Representatives from British Cycling were key speakers at today’s Active Travel conference in Leicester, where Chris Boardman reflected on the lessons learned from the Great Britain Cycling Team and how those insights could be harnessed to deliver a cycling revolution.
Boardman was one of a number of speakers from government, public health and sport who spoke at the conference entitled “People-friendly cities for health & well-being” held at Leicester’s Phoenix Square.
Boardman drew the parallel between the challenges faced by the GB Cycling Team when faced with the task of making Britain a world-class cycling nation in sport and the broader challenge of making Britain a true cycling nation. The 1992 Olympic gold medallist spoke of the lessons learned during his tenure as specialist advisor to the GB Cycling Team; lessons on the importance of focus, funding and learning from the best practice of other nations to produce the phenomenal success of the Beijing and London Olympics. GB Cycling Team revolutionised elite sport in Britain, a revolution that has inspired people of all ages to take up cycling.
“The key element to Great Britain Cycling Team success was a clear goal, one thing that everyone signed up to so everything we did was measured against it,” said Boardman.
“So I have a goal here, I want where I live to be a nice place for my kids to cycle, where cycling to a meeting is a pleasant thing to look forward to, where cars are going slower and there are less of them. That's where I want to live and so let's question ourselves. Is what we're doing getting us there?”
Above: Video of Chris Boardman's speech from www.citizenseye.org
Boardman’s speech followed a presentation from British Cycling’s National Partnerships Manager Joel Lavery who outlined success of the Sky Ride programme in harnessing the inspirational effect of GB success at the Games whilst pointing out that Britain still lags behind countries such as Holland and Denmark in terms of active travel.
Earlier in the day, key speakers from government and public health spoke of the importance of active travel, the challenges facing the nation and how increased levels of cycle commuting could be achieved.
Transport Minister Norman Baker pointed to the out that although cycling in Leicester was up by 150%, the overall picture was patchy, set against a worrying backdrop of sedentary behaviour, Baker pointing out that activity levels in Britain have declined by one-third since the 1960s. “Unless we take action this will decline further,” said Baker before outlining the role that active travel can play. Baker applauded the recommendations of today’s NICE report into active travel, which “Demonstrates that walking and cycling are a cost effective way of improving public health.”
The Transport Minister went on to point out the benefits of cycling as a form of transport: “When you walk or cycle, you’ve got a pretty good idea of when you’re going to arrive,” said Baker, alluding to the Department for Transport’s soon to be published “door-to-door journey strategy” – which will aim to help people make journeys “predictably and sustainably involving different modes of transport.”
During his speech, Baker announced a further £20M for cycling infrastructure improvements, recognising the key factor in increasing the uptake of cycling as a form of transport. The importance of infrastructure change was also central to the recommendations Dr David Ogilvie from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research in Cambridge, who warned that persuading people to choose active travel through health benefits alone wasn’t the answer. The answer, according the Ogilvie, was in improved infrastructure: “It’s not just about health promotion, it’s about planning, infrastructure and service provision, whether that’s the design of new settlements or the modification of existing settlements.”
Hugo Crombie from NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) further emphasised the point, saying that “Cycling and walking must be a core, continuing part of local transport investment”.
The conference brought together over 130 delegates from public health and transport at a local and national level for a whole day of speeches, workshops and seminars, with the aim of creating more people friendly cities through promotion of walking and cycling.