Matt Jones

The Active Travel Realisation Gap

There’s a ‘realisation gap’ between a) the delivery of quality active travel infrastructure and b) the vision of aspirational urban designers and the work of academics working in the field of active travel, as well as that of knowledgeable local activists and campaigners.

In some parts of the country, particularly in London, this gap is being closed thanks to the work of activists and local politicians with the vision and means to make change.

In others, the gap is more like a chasm, where attempts to bridge it are swiftly shut down by well organised campaigns from coalitions of groups who either have vested interest in maintaining the status quo, who are fearful or resistant to change because of perceived impact on their lives, or who want to politicise the issue in bitterly divided local authorities.

It gets worse though, because even now, roads are being built with no provision for active travel, or with substandard provision (usually paint) which will lock in car dependency for years to come. This is because those who have the greatest influence or decision-making power either have little interest in active travel and put the interests of drivers first, or at the very least do have interest but see active travel provision as of secondary importance, or as supporting mainly a leisure activity done by a minority of people.

The IPCC reports spell out how we must make major changes to our lifestyles if we are going to keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5C. But these changes need supporting by massive investment backed by vision, education and communication, and not just in active travel, but in public transport too.

So I think we need to better understand this ‘realisation gap’ and examine all the things that are stopping us from closing it, and it’s way more complicated than simply having a lack of money. Because if there’s no vision and political will to make change, the gap will never be closed.