TOO many of Yorkshire’s towns and cities have been included on a UK ‘league of shame’ for pollution problems, with a recent report revealing fumes from cars and vans costs the nation nearly £6bn worth of damage to our health every year.
Meanwhile the World Health Organisation set a global target to cut inactivity by 15 per cent by 2030, encouraging governments to do more to move people away from cars, towards walking and cycling.
Despite the region’s cities and industrial towns such as Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Kirklees, Doncaster and Wakefield being highlighted among the worst in the report, most of our towns across Yorkshire suffer with congestion and resulting fossil fuel pollution.
The delay to our daily commute is evident, but the impact to our health, finances and the environment is increasingly on the agenda too.
North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) was recently awarded £1m funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) through the Access Fund, a three-year (2017–2020) programme of locally delivered projects to improve levels of walking and cycling to work.
NYCC is half way through proactively working on a three-year plan to reduce pollution across three urban areas – Harrogate, Scarborough and Skipton.
The council is working to implement real behavioural change, by getting people out of their cars across these three very different types of urban areas, to reduce pollution and congestion.
Open Harrogate is the first initiative within the Access Fund, which encourages residents to opt for more sustainable transport to get to work, such as walking, cycling car-sharing and the use of public transport.
We are raising awareness of the need for residents to leave their cars at home when possible.
Our research found more than half (58 per cent) of the town’s commuters consider time as the main motivator when choosing how they get to work.
Despite this, and the fact that the average peak-time commute in Harrogate is just 2.6km, residents and commuters spend an average of two days a year stuck in their cars.
The research also found only one in ten used more environmentally friendly methods such as cycling, walking or public transport to get to work (nine per cent). This is despite the wider health, time, environmental and cost benefits.
With more than half of Harrogate’s commuters living within five miles of their workplace (52 per cent), one example of encouragement saw NYCC team up with the foldable bike company, Brompton Bikes.
We offered Harrogate residents a free month’s trial, to encourage people to consider the short cycle to work as an alternative.
Supported by Stray FM, the station took up the challenge, taking on a car in a commuter battle against the clock, and the cyclist was the clear winner.
We know that while just two per cent of people we spoke to cycle to work and back, the main reason for not doing so was concerns surrounding confidence and safety (77 per cent). A catch 22 of sorts, as too many cars means more people worried about cycling, but the more cyclists, the fewer cars.
As a council we are looking at everything we can do to make cycling as safe as possible. As a first behavioural change step, we encourage people to get out of their cars at least once a week and get walking, cycling and travelling by public transport.
We have a huge reliance on cars in the country, so making change happen without legislation has to be done by encouraging individuals to try the alternative and so directly experience the many benefits from sustainable transport.
When put in to context, people are surprised at just how much time is wasted sitting in traffic queues. Aside from the obvious effects this will have on the environment, it also impacts hugely on commuters’ health and their pockets through wasted time and burnt fuel.
The summer months provide us with an ideal time to try something new. Get out of your car and walk, cycle, car share, or jump on public transport to do your bit to make a change.
You’ll feel physically better, you could get rid of the gym membership by using the commute to work as exercise time. Car sharing encourages real social interaction, while cycling is perfect if you live a bit further out. And if you catch the bus or train – it’s the ideal time for you to read that book you keep promising yourself.
As we move further into summer, we will focus attention on Scarborough to encourage residents of the Queen of the Coast to ditch the cars and get active on foot or by bike. With a range of activities, and a new Open Scarborough website, we are looking forward to delivering a behavioural change in North Yorkshire, one step at a time.
Councillor Don Mackenzie is North Yorkshire County Council’s Cycling and Walking Champion.