Active Travel: Good for You, Good for the Environment
Travel is necessary – to get to the shops, to go on holiday, or for slightly less exciting pursuits such as the journey to work. Instead of absent-mindedly reaching for the car keys every time you need to make a journey, why not consider walking or cycling instead. Walking and cycling, also known as active travel, have many benefits for you and for the environment.
Walking and cycling are easy ways to include activity in our weekly routines. It is recommended that adults take part in 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity every week, but only 64% of men and 58% of women in Scotland meet these recommendations. Cycling or walking even one journey per week brings you closer to this target and you’ll feel the benefit to your overall health. Being active can help prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes, cancer and mental health problems.
It may not come as a surprise that as our levels of active travel drop, congestion and the amount of cars on the road rises. This has devastating effects on our environment. There is currently one car for every two people in the UK, accounting for 13% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions. Small, individual changes can add up to large CO2 savings. A litre of petrol creates around 2.3kg of CO2, but when you cycle you barely emit any CO2. If you cycled 10km each way to work, you could personally save about 1.3 tonnes of CO2! For a better idea of what this amounts to, take a look at these videos on the Greener Scotland website here. As well as saving CO2, you will be helping to improve air quality as active travel produces less pollution.
As well as the environmental and health benefits of active travel it can also be a more convenient way of making your journey. Nearly 75% of journeys we make are under 5 miles and many of these take place during rush hour when traffic is at its busiest. A study by Citroen in 2006 found that during the average one-hour commute in Edinburgh a driver would be stationary for almost 18 minutes. Even when the streets are congested a cyclist can easily average 10 miles an hour, so instead of sitting in traffic why not keep active and travel by bike instead. You’ll save money by cutting your petrol costs, and if you’re a Scottish Government employee we offer free Dr Bike maintenance sessions for staff to ensure your bike is in good condition.
Walking is a good option for shorter journeys and doesn’t require any special equipment. About a third of our journeys are less than a mile, which would only take 15 to 20 minutes to walk. Walking is an easy way to improve your fitness and get some fresh air. If we all swapped one weekly drive for walking we would see a 10% reduction in traffic, creating a greener, quieter and safer atmosphere.
You never know – you might even enjoy walking or cycling instead of taking the car. Even a short walk releases endorphins which help reduce stress and swapping busy roads for scenic shared use and cycle paths makes for a far more pleasant journey.
We asked Scottish Government staff to send in photos of their cycle commute for our Bike Week photo competition in June and got some stunning responses. There were 37 entries with common themes being nature and water, ranging from the Clyde to the Water of Leith. The entries were judged by Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood who had a very difficult job narrowing them down.
The winning entry came from Jeremy Stevenson of Education Scotland who photographed his bike next to the Clyde at Erskine. The runners-up were Julie Stuart from Economic Development whose photo showed her bike and Nelson’s Monument in Glasgow Green, and Becky Taylor from Environmental Management for her photo of the Edinburgh skyline from the Arthur’s Seat cycle path. Jeremy won a copy of Philipp Hympendahl’s cycling photography book “Beyond the Finish Line” and a pocket guide to 30 Cycle Routes in the Lowlands and Highlands by Alasdair Cain. Julie and Becky won a copy of Cain’s guide and everyone who took part received a selection of goodies from Sustrans.
Although there were some lovely photos, perhaps the best thing about the competition was the stories staff sent in to accompany their entries. Some talked of sharing their morning commutes with their children, dropping them off at nursery and spending some quality time in the great outdoors along the way. Others mentioned the wildlife and scenery and some talked of personal bests or achieving cycling goals. Cycling to work can be both enjoyable and a challenge, but is certainly more interesting than sitting in traffic!
Inspired but not sure how to proceed?
If you’re a Scottish Government employee and would like to start cycling to work but aren’t sure of the best routes to take, email the Environmental Management Team at Environmental.Management@scotland.gsi.gov.uk with your home and work postcodes and we’ll draw you up an electronic personal Travel Plan. This will include active travel and public transport options. It is especially useful for finding new off road paths along your route.
Many people are slightly nervous about getting back on a bike, particularly if you haven’t cycled for a while or are getting used to a new bike. The Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative have produced a useful and encouraging guide to put you at ease.
Cycling Scotland offer training courses, whatever your age.
Fancy a walk at lunchtime? Ramblers have routes across Scotland for 15, 30 and 60 minute walks, including walks from many Scottish Government buildings.
If you need a bit of encouragement, check out the free Greener Journeys app developed by Greener Scotland for iPhone users. This plots your journey on a map so you can see how far you’ve travelled and also shows how many calories you’ve burned and even the amount of carbon you’ve saved. Use the app for both walking or cycling for a real sense of achievement. Leaving the car at home is something to be proud of!