From the front line: Notes from the Wales Active Travel Planning Conference


Last Thursday I attended the Wales Active Travelling Planning conference at the Pierhead building in the Bay. The wind and rain lashed across the buttress of the old dock. Roadl Dahl Plass became a temporary (albeit shallow) lido. I did my bit  – as I do – cycling my daughter to school, parking up the bike, hopping on a train and walking the last bit more or less on my lonesome. That’s not to say the conference was poorly attended. Far from it; the main hall was pretty near full and buzzing with a very positive atmosphere. It’s just that outside was reminiscent of the wetter  scenes in Das Boot. For the first time, I tweeted directly from the conference, using the hashtag #activetravel, an experience I found to be useful – despite the occasional lapse into irreverence (sorry – it can’t all be po faced seriousness when talking about something as life affirming as cycling) and which I hope others found beneficial.

The conference got off to a very decent start with a presentation from Ashley Gould of Public Health Wales. Parachuted in at the 11th hour, Ashley did a fine job, arguably being the first speaker to deal with what to my mind became the central issue of the day: consultation. Highlighting the flaws of a  presumptuous approach to infrastructure and the often – misquoted –  “build it and they will come*” strategy, suggesting a ‘ask them what they want and there’s a good chance the uptake will be greater’ is a generally more effective and appropriate approach. This point was set to colour all of the subsequent presentations from Living streets with their examples of increased pedestrian activity through encouragement and dialogue, to Dr Rachel Aldred with a detailed academic assessment of attitudes to cycling and  achieving greater diversity in cycling. However, if there was a point that merited almost equal billing as consultation it is a huge desire I felt, for a mandatory 20mph speed limit.

 

Surely anyone with a close eye on modern cities/half an ounce of common sense would agree that a 20mph limit is both a sensible and safer, no-brainer. Even Edwina Hart minister for Economy, Science and transport** stated – when pressed on the matter – that she was ‘personally in favour of a 20 mph urban speed limit’ and that she would also ‘like to see car free city centres’. Jolly good. Any time in the next few weeks would be good for me.

 

The most powerful presentation of the day came from Cardiff based charity, Pedal Power. Using a video to demonstrate the difficulties faced by tricycle users, the audience collectively winced as a trike duked it out on the narrow bike lanes of  Cardiff with cars and buses. Even the relatively hassle free Taff Trail was anything but, presenting difficult obstacles at regular intervals. I tweeted from the conference that every urban planner in the country should see this video and they really, really, should. For cycling to benefit further from a generally more receptive populace, the infrastructure needs to be absolutely accessible to all.

*Movie nerds and fans of ‘Field of dreams’ will correctly point out that the quote is “if you build it, he will come”, but I wouldn’t do that. Nope. Not me.

**That’s quite a broad portfolio of not immediately obvious befellows, but I’m no expert. Hopefully the science bit influences decisions on things like speed limits and the effects of fast moving, carefully cocooned metal things clattering into unprotected people. 

Top image: Millennium centre at lunchtime last Thursday. Honestly. 

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