Living Streets Scotland Director, Stuart Hay, presented at Scotland’s Climate Assembly this weekend.
Here he tells us what he told them: we need to get more people walking if we’re to tackle the climate emergency.
Throughout my career I’ve worked on a wide range of climate related issues at different charities. I’ve learned that transport is the toughest climate issue to tackle, with little to no progress being made in the last 20 years.
The problem starts with our streets and how we use them, not just the type of vehicle we choose.
I have lived in Edinburgh since 2002 without a car. Walking is my family’s main mode of transport. This is backed up with cycling and good public transport options which are affordable and convenient. I also have good access car club bays and car hire options.
Whilst I am a committed environmentalist, the main reason I walk is that it is simpler, cheaper, and more convenient than using a car. Time and convenience are critical factors. However, in many communities there are much fewer options to walk to local facilities. Walking is not a pleasant or convenient option.
Research by Living Streets Scotland into new housing found it is very difficult to live or work in parts of Scotland without a car. Whilst research by Paths For All revealed people prefer to live near shops and public transport; being able to drive to retail parks is less important.
We need to move away from a high carbon transport system that:
❌ Generates congestion
❌ Causes air pollution
❌ Discourages physical activity
❌ Makes streets anti-social and leads to isolation
❌ Creates ugly places, dominated by tarmac and clutter
❌ Takes up a lot of urban space through parking
❌ Is often dangerous
There is an undue focus on electric vehicles. But electric vehicles are not zero emission, they don’t tackle congestion and they’re not affordable for everyone.
Instead, we need to start with replacing the most polluting (per mile) shorter trips with less polluting and cheaper forms of transport: walking, wheeling and cycling. This means getting the basics right and improving infrastructure.
1: ’20-minute neighbourhoods’ - build facilities close to where people live and work, especially shops and schools.
2: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - reduce traffic and road danger in residential areas by discouraging rat running.
3: Make walking easier and more pleasant through:
✅ Better and more convenient crossings
✅ Pedestrian priority at junctions
✅ Wider, clutter-free pavements
✅ Street trees and more greenery
✅ 20mph speed limits on all residential and shopping streets.
The pandemic has shown what improvements can be made to air quality when we commute less by car. There are other types of lifestyle support we can offer to encourage people to change their behaviour and make it normal to not own a car.
1: Stop misleading car adverts for polluting vehicles, as per tobacco advertising
2: Encourage walking to school and support street closures outside school gates and for play streets
3: Create space for better pavements, cycleways, and bus lanes by removing parking
4: Rethink bus services so they are more convenient and flexible and not hampered by congestion
All of the above options use existing technology and focus on changing the environment to change behaviour.
But they need political will and public acceptance. Emergency measures around COVID 19 have seen push back.
The Citizens Climate Assembly has a big role to play in convincing the nation's politicians that change is publicly acceptable.
If you plan for cars you get traffic and emissions. But if you plan for people and places – you get walking and great places to live. This is what a climate-friendly Scotland needs to plan for.