Cross-government action and large-scale investment is needed to make active travel an easier and more attractive option for parents, says the boss of Sustrans.
The call follows a recent survey by the Bristol-based cycling and walking charity that revealed more than half (56 per cent) of UK families still rely on petrol and diesel vehicles for a day out, despite growing awareness of the dangers of air pollution.
A YouGov poll, carried out for Sustrans, surveyed 1,089 parents across the UK with children aged 18 and under about their views on sustainability and environmental problems.
Of those surveyed, 83 per cent said their awareness of environmental problems has increased over the least year, with the majority taking action at home to reduce plastic use and increase the amount they recycle.
Yet 70 per cent said sustainable transport is not a key factor when planning a day out, with 29 per cent of respondents listing a lack of public transport as a key barrier, while 27 per cent blame the inconvenience and 26 per cent say its down to limited budget.
“Environmental problems have dominated media coverage in the last year so it’s great public awareness is increasing,” says Sustrans’ CEO Xavier Brice.
“Sadly, transport is the only sector where carbon emissions continue to rise.
“If we are to help everyone travel more sustainably and reduce harmful emissions, we need to make it easier for more people to replace trips that they currently make by car with walking and cycling.
“Travelling by bike or foot should be as easy as recycling. As the survey shows, people want to travel more sustainably, but now they need the right infrastructure to act.
“Dense, high quality networks of walking and cycling paths that connect people to everyday destinations and offer an easy escape to the countryside require cross-government action and large-scale investment.”
The survey has been released to launch Sustrans’ Everyday Adventures campaign to promote the National Cycle Network, which spans 16,000 miles of the UK and nearly a third of which is on traffic-free paths.
Sara Ladkani-Knowles and her husband moved house to be near the Bristol and Bath Railway Path and cut down car use. She believes if more people had access to such a route, they would be more likely to choose walking or cycling for shorter journeys.
“It’s an amazing place to bring my 13-month-old daughter because it’s away from congested, busy roads and means she’s not breathing in polluted air,” says the 36-year-old about the path.
“It’s such a great place to venture to on a day out as there are lots of places you can stop off and it’s great for spotting wildlife.
“I’d say one of the biggest barriers to more families travelling sustainably is how infrequent and unpleasant public transport can be. As a mother, I find it hard to find space for a buggy on the bus. This means I have to carry my daughter in a sling but she’s getting too heavy for that now.
“Travelling by bus can also be expensive. It’s £4 where I live, which builds up quickly if you’re travelling every day. Combine this with how unreliable public transport can be and it’s no wonder that cars are perceived as more convenient and comfortable.
“If the UK had more cycle paths like the one I travel on, I think more people would consider riding a bike or walking for shorter journeys.”
Bristol declared a climate emergency in November last year and pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030. The UK Government followed suit earlier this year following a series of protests by young people across the globe calling for urgent action.
Reducing vehicle use is recognised as a key factor in tackling toxic air pollution, but campaigners argue this requires more government investment in sustainable alternatives.
Pauline Castres, senior health policy advisor at Unicef, says: “Families choosing active travel is not only good for the environment but has health benefits and reduces children’s exposure to air pollution.
“All children have the right to live, learn and play in a clean and safe environment. Yet every day, one in three children in the UK is breathing in harmful levels of air pollution that could damage their health and impact their future.
“These survey results highlight a clear need for the UK government to tackle this growing health crisis, by putting children’s health at the heart of its work on air pollution.
“Unicef UK is urging the government to create a Healthy Air for Children Action Plan promoting urban spaces and active travel schemes and ensuring a child-friendly approach to building walkways and cycle lanes away from polluted roads to reduce children and young people’s exposure to toxic air.”