Active Travel Ambition: Liverpool City Region

Active Travel Ambition: Liverpool City Region Walking, Wheeling and Cycling Conference

A combined Active Travel England and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority event, we all met at the Floral Pavillion in New Brighton on a gloriously sunny day. PLACED was invited to speak alongside Sustrans on the value of community engagement as part of active travel projects and we also snuck in some engagement of our own. We asked attendees during the breaks these three questions: 

  • Do you consistently build engagement into your projects?
  • What are the benefits of embedding engagement into your projects?
  • What are the barriers to embedding engagement into your projects?

It was a jam-packed day and we heard so much interesting stuff, honest reflections, provocations. All sorts. I think my main take away though was that engagement, while on the programme for the afternoon, made itself present throughout the day. Leaving us at PLACED and Sustrans colleagues feeling the pressure to provide the answers on how projects can deliver good engagement which supports project progress and doesn’t descend into the sort of negativity or polarisation that active travel projects have been known to suffer from. What was clear from many of the comments was that people working on these projects really care about the bigger picture, enabling more walking and cycling to improve health and wellbeing, support places, and contribute to tackling the climate crisis. Any many really saw the benefit of engagement as not only a way to build support but also to genuinely improve scheme design. However, people had also had negative experiences and were concerned about how best to do engagement. 

We offered some principles and reflections from our own experience delivering engagement on a walking and cycling project, highlighting the need to:

  • work collaboratively with designers, engineers, comms colleagues and more,
  • reach out in diverse ways to really connect a range of communities and groups, 
  • pay attention to reaching those less heard voices,  
  • start early, and 
  • be sensitive to the scale of change being proposed and the impact this has for some.

Totting up the comments and data collected reveals that most people do try to include additional engagement and they could see the benefits, but time and cost felt like the big barriers. In the comments we collected we heard the detail, some feeling nervous and fearful about putting projects out there in early and draft stages, others telling us how difficult it can be to create space for constructive contributions rather than official ‘objection’ or ‘support’. And, how do you do all this while being pushed to focus on timeline and delivery? Others suggested working more closely with partner organisations already in touch with specific communities or in locations. 

 

After a very thought-provoking day of listening to talks, talking with attendees and giving my own talk I think one of the big challenges for many projects, but especially active travel, alongside the logistics and costs of good engagement, is getting the discussion to a point of positivity (not necessarily support) and constructive input. Active travel has at times become a bit of a hot potato and projects have not always delivered for everyone. Like anything it’s a mixed bag. This can make those conversations difficult. Helping people to understand active travel projects in the context of their day to day lives, and helping designers to plan them with everyday lives in mind is part of the challenge that good engagement can help with. 

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