Published: 9th SEPTEMBER 2020

Equity: All talk, but where is the action?

Equity is at the heart of everything we talk about but are we doing enough to address it? Our Senior Policy and Partnerships Advisor, Tim Burns takes a look at what we need to do to ensure equity, inclusion and social justice truly exist in walking and cycling.

A group of people walking down the street together chatting and laughing

In our sector, we love to associate walking and cycling as a wonder drug or miracle pill that can make us healthy and help the NHS.

Peter Walker:

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“Imagine if a team of scientists devised a drug which massively reduced people’s chances of developing cancer or heart disease, cutting their overall likelihood of dying early by 40%. This would be front-page news worldwide, a Nobel prize as good as in the post. That drug is already here, albeit administered in a slightly different way: it’s called cycling to work.” Blockquote quotation marks

And of course, it’s not just about health. As thefor walking and cycling helpfully sets out:

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Increasing cycling and walking can help tackle some of the most challenging issues we face as a society – improving air quality, combatting climate change, improving health and wellbeing, addressing inequalities and tackling congestion on our roads. Blockquote quotation marks

It’s no wonder then that we spend a lot of time sharing and shouting about the benefits of what we do for our health, society and the economy.

However, while it’s easy to talk about the benefits, we need to pay more attention to who is benefiting.

For example, if active people get more exercise, whilst physically inactive people stay inactive, the benefits are likely to be small.

The simplest option is not always the best

Most local and national walking and cycling plans in the UK do not have any framework or mechanism to ensure policy, investment and schemes actually increase the diversity of people walking and cycling, or reach people who may be disadvantaged or marginalised and could benefit most from changes made.

Typically it’s all too easy to take the simple option where we just equate an increase in the number of cycling or walking trips with success, for example:

  • measuring increases in cycling trips is far easier than trying to reduce the gender gap in cycling participation
  • consulting with people who and are already politically more engaged is easier than engaging the whole community
  • reducing traffic in a quiet residential street is much easier than reducing traffic on a radial route into a city centre
  • delivering a public cycle hire scheme in the city centre is far easier than in outer more deprived neighbourhoods
  • closing roads outside of a school is easier than reducing traffic across the school catchment area (i.e. the journey to and from school)
  • providing bike hangars in well-off neighbourhoods where they can pay a monthly fee is easier than in poorer areas with more flats and overcrowded accommodation.

This may further exacerbate health inequalities between people, especially those with power and privilege and those who are disadvantaged or marginalised.

We need to better connect what we do back to equity, inclusion and social justice, which lie at the heart of our arguments for change (the miracle pill).

We need more focus on equity

We need to move on from talking just about equality, which is about treating everyone the same regardless of need and instead focus more on equity.

Equity is about treating people differently depending on their need. For example, people who have never cycled before are likely to face more barriers in order to begin cycling, but also may have the greatest individual benefit from starting in terms of health and accessibility.

If equality is our end goal, equity helps to get us there.

This means prioritising disadvantaged and marginalised communities

The ability to walk and cycle and feel welcome and comfortable whilst doing so is not equal.

Therefore understanding where ‘need’ is greatest and how policy, investment and schemes benefit different demographic groups and geographical areas is vital if we want to have a more inclusive and fairer society.

For example:

  • and produce air pollution, and most likely to be situated in areas suffering from high levels of motor vehicles and traffic pollution
  • women, disabled people and people from ethnic minorities are more likely to experience harassment and racism in public space
  • women are while cycling and people living in deprived areas and risk of a collision.

We need to do more to ensure our work improves and prioritises people from communities which are disadvantaged, marginalised or oppressed.

This means we shouldn’t talk about:

  • improving health without focusing on health inequalities
  • access to work without prioritising people who are isolated and do not own a car
  • improving the journey to school without considering where educational inequalities have risen between the richest and poorest families as a result of the pandemic and access to homeschooling
  • cycle infrastructure without considering where existing transport options are poor, especially where this coincides with multiple deprivations
  • air pollution without considering where air pollution is concentrated and the housing stock and communities alongside our biggest urban roads.

All people should have a choice to walk and cycle, and all people should feel welcome and comfortable doing it.

Government, local authorities and the transport and planning sectors need to do more

Many groups including women, disabled people, people from ethnic minorities, and those at risk of deprivation are not represented or fully considered in transport or spatial planning, including walking and cycling policy.

Designing better places for people who already have power and privilege may benefit many people, but typically acts to retain the status quo, excluding and marginalising others.

There is a huge potential role for walking and cycling to help reduce social inequity and help ‘level-up’ the country. But it’s only going to happen if Government drives it and we design policy, investment and support to meet all people’s needs.

We hope this is something that will be at the heart of the agenda in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and the next iteration of the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.

ߣߣƵ would like to see:

  • the inclusion of an ‘equity framework’ that should be used by Active Travel England to ensure local delivery andprioritises disadvantaged and marginalised groups
  • objectives for 2025 and 2030 that relate to reducing demographic gaps in cycling participation and an improved sense of comfort for people walking
  • greater parity for walking (alongside cycling), especially in relation to more inclusive streets and personal safety and harassment
  • revenue funding to ensure all people have access to a cycle, somewhere secure to store it, training provision and support to cycle.

We will be working closely with the Department for Transport, and devolved Governments across the UK, to better embed equity within walking and cycling planning and policy.

We want to ensure our streets and places better for everyone. Read the Cycling for Everyone guidance by ߣߣƵ and Arup.

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