The transition to zero-carbon is essential to the mitigation of climate change, but despite Paris Agreement commitments, transport emissions are still on the rise. The transition to clean forms of transport is a hot topic for the upcoming climate change conference COP26, which will take place in November 2021 in Glasgow.
Researchers agree that there are solutions to the transport problem, both simple and innovative, but we need to act fast. That much is clear from a local example; Bristol needs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 88%, to meet its ambitious net zero targets by 2030. For National Clean Air Day (17th June), I have been finding out about research on clean transport from experts at the Cabot Institute for the Environment at the University of Bristol.
Professor Martin Hurcombe, ‘Access and Active Leisure in a Time of Pandemic: Tales of Two Cities’
Self-proclaimed ‘MAMIL’ (middle-aged man in lycra), Professor Martin Hurcombe from the Modern Languages department is a keen cyclist, a passion he has integrated into his research. As an offshoot of his research in literary studies, Martin became fascinated by the French sports press and the way it represented cycling. As a result, he is currently writing a book exploring attitudes towards cycling from the late nineteenth century up to the present.
Martin is also working with the Brigstow Institute on an exciting project entitled ‘Access and Active Leisure in a Time of Pandemic: Tales of Two Cities’. This comparative study of Bristol and Bordeaux is exploring how the pandemic has highlighted longstanding issues around access to and enjoyment of urban spaces via active leisure. Both cities reflected profound inequalities, entrenched geographically, economically, socially and culturally, many of which originate in the cities’ parallel histories of empire, trade and industrialisation. Martin and his fellow researchers are investigating the ways in which the pandemic has heightened these structural inequalities, but also led to some positive re-shaping of the urban environment, from reduction of road traffic to a massive increase in cycling with recent government statistics show that cycling levels during lockdown rose by up to 300% on some days.
While the benefits of cycling are clear; a healthier population, decreased congestion and a cleaner urban environment, Martin laid out various key challenges faced in its promotion and uptake. These include the attitudes of drivers towards cyclists, infrastructural challenges and issues of safety.
Why is it important to conduct cultural, qualitative research in the transport sector?
To change attitudes, we need to take a broader cultural approach, not just an infrastructural one; issues of who has a ‘right’ to occupy the streets play out on a daily basis in how a cyclist or a runner feels and acts on the roads. Despite the challenges revealed by his public engagement research, Martin seemed determined that this kind of research will be valuable in ‘finding a way we can all share this space’. Research like this can be used to draw out diversity in active leisure and dispel the traditional image of the cyclist, to broaden it to include people of all sectors of society. Martin also recently worked on ‘Putting a Positive Spin on the Story of Cycling’ (PPS), that was developed with local charity Life Cycle.
We want to demonstrate that cycling was, and is, something for everybody.
Georgina de Courcy-Bower, E-scooters in Bristol
Georgina completed her Master’s in Environmental Policy and Management during the pandemic. Following the legislation of e-scooters in the UK on 4th July 2020, a change in law brought forward to reduce crowding on public transport as a result of COVID-19, she chose to write her dissertation on this new micro-mobility. Georgina explained that the Voi scooters, introduced to Bristol as part of a shared mobility pilot scheme in UK cities, were considered and promoted as a ‘last mile’ solution to fill gaps between transport links and homes or offices, in hopes to draw more people away from their cars and tackle congestion and air pollution – two key issues associated with the car-dominated transport system known to Bristol.
Are e-scooters a viable part of the solution to sustainable transport?
Understanding the city as a complex system and taking a more holistic approach to environmental transport sustainability is likely to be the most successful strategy.
Dr Colin Nolden, Riding Sunbeams
What are the social benefits of renewable, community energy?
Despite good will and innovation, ‘it takes a long time to disentangle things and implement new systems.
Emilia Melville, Moving Bristol Forward’s Transport Manifesto
How Bristol measures up to other cities in terms of moving towards clean transport?
|Queens square, Bristol, before and after dual carriageway was removed to create the well-loved park it is today (Photo by Bristol Live).|