Recently I was at a conference about the importance of transport for tourism. After five speakers I had yet to hear anyone mention walking. Yet walking is one the most prevalent ways tourists get around. Indeed, destinations that are attractive to walk around are the holiday hot spots.
Too often we take walking for granted. So it is notable that the Mayor of London has appointed a Walking and Cycling Commissioner and the Government has just published its long awaited Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS - known as cee-whizz).
The launch of CWIS is a momentous moment for active travel. The commitment to producing a CWIS was contained in the Infrastructure Act 2015 following intensive campaigning by Living Streets and other groups. The CWIS is a big step for the Government finally acknowledging that walking is worth investing in and that it's of growing importance to the way we plan our streets, neighbourhoods, towns and cities. For the first time ever, the Government has a plan in place for investing in walking and cycling.
The Government's ambition, set out in the CWIS, is to make cycling and walking the natural choices for short journeys, or as part of a longer journey. This should be applauded. Walking levels have been in long term decline, with people walking 30% less than they did just 20 years ago.
And for the first time, the Government has an ambition to reverse the decline in walking overall. This is important because more walking is good for us and the places we live. When people walk more, pollution and traffic go down, investment is attracted and health and well-being improve. Why not #Try20 with us this May for National Walking Month and see the big difference small steps can make?
The strategy also has a specific target to increase the number of children walking to school. This was prefigured in the Government's childhood obesity strategy.
A generation ago 70% of us walked to school, now it's less than half.
Just a fifth of our young people achieve the recommended 60 minutes of exercise prescribed by the Chief Medical Officer, per day. A third of primary school leavers are clinically overweight. At peak times, a fifth of cars on the road are made up of the school run. This has a knock on effect to us all.
But things can change. Through our WOW year-round walk to school challenge, we see on average a 23% increase in the number of children walking to school and a corresponding drop in car use outside of school gates. Teachers tell us that children concentrate better in class and are healthier and happier after a walk to school.
Walking to school also gives primary school pupils the chance to spend time with their parents and/or socialise with their peers. Many take an interest in nature and learn vital road safety skills.
The launch of the CWIS is a positive step by Government that will enable more people to walk and cycle, improving our children's health and of the quality of our local environments. Much more needs to be done however and it's now down to all of us to work together at a local level to enable more people to walk their everyday journeys. Our recently published Blueprint for Change sets out seven steps to improving our towns and cities for walking.
A walking nation means progress for everyone.