Eliminating barriers to Sustainability with extreme prejudice
On Sunday I took middle child for a 20 mile cycle ride – choosing a route which looped through parks, around the North of the City and onto the network of old waggonways which once served the coal mines on Tyneside. It was a lovely day all round, but the highlight for me was finding that a really serious pinch point on our route had now been fixed. Previously crossing this busy A-road was like playing a game of high-stakes Frogger, and the nearest pedestrian crossing would involve walking our bikes about half a mile. Frustratingly, the traffic lights for the crossing were installed 18 months ago but sat covered up until now – and the difference is phenomenal. I’ll be taking the youngest next weekend.
Currently cities across the UK are being offered Government cash to improve cycling/walking routes to avoid a mass switch back to private motorcars as the Covid-19 crisis rumbles on. My view as acting Opposition Transport Spokesperson on the Council here in Newcastle is we should be using this money to address pinch points on our somewhat fragmented Strategic Cycle Network rather than scattering projects across the city. It doesn’t matter if 100m of road is completely safe to cycle along if you have to take your life in your hands to get on and off that road. Yesterday I saw a family on bikes on one of our supposedly Strategic Routes looking in dismay at the 5 lanes of traffic that lay between them and the rest of the safe route into the City Centre. To me, this is where we must invest to unlock the whole route.
This approach is based on my experiences helping my clients deliver Sustainability in practice. In one of my favourite examples, simply removing red tape around the use of a teleconference system boosted demand so much that it went from gathering dust to needing its capacity doubling. Here are some basic principles:
- Before people can act Sustainably, you have to provide the Sustainable option (sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised…);
- That Sustainable option must be easier to use/more attractive than business as usual;
- A chain is only as strong as its weakest link – it doesn’t matter if 99% of the process is easy to use if 1% is really difficult;
- Eliminating such barriers and pinch points to Sustainability can unleash massive behaviour change;
- Some Sustainability people see making others jump through such hoops as some form of integrity test – this is really stupid;
- If you want to know where the barriers are, ask the people who have to use the system.
In the last one, this is a great opportunity to engage people in Sustainability and make them feel part of the solution.Be prepared to get some forthright views, but often the angriest ones point the direction to the nub of the problem.