully integrated network that serves all users equitably.
The forthcoming election in Wales provides an opportunity to do things differently and prepare for a future where everyone has access to what they need to live well and thrive. Decision makers need to act on sustainability and inclusion to ensure the health and wellbeing of today’s society and for our future generations.
Click here to read our 2021 Manifesto: Tomorrow’s Wales, for everyone : https://www.sustrans.org.uk/campaigns/sustrans-cymru-s-2021-manifesto-tomorrow-s-wales-for-everyone/