I spoke to Ridhi Kalaria, who is the Sustrans Partnerships Manager for the Midlands and East of England. We talked about what Sustrans does, and cycle campaigning in general
Please tell us a bit about who Sustrans are
Sustrans are a national cycling and walking charity. Our mission is to make it easier for people to walk and cycle. We’re custodians of the National Cycle Network, a UK-wide network of traffic-free paths for everyone, connecting cities, towns and countryside, loved by the communities they serve. We bring people together to create places with clean air and green spaces, where friends and facilities are just a short walk away.
Cities and towns where everyone can thrive without having to use a car.
Which cycle routes have been designed by Sustrans in the West Midlands?
In the West Midlands we have several National Cycle Routes – You can find them all here: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/find-a-route-on-the-national-cycle-network/?location=West+Midlands&routetype=null&distance=null&p=1
My personal fav (because I use it daily) is route 5 the Rea Valley Route
How do we make our cities friendlier to walk and cycle?
There’s lots we can do, infrastructure is one of them, but this is more than protected cycle routes, it’s safer crossing points, it’s priority at junctions. With walking, it’s also things like lighting and seating and longer green person times on the crossing point. We also need to reduce pavement parking and barriers as well as reduce our dependence on cars.
We recently produced a report on how to make spaces more accessible for older people, but if it’s accessible for an arguably more vulnerable age group, it’s also safer for others.
Additionally, interventions like school streets can really help to change the way people see their streets.https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/projects/2019/uk-wide/sustrans-school-streets
Has active travel campaigning changed much in the past 10-20 years?
I think it has, there’s more about what individuals can do, there’s more focus from Local and National Government. There’s a lot more focus on exactly what is needed and where. There’s funding and action and social media has changed campaigning a lot both negatively and positively.
You recently asked the candidates in the West Midlands Mayoral election to support a pledge to support cycling. What was the response from the candidates?
All the candidates were positive in their response and all pledged to support cycling. Andy Street has pledged to put an Active Travel Commissioner in place as well as to review plans for infrastructure. He’s pledged to double cycling and walking in the region, to review the action plans put into place to make that happen as well as the Road Safety Action Plan. He’s also pledged to work with local communities through an active neighbourhood approach.
Is it possible for places in the West Midlands to have similar rates of cycling as the likes of the Netherlands and Denmark?
Anything is possible – The Netherlands and Denmark made choices to create the infrastructure and environment that they have, we have to be bold and make deliberate and sometimes controversial choices. Change doesn’t just happen, we have to make it happen. We can do that by trying to reduce our own car use so that the demand for cycling can be really seen.
How can individuals support the work of Sustrans in the West Midlands?
There are many ways to support Sustrans – you can become a volunteer – we’re about to launch a new volunteer opportunity in the West Midlands, which is more focused on our towns and cities active travel. Info will be available here: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/
You can also share our stories through our social media, the more people you talk to about active travel and the benefits, the more people we have on side that see the bigger pictures. Look out for our schools survey later in the term, we’d love help to share that far and wide.
Children can join our competition: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/projects/2020/england/brum-breathes-clean-air-champions or Adults can take our survey on that page.
Right now we’re asking people to join the Great British Spring Clean https://www.sustrans.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/help-us-give-the-network-a-great-british-spring-clean/
How can individuals support the campaigns to improve infrastructure? for active travel in the West Midlands?
The best way is to comment and share your thoughts when consultations come out – either on Commonplace https://westmidlandsactivefund.commonplace.is/ or Birmingham Be Heard https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/