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Sustainability Pathway 2024 April – Sustainable Travel


The choice of how we travel – whether locally or further afield – can have a big impact on our environment, but doing things differently to our usual, learned patterns feels hard. 

 

Locally, “active travel” (i.e. walking, cycling, scooting or wheeling) offers health benefits as well as environmental ones, and avoiding air travel when we travel abroad is surprisingly manageable, particularly in Europe. In this study we’ve included examples of how people in our congregation have done that – perhaps you could chat to one of them over a coffee to get a feel for how it can work in your own circumstances. In Autumn, we are planning our annual church bike trip – why not start cycling now so you can join us later this year?

 

This month’s Sustainability Pathway suggests factors to think about if you’re considering cycling more as the weather improves, and new approaches to holidays involving fewer carbon emissions. Read on for a deep dive or feel free to jump to a specific section that interests you using the links below.


 

Why Cycling?

How much carbon can be saved by not driving on the school run? The average CO2 emissions of a car in 2024 are 134.4g per km driven. Assuming the school run is 1.5km, with two return journeys a day and the statutory 190 school days/year that comes to 153.2kg of CO2 a year – and that’s before any allowance for waiting in traffic or the relative inefficiency of stop/start driving! Over the 14 years between Reception and A-levels, this comes to 2.15 tonnes of CO2 – that’s equivalent to a return flight to Kathmandu! On top of this there’s the financial savings and sustainability impact of wear and tear on the vehicle, and the cost of fuel!

We asked some of the younger members of our congregation what it was like to cycle to school. Their responses included:

•              “It feels like you're in flight.”

•              “It makes you faster and stronger.”

•              “It makes me wonder why other people don't bother to do it!”

•              “In traffic jams you go past cars that are polluting the Earth while they are stuck!”

We note that giving children exercise on the way to school is a way of ensuring they are alert at the start of the school day, and burning off some excess energy can reduce wear and tear on the teaching profession.

 

How to Cycle?

  • Aim to get children ready to cycle on the road (under supervision) by the age of 10. Over this age, pavement cycling is discouraged – the legal position is that police can give fixed penalty notices to pavement cyclists but have the discretion to not do so if consideration is being shown to other pavement users.

  • Bikeability (https://www.bikeability.org.uk/) provides training with a graduated set of certificates ranging from being able to balance on a bike to complex road cycling and even maintenance. Many schools offer courses – Level 2 (basic road cycling) can be done in Year 5/6 (9-11 years old). If your child’s school doesn’t offer these courses, it may be worth lobbying for them – it’s a key life skill! If you want to arrange these yourself, the local Bikeability provider is Outspoken Training (https://outspokentraining.co.uk/). Adult, family and one-to-one training can also be provided.

  • The rear carpark at the Bedford Hospital North Wing is a great place for children to learn to cycle – quiet at the weekend, and very slightly sloped so initial runs can be gently aided by the gradient without the subsequent uphill push being too strenuous.

  • As well as learning to ride, it’s worth learning some basic maintenance skills. The "Made Good " YouTube channel has a series of videos showing routine  (and occasional!) maintenance tasks at https://www.youtube.com/@MadeGoodFilms/videos.

 

Getting a bike and accessories

Getting a bike:
  • New bikes can be made more affordable if your employer offers the “Cycle to Work” scheme – this allows you to essentially buy any bike (used in some way for commuting) with tax and National Insurance savings. See https://www.bikeradar.com/advice/buyers-guides/cycle-to-work-scheme-everything-you-need-to-know.

  • Consider registering a new bike at https://www.bikeregister.com/ so that if it is stolen, you can easily prove that it is yours and increase the chances of it being returned.

  • There are some very good deals on second-hand bikes – check eBay and Freecycle (https://uk.freecycle.org/town/BedfordUK). This promotes reuse and reduces the need to manufacture additional bikes, as well as being far cheaper! Some of these bikes might need a bit of attention before being ridden but others are as-new at a healthy discount!

  • Sadly, some second-hand bikes might have been stolen. If you’re buying a bike that is worth more than a trivial amount you might want to ask the vendor for the bike’s frame number and check that it’s not been stolen at https://www.bikeregister.com/bike-checker – and then when picking up the bike, check that you’ve been given the correct frame number (and please don’t fall for the “Oh it’s one digit out – I must have misread it” routine!)

 

Regarding bike accessories:
  • Lights: good front and rear lights are essential to see and be seen. All bike lights are now LED-based and many can be recharged from a USB port (which is very convenient when on a train with at-seat power or in the office!) As these devices include lithium ion batteries, it’s worth buying a recognised brand that will comply with safety standards to minimise the (very small) risk of explosion!

  • Locks: the quality of bike lock should be appropriate to the value of the bike. We’d recommend a D-lock with a cable or chain, as these are most versatile when locking up with a variety of different bikestands (or other street furniture!) We can’t recommend the locks with a circular key for more expensive bikes, as although these used to be considered very secure, there are now tools that allow bike thieves to open these easily; instead, the Abus Ultra and Granit ranges of locks are recommended. Children should be taught to lock their bikes from when they start riding; even if it’s unlikely that their start bike will get stolen, it normalises the behaviour ready for when they move up to a larger bike.

 

Cycle Routes

It’s very tempting to try to find a route based on our experience as car drivers or pedestrians – but there are sometimes options for bikes that might be more appropriate. Where possible, take time to plan your route, and consider where cycle paths could assist. Many route planning apps (and online mapping website such as Google Maps) have options to suggest a route for cyclists – the results might suggest routes that would not have been immediately obvious otherwise.

There are a number of initiatives providing cycle routes in our area:

  • Bedford Borough's Cycle Network (BCN) consists of:

    • 27 strategic radial routes focussed on the town centre (St. Andrew's Church is on Route 8 and is within very easy reach of routes 7 and 9. The CCNB has produced a handy "tube map" of these available from http://www.ccnb.org.uk/cycle_tube_map.pdf.

    • two orbital routes – The Avenue (BCR A) and Bedford Green Wheel (BGW).

          

  • National Cycle Network, developed by SusTrans. Bedford is on Route 51, which spans from Oxford to Felixstowe! See https://www.sustrans.org.uk/national-cycle-network/. (Bedford is shown on map 17.)

  • Other initiatives include the National Byway Trust's Network (https://www.thenationalbyway.org/), which is complimentary to the National Cycle Network, and more focussed on leisure. Their routes are towards the northern end of the country – the closest part of their network to us are in Woburn.

           cycle lanes / facilities on regular roads.

The quality and consistency of signage is variable, subject to funding, and reflects how the cycle networks have evolved (although the same could be said for road signs for the benefit of other vehicles!) The BCN and NCN signage was reviewed and updated in 2021, and is hence quite good. The signage funded by the council on regular roads is in a sorrier state:

  • In many cases it has faded and particularly when the road is wet, is difficult for both cyclists and other vehicles (who may not be looking for it) to see. The Council has repainted these markings in a number of areas recently and we hope that this will continue!

  • In many cases it appears to have been laid out according to “good practice” rules, but by people who don't actually cycle themselves! Occasionally the markings have to be "interpreted" (understanding the spirit of the markings rather than the literal meaning of the markings) to cycle safely.

  • In many cases there is signage missing or obscured by vegetation, or signage/markings for routes that have been moved has been left in place. This occasionally causes conflict with other road users who don't understand why cyclists are acting in a particular way, and tactful, patient explanation is sometimes required!


The council has been receptive to these issues being reported at https://www.bedford.gov.uk/parking-roads-and-travel/roads-and-pavements/road-problems. It’s well worth reporting issues on a regularly-used route so you both you and your fellow cyclists get the benefit of these routes working as they were intended to!

 

Cycling can form a part of a wider journey using several modes of transport. When taking bikes on trains, remember that each train operator has its own policy about carrying bikes on trains (see https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/on-the-train/train-travel-with-bicycles/cycle-policies/) but one universal policy is that folding bikes can be taken on all trains!

 

Where to park?

Many public buildings and public spaces now have excellent cycle parking facilities (often through government subsidies!) and there are always options to lock your bike to other street furniture (lampposts etc.) providing that it doesn’t obstruct other road users (think particularly about those in wheelchairs or pushing prams.) In particular:


  • St. Andrew's has bike racks on the Kimbolton Road side (next to the tower) and some additional racks in the car park.

  • Bedford station has plenty of well-lit, CCTV-protected bike racks, including some two-level racks to maximise capacity and a secure storage behind a security gate. To get a free token to access this area, enquire at the ticket office.

When choosing where to lock up, avoid road signs that can be pulled up/disassembled. Bike locks can be lifted over the top of all but the tallest of posts.


Many organisations can get grants for cycle parking facilities so if you regularly park somewhere without cycle storage, lobby for it.


When reviewing local planning applications, consider whether they are promoting cycling or whether they are reinforcing the assumption of private care use. We had a recent (small) victory at Bedford Hospital North Wing, where the plans submitted showed cycle parking was going to be removed so a substation/generator building could be extended. An objection was submitted, and the revised plans now show specific details of where new cycle parking will be provided. The council has policies on cycling provision of development (these have to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework – see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/65a11af7e8f5ec000f1f8c46/NPPF_December_2023.pdf section 110(d)), but sadly the Council doesn't seem to have the funding/staffing to check that planning applications comply with these policies, so is reliant on citizens spotting issues with planning applications and raising objections during the consultation period.

 

Beyond a standard bicycle

Whether you’d like some help with the pedalling through electric assistance, or have an extra person to bring along, there are lots of choices for modern bicycles. 

  • Elisabeth is often seen arriving with one of her children on the seat on the back of her bicycle – this is at least as quick as driving from home and Dominic sees it as a treat compared to walking!

  • An alternative approach to carrying smaller passengers is a “tag-along” trailer that can be easily attached to an adult’s bike – at least one member of our congregation uses one of these on the school run! Further details are at https://www.cyclinguk.org/article/campaigns-guide/guide-tag-longs-trailer-bikes.

  • Cargo bikes (the best-known manufacturer is www.bakfiets.nl) can be used for both good and children, although they require slightly more storage space than the tag-along. They can be fitted with covers (and the BBC even uses one as an outside broadcast vehicle for sites where cars can’t go – see https://road.cc/content/news/journalist-corrects-cargo-bike-critics-307719!) There’s one regularly seen on the school run in the Putnoe area.

  • While human pedal power is the best solution for sustainable cycling, if this is insufficient (e.g. due to steep hills on your regular route) using an electric bike to support your pedalling is still a far more sustainable option than not cycling at all!

A safety warning due to the huge amounts of energy stored in the lithium ion batteries on electric bikes: while well-built electric bikes are very safe, the cheaper ones (usually “grey imports” sold online and imported kits for self-conversion of regular bikes) have been known to catch fire. To avoid this, only buy a well-respected brand, only use the charger supplied with the bike, protect the battery from physical damage and don’t store or charge the bike in the escape route from your home. Unfortunately this issue has led many public transport operators to ban electric bikes from their services as it’s not possible for them to differentiate the small number of dangerous bikes from the vast majority of safe bikes.

 

Driving

Why are we talking about driving in a study about sustainable travel? We recognise that for many people, it’s not immediately practicable to completely eliminate driving, so how can we make what remains as sustainable as possible?

  • You might want to consider an online Eco-driving course; ROSPA do a course that takes 30 minutes for £10: https://www.rospa.com/shop/products/eco-driving. (Those of you who have employees who drive on business – could you make this a mandated course?) Amongst other things it teaches people to accelerate gently and to anticipate what traffic ahead will do, making more use of coasting and less use of the brake.

  • Electric vehicles: whether it is worth changing your car depends on your typical annual mileage, as the “embodied energy” in manufacturing the new car needs to be “paid back” before your fossil-fuel-free motoring is an overall sustainability benefit. This payback now happens surprisingly quickly – after driving 20,000 – 32,000 miles, depending on the new vehicle and the vehicle being replaced. You can improve sustainability further by charging the car when electricity is plentiful (typically overnight) as this avoids the need for additional power stations to be fired up – some modern change points can automatically schedule this for you. In some cases you can even sell spare power from your car battery back to the grid at peak times – this again avoids the need for more polluting forms of power generation to be fired up, as well as making you a small profit!

  • Motoring can be more sustainable by keeping on top of maintenance – such as ensuring tyre pressures are correct, and that the engine warning light doesn’t mean that your car’s engine management system is using less efficient settings to mitigate a sensor failure.

  • Cars burn less fuel if they are lighter (are you carrying anything in the car that doesn’t need to be there?) and if you remove accessories that cause aerodynamic drag (such as roof racks and roof boxes) when they are not being used. (Although if the extra space in a roof box makes the difference between keeping your existing car and buying a larger car, it might still be the better environmental option!)

 

Drivers can also help other road users make sustainable travel choices safely:

  • Sadly too many cyclists get knocked off their bikes by car doors being opened into their path; experienced cyclists always assume that any car door might open at any time! Car drivers and their passengers can learn to open doors using a “Dutch reach” (see https://www.dutchreach.org/) - by using the opposite hand to open the door, the driver/passenger’s head will naturally turn to face oncoming traffic, hence they will spot cyclists before opening the door into their path! The “Dutch” part of the name comes from this technique being normalised in the Netherlands – it’s taught in Dutch schools and you’d fail a Dutch driving test if you opened the door any other way!

  • The Highway Code changed significantly in January 2022, updating rules for cyclists and how other vehicles should behave around cyclists. The changes can be seen at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-highway-code-8-changes-you-need-to-know-from-29-january-2022 and the entire Code can be read online at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code

  • Drivers – if you wonder why cyclists aren’t responding to your kind hand-gestures indicating that they can go in front of you, it’s probably because your hand-gestures often can’t be seen through car windows, particularly in sunlight and through the tinted/coated windows on modern cars! It’s safer and less confusing if everyone sticks to the priority rules in the Highway Code.

 

Overseas trips – air travel

In some cases, air travel can’t be avoided; however, it’s a useful exercise to ask yourself what the alternative would look like before making the decision based on a presumption.

We need to change our relationship with time spent travelling. Until recently it has been seen as wasted time – a necessary evil. However, it can increasingly be seen as productive time (e.g. working on a train on a business trip, thanks to reserved seats, at-seat power and wifi) or an integral part of a holiday (e.g. stopping off at a variety of places while on a multi-day overland journey.) In an increasingly busy world, the enforced thinking time caused by travel can be beneficial and precious.

 

Overseas trips – overland

The Man in Seat 61” website (https://www.seat61.com/) is the definitive guide to international rail travel, developed by a well-informed industry insider. You can choose your journey and it will suggest routes along with useful notes on how to get the necessary tickets and what to do/bring/watch out for. While InterRail tickets are well-known for travelling around Europe by rail, you have to watch out for supplements and restrictions, and unless you can be flexible, other ticketing options might be cheaper.

There are several people in the congregation who have used rail to travel further afield and would be happy to talk about their experiences – hearing first hand about how things work is one of the easiest ways to consider what you might do. Some examples:

  • One example is the Sutcliffe family who, during Elisabeth’s maternity leave after James was born, spent a few weeks travelling on trains in Europe. Carrying all that was needed for two small children was perhaps their biggest challenge - you might find it even easier if you don’t need to bring along a travel cot or box of Lego! Careful planning meant the holiday felt like an adventure - enjoying the journey and different stops and confidence in our right and options if any connections had been missed (but none were!).

  • The Love family took a week’s holiday around Europe (with an 8 and 10 year old), travelling by train from Bedford to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

  • The Nash family (of four) travelled by train to Passau, cycled along the Danube to Vienna and took the train back pausing for a couple of nights in Frankfurt and a few days in Brussels.

  • In 2010, Andrew travelled to and from the UK for a friend’s wedding on the Greek Island of Aegina via rail and ferry – a three day trip via Paris, Bari, Patras and Athens. The choice of an overland route was fortuitous, as an Icelandic volcano erupted while he was travelling and the resulting ash cloud meant that many of the wedding guests who had booked flights didn’t get there!

 

Of course, the environmental impact of travel isn’t just about getting there, it’s also about staying there. Hotels vary enormously in their sustainability, and there’s a huge amount of greenwash that makes it appear that some of the larger hotel chains are trying harder than they really are! When choosing where to book it’s worth considering the information that can be gleaned from both the hotel’s own description and the reviews left by other travellers. To help future travellers, it’s important to leave reviews that consider sustainability – most hotels and booking sites will send emails begging for reviews so this is pretty easy to do. After one business trip, I thoroughly upset a hotel in Pittsburgh by leaving a review highlighting the astonishing level of waste in their inclusive breakfast (single-use plastic plates and cutlery, shrink-wrapped foods etc.) Their rather aggressive response showed that despite their fine words, they really didn’t believe in sustainability. I fear that there will have to be many more similar interactions before they get the message that sustainability is about actions rather than words – so let’s bring on that fight!


What’s coming up this month?

  • Discussion: Those interested are invited to an informal discussion of this month’s topic during post-service refreshments on Sunday 28th April at 1115-1215 in the corner of the hall. (NB this is the fourth Sunday of the month rather than the third to accommodate the APCM!) Please come along and share your questions and your experience of and issues encountered investigating sustainable travel; you can share as much or as little as you wish about what you have learned!

  • Earth Day (https://www.earthday.org/) is on 22 April. Billed as “the largest civic event of Earth” this year’s theme is “Planet vs. Plastics” and calls for a 60% reduction of plastic production by 2040, awareness of plastic health risks, phasing out single use plastics, a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and an end to fast fashion.

  • The Innovation Zero / Infrastructure Zero (https://www.innovationzero.com/) exhibition and conference takes place at London’s Olympia between 30th April and 1st May. It’s rather high-level. Registration to attend before 1st April is free, after than it costs £199+VAT!

  • No-mow May (https://www.plantlife.org.uk/campaigns/nomowmay/) encourages people to not cut their lawns in May and beyond, so that wildflowers can grow and provide a food source for bees and butterflies. The website is very pragmatic, and gives advice on how to help nature without making your garden look feral.

 

 

Further reading:

 

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