Active travel: a low-key revolution

During the Covid-19 crisis active travel has emerged as one of the leading influences on urban policy and design. Andy Fawkes and Chris MacFarlane consider the background to a renewed focus on public transport, walking and cycling, and why it strikes a chord with so much of KKP’s strategy work.


Active travel has always been a fundamental part of KKP’s approach to facility strategies of all kinds and, while some of the terminology may have evolved over the 30-plus years KKP has been working with clients to improve their facilities and environments, the fundamental principles of how and why people move are largely unchanged.

Policy drivers, such as climate emergency, air quality and health inequalities, have been moving active travel up the agenda for many organisations and authorities for some time. The impact and experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic then added a new perspective. Now a different balance between public and private transport has become part of a national debate, with walking and cycling increasingly recognised as more than just a convenient way of getting from A to B for a minority of people.

Travel and transport have always been key components of the processes that underpin KKP’s approach to strategies for indoor and outdoor facilities of all kinds. The four pillars of our strategic approach are quantity, quality, availability and accessibility, making walk and drive times, along with public transport, part of the mix for any project. There is always a balance between car use and active travel but in more densely populated environments walking, riding and taking the bus or tram are important factors.

In recent years central government policy has reflected growing interest in renegotiating the balance between motor traffic and active travel. In 2017 the Department for Transport issued technical guidance for local authorities on local cycling and walking infrastructure plans (LCWIP) with the aim of doubling cycling rates and significantly increasing walking rates by 2025. The guidance encourages councils to deliver better safety, better mobility and better streets “to make walking and cycling the natural choices for shorter journeys or as part of a longer journey”.

In July 2020, in the midst of a pandemic that had challenged attitudes to so many aspects of our lives, the Department for Transport published Gear Change, “a bold vision for cycling and walking” that it hopes will bring a “travel revolution in our streets, towns and communities.” It was accompanied by Local Transport Note 1/20 Cycle Infrastructure Design, providing national guidance for the design and implementation of cycle schemes. For the first time national standards for cycle infrastructure are laid out: “There are five core design principles which represent the essential requirements to achieve more people travelling by cycle or on foot, based on best practice both internationally and across the UK. Networks and routes should be Coherent; Direct; Safe; Comfortable and Attractive.” [LTN 1/20 1.5.1]

The UK’s big cities have been leading the way in accepting the challenge presented by national government policy. Birmingham recently announced proposals to remove through traffic from the city centre, reversing half a century of transport planning decisions that had given primacy to private motor travel. Manchester is well advanced in its plans to promote cycling as part of an extensive reimagining of travel in and around the city. Backed by the mayor, Chris Boardman has used his position as the city’s first transport commissioner to develop and promote the Bee Network, planned to become the UK’s largest walking and cycling network.

Manchester is a good example of the recognition of, and a new emphasis on, the link between active travel and physical activity. The city has a network of sport and leisure facilities that are well used. Facilities with national and international recognition are part of Manchester’s plan to attract visitors and investment but they are also central to an ongoing campaign to encourage and enable local residents to make these centres their own. Greater Manchester’s Moving More strategy is building on the city and region’s achievements in terms of its facilities and transport networks to help address significant health equalities. With car ownership comparatively low, public transport, walking and cycling are important aspects not only of accessibility but also the city’s health.

Beyond the big cities, a shift in recognition of the potential of walking and cycling is also having an impact. The LCWIP guidance is fairly recent in policy terms but it is increasingly part of local authority thinking about travel, accessibility, planning and design. While an LCWIP imposes new requirements on councils, it also has begun to have a positive influence on design and implementation of schemes as well as providing a route to funding.

If architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was right and God is in the details, then the new walking and cycling policy documents offer plenty of opportunities to observe the divine. LTN 1/20 has enough detail to entrance even the most dedicated infrastructure aficionado. Setting standards against which every cycle infrastructure project will be judged, LTN 1/20 could, if properly embraced, transform the UK’s cycling landscape. The LCWIP guidance provides a route through the synergies and integrations, including the stakeholders and data, to create a public realm that people can use safely, confidently and enjoyably. The Propensity to Cycle tool within the LCWIP guidance provides access to the skills and abilities required for new approaches to accessible and equitable spaces, offering mapping and impact modelling to assess the impact that policy and design decisions could have. This tool also includes guidance on making the business case for walking and cycling, an essential part of the armoury of change.

Facility planning is always a balance: of buildings and behaviours; of mapping and mindsets. These new policies, both national and local, driven by issues of transport, health and environment have begun to shape the planning process and have the potential to change the way our towns and cities look and feel. The reasons people move around may still be the same and our four strategy pillars of quantity, quality, availability and accessibility remain intact but there are now huge opportunities to change the way we understand our urban spaces and the way movement shapes them and us.

Policy statements are traditionally long on lofty visions and bold statements but a new understanding of what makes walking and cycling easier and more appealing as part of active travel could have a profound impact on the culture of our cities. Giving more thought and more space to two feet and two wheels could be the catalyst for a low-key revolution.


Andy Fawkes and Chris MacFarlane are principal consultants with KKP


November 2021


Notes and references:

Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans: Technical Guidance for Local Authorities

Gear Change: A bold vision for cycling and walking

Cycle Infrastructure Design: Local Traffic Note 1/20

The Bee Network

The Propensity to Cycle Tool

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