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Alice Ferguson

Highlights from our Active Travel webinar with Chris Boardman

posted this in Active Travel, Play Streets, Street Space on 03/03/2022

Playing Out spoke to Chris Boardman, newly appointed Active Travel Commissioner for England, in a webinar about children, play, walking, wheeling, cycling and how to change things. Here are the highlights:

On children, play and sport

“Most people who end up in an international sporting arena, they started with play, then somebody turned up with a stopwatch. That was the gateway.”

“I didn’t start out as a sportsperson, I started out playing and racing my mates in the road, be it on foot or on a bike. And then it was outside my own house where I first took off stabilisers – it was a little blue Raleigh Chipper with big fat white tyres…and that bike was my first freedom. It was the ability to extend territory…you went to the next road, and the next, and you went out as a group.”

“(When I was young) play was in motion, it brought you health, it was normal to just get around under your own steam. So there were lots of spin-off benefits to it – you know, parents getting a bit of space, because their kids were playing outside. All of those things enhance a community, they’re not just about play, but they begin with play.”

On physical activity

“Who owns exercise? It’s not health, it’s not sport, who owns it?…exercise is where it’s at, and to enable that, people have got to feel safe. One of the easiest ways to do it is to change the way people can get around. And they’re only going to change if it’s an attractive option.”

What are streets for?

“Some of the frighteningly simple questions that we forget to ask planners – and I know there are a lot of people from councils here as well – What are streets for? Where’s the definition? Where is it written down ‘What is a street for’? Because until you answer that, you can’t say, well who has the rights, what are your priorities, who has priority….and that simple question needs to be revisited. Because when I was a kid, this was my space, I had shares in this space, it belonged to me as well, and that was normal.”

Children scooting and running in the rain in the road“Having less traffic around homes – how has that got contentious?…who are streets for? Imagine asking that question…’Well, it’s for everybody’ – Ok, well outside my home, is that for everybody to cut through, to use it as a shortcut? Or is it for my kids?”

Enabling change

“We don’t want to ‘encourage’ more people, it doesn’t work. You have to ENABLE them to do it. Most of us just have to look into a mirror, and say, what would make me get out of the car. What would I need to see out of a car window to think, ‘Hmm yeah I quite fancy that’, and you list them and the first one would be safe space, and it has to be continuous from where I’m going from to where I want to go, and it has to be easy, and there has to be somewhere to leave the bike if you’re going by bike, and they’re the things that you have to do. They’re not should-dos, might-dos; if you don’t do them, why would I get out of a car?”

On play streets

“What you have (play streets) creates a vision, and people look at it and say ‘I want that, I like that, I value that.”

“We need to make really good examples…if you’ve got play streets happening here, and parents are really liking it, then let parents in this (other) area go to their local councils and say ‘They’re having that, we want that, why aren’t you doing it?’”

Children as emotional lever for change

“We’ve got a clientele there in children, that would bloody love to go out on their bikes, and would love to be able to just play, and that’s a voice that if we make that louder, that’s the link to a lot of peoples lives. Forget talking about health, forget talking about the environment, for the majority of people that’s not in their life. Saving some money’s in their life, and not having to take the kids to school in the car all the time, that’s an easier life. Something that your kids WANT to do, that’s the common emotional link.”

“The beauty of our ‘product’, if you like, Active Travel and movement, is that it ticks so many political boxes – decarbonisation, saving the NHS, reducing congestion – you pick a crisis, we’re there for you! And so it can be repackaged…but…children are the emotional link for all of us. And if they’re part of the messaging, it starts to really emotionally connect with people, and that’s really important.

Protecting kids, enabling kids to play out on their streets is something that most politicians would want to stand up for.”

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