Active Travel Schemes- A Help or Hindrance?

Published by Sydney O'Connor on

At Your Back Yard, we’re interested in all things that improve the community. Recently, a government initiative to do just that has kicked up a bit of a fuss with residents, so what’s the scheme, and why are people so divided over it?

What’s happened?

So, as part of the Active Travel Neighbourhood scheme, planter boxes like have and will be popping up across Leeds:

Hyde park is the trial area, but we can expect up to 120 planters across 60 locations, including Beeston, Chapeltown, Holbeck and Otley, to name a few. 

These come as a result of public consultations, finding that residents were concerned about levels of traffic, speeding, and desired more space for walking and cycling. 

The planter boxes can be used as roadblocks, and also to create one way systems. The council aims that the scheme will:

  • Reduce rat running 
  • Boost cycling and walking 
  • Make the streets safer 
  • Increase air quality
  • Encourage children to play outside 

If those are the outcomes, they sound great to us. Sometimes it can feel like the stresses of everyday life, as well as the impending threat of the pandemic, can take away from distant doom that climate change has to offer. Our working around increasing activity and promoting the use of green spaces, does, in theory, tie into the aims of this scheme. 

Cllr Lisa Mulherin, Leeds City Council’s executive member for climate change, transport and sustainable development commented that:

“We would normally have undertaken extensive local consultation before delivering anything like this on the ground, but the conditions of the government’s emergency active travel funding required councils across the country to submit, design and deliver schemes on the ground in a matter of weeks.”  

“These are trail schemes and we will be listening closely to the local residents and their experiences, the positives and the negatives”

So, it seems that residents were not consulted before these were put into place due to time restrictions on using the funding. It’s understandable that they didn’t have time, but this isn’t common practice. In our ‘Getting Active and Online’ project for example we consulated everyone we were working with beforehand to gauge which types of exercise classes would be most popular. 

What has the response been?

To give people a chance to have their say, the council has created a discussion board around the planters. I checked out the forum for the responses around the planters in Hyde Park, and took the latest 25 submissions to get a general feel. Here’s the results:

What do you like about this scheme?

In terms of the positives, the most popular responses were that they made the area easier to walk and cycle, as well as feeling safer on the roads generally, which is noted to be good for the children in the neighbourhood. Generally, this does meet the aims of the planters, although there wasn’t that much mention of them increasing air quality and increasing the attractiveness of the environment.  

What do you dislike about this scheme?

When it comes to the downfalls of the planters, it seems that most of the complaints are coming from drivers, with people commenting that it’s harder to get around the area, particularly when going to work and home. Honorable mentions include finding it harder to park, and also feeling less safe. The feeling ‘less safe’ comments are a bit boggling, wooden boxes with plants in aren’t the most threatening, and less busy roads can only be a good thing, right?

The forum gave people the chance to submit their written comments, and it seems that some people felt that the scheme may actually increase traffic:

“Funnelling people into busy Cardigan Road and Victoria Road sounds counter productive, as does increasing travel times and congestion, which will cause increased pollution.”

Others felt there were better ways to deal with the amount of cars:

“There are too many cars. Can’t we get permits to limit the number of cars per household? Traffic calming is a good idea, more speed bumps and camera to deter speeding.”

And some people just want a bit more clarity:

“Planters have been in various positions already and it is really challenging to get from A to B and know what to expect day to day.”

But it’s not all bad, some commenters were really happy with the planters:

“I think it’s a brilliant idea that will really improve the environment and make it safer for children, older people, animals, cyclists, walkers etc. The car drivers just need to get over it.” 

“Drivers who want to use their cars will eventually have to confront the issue and find other ways to travel.’ 

You may be aware that the area in question, Hyde Park, has a large student population. With this in mind I took to the Facebook page Leeds Students’ Groups to get some more candid feedback on the scheme. There was a popular post highlighting that some planters were being subject to vandalism, being pushed over to allow motorists to access the road:

The students didn’t hold back in the comments, whether it be positive or negative remarks. Here’s some of the highlights:

It seems that the comments were divided over the issue, and the data from the council forum agreed with this. Although most people didn’t see themselves engaging in active transport more, most people did want to see the planters become permanent, albeit half of those would want to see some changes first.

In the future, do you see yourself walking or cycling more as a result of the scheme?

Would you like this scheme to be made permanent?

So, it seems that the debate rages on as to whether residents are happy with the planters or not. Either way, the council has said that this trial will be in place for at least 6 months. Hopefully, in that time we will get some data on the effectiveness of these things, particularly in terms of safety, traffic and air quality. In the meantime, it looks like drivers will have to get used to their new commute, or switch to greener options! 

Whether active travel is your thing or not, it’s likely that you would like to be more active. Subscribe to our new YouTube channel for a range of fitness videos, from tai chi to dance, to put a spring in your step whilst most of us are stuck indoors: https://bit.ly/3k3W0f6

If you have any thoughts on the planters, you can express them here: https://leedscovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/overview.

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