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'I want to break down barriers to cycling and walking'

Olympic cyclist Ed Clancy OBE has just started a new role as Active Travel Commissioner for the South Yorkshire Combined Mayoral Authority. LTT asked him to explain why he had accepted the job and what he hoped to achieve.

23 February 2023
Ed Clancy: Getting Active Travel right is a critical piece of the jigsaw in making South Yorkshire smarter, greener and better-connected.
Ed Clancy: Getting Active Travel right is a critical piece of the jigsaw in making South Yorkshire smarter, greener and better-connected.
 

I’ve loved cycling since I was a kid. I learned how to ride when I was five years old and I was hooked straightaway. It gave me freedom. I’ve got such happy memories of riding around with my friends and I want other kids to discover that for themselves. I set up the Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy with my good friend – and former team-mate - Graham Briggs, to help kids learn how to ride bikes, and it’s one of the things I’m proudest of.

So when I was given the opportunity by South Yorkshire’s Mayor Oliver Coppard to become the region’s new Active Travel Commissioner I jumped at the chance. I was born in Barnsley so being able to make my home region a better place to live means so much to me.

I was told when I took up the new job that one in four people in South Yorkshire aren’t active at all. We have some of the highest rates of childhood obesity, we spend more of our lives in poor health and many of us become too ill to continue to work at a much younger age than in some regions. I was shocked to hear that if you live in Rotherham, statistically you’re likely to die four years earlier than if you live in Richmond in London.

It’s not right, it shouldn’t be like that. It’s also not a fact of existence – it can be changed. Becoming and staying active has huge benefits for our physical and mental health and it’s something that should be available to everyone.

I want to understand exactly what’s holding people back and finding the answers that work for them. Active Travel shouldn’t only be an option for able-bodied people, if our work is to make a real difference to everyone’s lives it has to be inclusive.

Another key thing that’s contributing to poor health in our region is pollution.

Public Health England say every year, on average, 700 people die prematurely from air pollution in South Yorkshire. Part of that is that too many cars are being driven on our roads and, too many cars are stuck in traffic pumping out dangerous fumes, making our air quality worse. But if we want people to get outThe kids have more fun, the teachers say their pupils are more attentive, the people living next to the schools don’t have their streets clogged up with cars twice a day. Again, it’s a win-win, so why aren’t we doing it more?

I feel like there are two important parts to my role, two sides of the Active Travel coin – infrastructure and education. Both are vitally important, and neither will work without the other.

In terms of education, there are simple things that we can teach to help more people feel able to use Active Travel for part of their journey. Whether that’s helping people find a route easily, showing people how to cycle confidently on the road, teaching road safety and road awareness, or making information available on schemes to help buy electric bikes. And showing people that Active Travel is available for everyone, not just the confident few, is key to the role.

But none of that will work without the right infrastructure. No one’s getting on a bike or walking to work unless they feel safe and able to do so.

Luckily for me I’m not doing this from a standing start. I’m building on the great work already set out in the South Yorkshire Active Travel Implementation Plan. That outlines proposals for 620 miles of walking and cycling routes linking up our towns and cities across the region.

These high-quality routes will separate bikes from cars on the roads as much as possible, and make walking safer by building new paths and better crossings. It’s not going to happen overnight, and getting the infrastructure right is an involved process and costs money; but we’re working closely with our partners in our four councils to build the network our region needs.

Getting Active Travel right is a critical piece of the jigsaw in making South Yorkshire smarter, greener and better-connected.

Our Mayor Oliver Coppard is starting the mammoth task of fixing the public transportsystem in South Yorkshire - and that’s vital if we want people to see active travel as a viable alternative to using their cars. Everything needs to work together if we want to make a real impact and make people’s lives better.

I’m here to learn and I’m here to listen, I want to know what’s stopping people, what’s not working, what could be done better. More than anything I’m here to help. I want to use whatever skills or experience I have to empower people to get about by walking or cycling.

There’s so much potential in South Yorkshire, if I can play just a small part in making our region healthier, happier and better off, then I will. It’s a really exciting opportunity and I can’t wait to get stuck in!of those cars, we need to understand what’s making them think that’s their best option.

I’m not here to preach. I spent years following orders In British Cycling, and it’s not my style to tell people what to do; no one wants a lecture from a guy in lycra! This isn’t about pitting cars against bikes – I drive around and I cycle too. There’s too much division already in this world – much of it on social media – but we need to bring people with us if we want to make things better.

The critical thing is enabling people not to use the car where they could walk or cycle. Too many people think driving everywhere is their only option, I want to find out why, and to help find a solution. I’m aware that I was a professional athlete for years so of course I feel able to walk, bike or run where I need to be. What I want is for everyone to feel like they can do that.

I think cycling can feel a bit elitist sometimes, and that can be off-putting. People think you have to have exactly the right kit to do it, and that’s not true, it really can be for everyone. You just need a bike and off you go. You can get anywhere you want, under your own steam, without adding to pollution and you can stay fit at the same time. It’s a total win-win, and I know that’s easy for me to say, having made a career out of cycling, but I want to break down the barriers that are stopping people using a bike or walking to get about.

One in four journeys under 500m are taken by car. I really want to get to the bottom of why that is, people aren’t just simply lazy. Having spoken to people in the last few weeks, many say they’re afraid to walk or cycle because the roads are dangerous, and that is especially true in South Yorkshire.

We’ve got double the national rate of kids being seriously hurt or killed on the roads in our region. But we can’t have a situation where parents are driving their kids to school in cars to keep them safe from other cars. It becomes a death spiral. We just end up with more traffic, more pollution, more inactivity.

Kids should be able to walk, wheel, cycle, scoot, skate, rollerblade, whatever they want, to school. It makes them more alert, they concentrate better. It’s a much more fun way to start the day. In the numerous successful School Streets pilots around the region, the effects of closing off the roads surrounding the schools is always overwhelmingly positive.

South Yorkshire is now recruiting a team to work with Ed Clancy on active travel and other innovative transport strategy developments:

https://southyorkshire-ca.gov.uk/who-we-are/work-for-us

Development Engineer
London Borough of Bexley
Bexley
£34,476 - £39,777
Planner - Transport
Southwark Council
Southwark
£42,855 - £50,088
Planner - Transport
Southwark Council
Southwark
£42,855 - £50,088
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