Parks and green spaces are essential for the health and transport of Londoners, says LCC trustee Rachel Aldred

Transport academic and LCC trustee Dr Rachel Aldred explains why our parks and green spaces are vital to Londoners for improving transport choices and public health

As part of the Space for Cycling campaign, the London Cycling Campaign is calling for local councils to improve cycling provision in our parks and green spaces. This means trialling access for considerate cycling, removing barriers that obstruct cyclists and wheelchair users, improving cycle paths, and links parks to form a useful network.

If you support our campaign, please email your council election candidates calling on them to support Space for Cycling in your neighbourhood.

London’s parks are looking glorious: Spring is well under way, and greenery and blossom are everywhere. Green spaces are vital to the well-being of our city and its people. They give us places where we can experience the outdoors, shielded from the noise and danger of motor traffic.

Our green spaces are environments where people on foot and on bikes are not always guarding against road danger. Instead, we can take pleasure in the smell of newly cut grass or the sound of birdsong. They can be places where, to use Boris Johnson’s phrase about Elephant and Castle, you don’t have to ‘keep your wits about you’. No wonder that such environments are rated by far the best for cycling in research by Transport for London and others [LINK].

Green spaces provide substantial health benefits for people who use them: not just because they enable physical activity, but also because they are spaces where you encounter ‘nature’ in the city, where interaction is ‘human scale’. In motor traffic-free spaces, no-one is surrounded by glass and metal; no-one communicates by honking horns or revving engines. We are all interacting on much more equal terms – and that improves our mental and emotional well-being.

London's green spaces should form part of a Greenway network, because if they are isolated islands surrounded by busy roads, people will be encouraged to drive to them. If green spaces are well connected with each other, people can easily get there by walking or cycling - for example walking to a park to use an outdoor gym, or cycling their with children, instead of putting the bikes in the car as son often happens. And, of course, connected green spaces can form an important part of a human scale transport network.

On much of London’s Greenway network leisure and transport functions mix: for example, people may pop across a park (walking, jogging, cycling) to get a newspaper, but might not make the trip if it involved walking along a road instead. TfL's 2010 monitoring report found that "72% of greenway users live local to the routes and many use the routes as an alternative to car trips".

The access to green space and motor-free travel that Greenways provide can be particularly important for Londoners without access to private outside space, and those less able or less willing to share space with motor traffic. TfL research shows that these routes reach out to people who might not otherwise feel able to walk or cycle.

Despite this vital contribution, London's Greenway network remains incomplete. Much remains 'proposed', and what currently exists is disjointed, with some areas of London lacking a ‘network’ to speak of. Even where green spaces are high quality, if they are connected by busy roads without good cycle and pedestrian provision, their impact will be limited.

Many Greenways also exclude some legitimate users. They may have obstructive barriers that stop cyclists getting in, even where cycling is permitted. People cycling with children, disabled cyclists, and handcycle or wheelchair users are often denied access to green space by these types of barriers. Stepped access and gradients, poor or badly maintained surfacing can be similarly problematic. 

That’s why as part of the Space for Cycling campaign, the London Cycling Campaign is calling for improvements to our Greenway network. There should be an assumption that, unless there's a compelling reason not, all parks and green spaces should be open to considerate walking, jogging, and cycling. This could mean trialling access through a park for considerate cycling, removing barriers that obstruct cyclists and wheelchair users, improving facilities, or creating new links in the network.

If you support our campaign, please email your council election candidates calling on them to support Space for Cycling in your neighbourhood.

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