Local Attitudes to Active Travel
At Socialtrack we are based within in Wishaw. Wishaw is best described as a post-industrial town at the edge of the Clyde Valley. In 2016 Wishaw had a census, and 30,510 people were found to be living here. The number of people in Wishaw makes it one of the most populous areas in either North or South Lanarkshire.
Wishaw was originally a mining town and is now a growing commuter town serving the Central Belt. We feel this attribute makes it a great place to study active travel behaviour and people’s attitudes towards active travel.
To see how we could affect people’s attitudes, we needed to set a baseline.
What was our methodology?
We should start this section with a caveat; we believed people who came to our active travel hub would already have a positive attitude to active travel, so we wanted to question more than just people who visited us. We wanted to find out what the rest of the population felt, so we set out questions and took them to community forums/councils, meetings, and online.
In our survey, we made sure not to control variables or place recipients into certain groups and vary their treatment. Everyone was treated in exactly the same way, and we responded to every answer in the exact same way.
We used surveys as we wanted to know how people felt in the real world; we did not want to progress with ideas that might have sounded correct but were not true in reality. Surveys were also the easiest way for us as for us to collect this data.
Outside of our active travel hub, we found participation to be very low in our area. There were many reasons for this.
- The media portrayal of cyclists as “road hogs who don’t pay road tax” was a negative connotation that we came up against repeatedly.
- Active travel is seen as a middle-class pursuit.
- The majority of respondents did not feel that the local roads safe.
We asked if the local council or government should plan for active travel and make it a priority. We found that a third of our respondents said “No.” These people felt that the local roads should be fixed with a priority given to cars; this opinion was also prevalent amongst those that felt climate change was a priority for governments.
We discovered that less than 5% of people we talked to used active travel as their way to commute. Given where we are based, we felt that we would be facing an uphill battle to help change lifestyles and promote active travel.
As we found out, many people do not use active travel as they see active travel as something carried out by a different class of people from how they see themselves. What we need to do here is break down barriers.
One of the common misconceptions we get is that of the Lycra-clad lout, an image that mainstream media is all too willing to portray cyclists as. The next issue we found tied in with this is that many people find active travel to be a “tree hugger” style activity. Finally, a car is seen as a status symbol.
These are the issues we have to break down, and we feel that we have started to develop a handle on how to deal with these issues.
The majority of our respondents who are engaged with active travel use a bike. We feel the percentage that uses a scooter would have gone up if we had also asked primary school level children how they get around.
The skateboard answer took us by surprise. The good news is that we have plans afoot to help this demographic that is quite often forgot by other active travel groups. We’re hoping that these future activities will then be able to easily replicated by other groups and offer people another low-cost way to get around.
For us, active travel has to be cost-effective and fun if we want people to engage with it.
What do we plan to do?
We have found that our Shredability classes are leading to a 40% plus modal shift towards active travel. Our next goal is to have these classes in more local schools and work towards more change. We are also looking at adding scooter and skateboard lessons in with the next school year. We currently have staff working through new and exciting ways to teach these skills.
We discovered that many older people have a negative connotation to cycling but paradoxically have great memories of cycling when they were younger. Many of this group are the people who feel that car use is a status symbol. We have started a Men’s Shed, called the Bike Shed, to see if we can try and bring back this love of cycling and also to help older men who are suffering from social isolation. We are also looking at setting up a female equivalent in the future.
One of the other issues facing people who use active travel is the Scottish winter. Many people we have talked to used to ride/walk to work but stop during winter and then never start up again. We have therefore started planning winter classes and events that can take place indoors to help keep people engaged and then slowly change their perception that they have to stop during winter.
With local people who both engaged with active travel and those who didn’t mostly believe that local roads are unsafe for cycling on, we feel this is an issue that has to be repeatedly brought before the council in an attempt to work together to redress the balance.
Teaching people how to ride on the road is something that many don’t even want to contemplate as they believe there is no safe way to do so. We need to work to teach drivers to be more respectful of cyclists and for councils to bring in features that encourage cycling and walking over driving.