by Matt Hemsley

The Climate Change Commission for Wales has consistently highlighted that there is room for improvement in tackling emissions from transport in Wales1, and it is certainly a concern that emissions from transport have increased in recent years.

The transport sector in Wales accounts for around one-fifth of all devolved greenhouse gas emissions, so if we are to meet our (rightly) ambitious climate change targets, then action is needed fairly urgently.

Earlier this month, the Welsh Government took a bold step forward, as the Active Travel Bill was passed, making Wales the first country in the world to legislate for the provision of routes designed for cycling and walking.

Just under half of the trips we make in Wales are under three miles, and a staggering 18% of trips by car are under one mile in length – there is huge potential to cut emissions from car use simply by making walking and cycling the most attractive option for these shorter journeys we make every day.

On average, a Welsh primary school child lives 1.4 miles from their school, a distance easily cycled – but who can blame the parent who doesn’t want to let their child cycle on a busy road, often with fast moving traffic?

Yet in Wales – as in much of the UK – cycling and walking are treated as an afterthought. We have designed for decades purely for the car. Our communities aren’t the places for people they once were and the thought of children cycling and playing in the street seems almost absurd.  Money spent on walking and cycling has tended to be end of year underspend, with schemes rushed forward to meet tight deadlines, leading to what is easiest to build being built, not what would be most useful.

So this legislation will make a huge practical difference.  It will ensure that all local authorities in Wales have to have a strategic plan for delivering an active travel network, so when funds become available we deliver new routes in a more strategic way.  It comes with new design standards, which means the routes mapped will have to be up to the highest standard – hopefully an end to the bits of red tarmac seemingly painted at random on our roads.  There will also be an annual report in the Welsh Assembly – something recommended in the landmark Get Britain Cycling report at Westminster.

However, changing behaviour isn’t just about infrastructure; it takes softer measure programmes too, such as information provision, cycle training and free maintenance checks.  So the Welsh Government is to be commended for bringing forward an amendment to the Bill that ensures both Welsh Ministers and councils will have to consider promotion alongside the maps and routes.

There are other benefits too, most notably in public health and to the economy through reduced congestion – the latter, of course, a big cause of emissions from vehicles.

The Bill is a bold step forward, and has the potential to make a big difference– it’s the sort of initiative we need to see more of if we’re going to start reducing emissions from the transport sector in Wales.

Matt Hemsley is the Policy Advisor at Sustrans Cymru.  He tweets at @m_hemsley

Sustrans is a leading UK charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day.  Sustrans Cymru led the campaign for the Active Travel Bill and is a member of Stop Climate Chaos Cymru.


1)      Climate Change Commission for Wales, 2nd Annual Report