Running and walking

I have a few friends who are enthusiastic runners. Personally I don’t see the appeal, I understand the health benefits and even the potential to feel a sense of achievement after running a certain distance or doing so faster than a rival, but it really isn’t for me.
However, what I find most peculiar about running is that it usually completely absent from transport consultations such as the Greater Manchester LTP3. There was no mention of any athletics facilities at all in the LTP3, and United Kingdom Athletics did not submit a response at all. Whilst it could be argued that running is a sports or leisure pursuit, it is in many respects similar to walking, which is considered by this kind of consultation to be (an admittedly unimportant) form of transport.
The title page from the LTP3  “Active travel” section, with a picture choice which aptly shows everything which is wrong with cycle promotion and provision in the UK.
Of course it doesn’t make sense to talk about running in the same terms as we talk about walking. Running is a popular leisure pursuit, but it is not the same as walking. Whilst some also walk for leisure or health, it is primarily considered to be a simple and effective way to get from A to B. When government talks of, “Providing for pedestrians,” they generally do not mean providing showers at work for those whose commute is a run, providing pleasant cross-country running routes or shiny new athletic facilities.
When government talks of, “Providing for cyclists,” however, they confuse cycle-sport and leisure cycling with cycling to get from A to B, an error akin to confusing runners with pedestrians. Whilst there will always be a minority of sporty cyclists who use their time travelling to work as a training ride, just as there are a few people at my place of work who use their time travelling to work as a training run, complete with performance clothing and a shower afterwards, this is not and never will be a mainstream activity. There’s nothing at all wrong with treating your ride to work as a training ride, but by confusing a minority pursuit such as this with utility cycling, which when provided for adequately, can be a mainstream mode of transport, successive governments (and some cycle campaigners) have failed to achieve any significant, meaningful gains in cycling rates. Promoting running and providing a circuitous cross-country route is not going to persuade the overwhelming majority of motorists to switch away from driving the 2 miles to work. Providing a decent walking environment and promoting walking (whilst hindering motoring) is. The same applies to cycling.
Cycle sport is probably very nearly as popular as it is going to get, and the popularity of this hobby is particularly impressive. Utility cycling by non-enthusiasts has been suppressed by years of car-centric and outright hostile street design to a level similar to that of sport-cycling, making it easy for governments and even cycling campaigns to consider cyclists as a single homogenous group. This confusion of sport cycling with the much greater potential for growth in utility cycling from A to B severely limits the potential for cycling’s growth. If we want to see any significant gains in cycling rates, we need to end this confusion of the more-nichey sport-cycling with the kind of everyday, utility cycling which can be made to appeal to the average person where the right kind of provision is made for them.

7 thoughts on “Running and walking

  1. And that's exactly why I call myself "iamnotacyclist". Very well made point. Co could liken it Nordic Walking and walking – first involves ridiculous clothing (yes, spandex), special gear (skiing sticks, probably modified slightly…) while other involves… just walking. I use the term "person on a bike" instead of "cyclist" – i wish there was a catchier phrase.

  2. several of m'colleagues when i worked in the village of london were joggers. they weren't *athletes*. they had no interest in marathons or sprinting races. they jogged because it was a way of keeping vaguely fit that could really really easily be integrated into their everyday lives. given the congestion blocking the buses and the shockingly large distance between the office and the tube (5-10 whole minutes from 5 different stations), it was almost easier for them to jog than not to.which is the argument that ben goldacre was making, and which i hope NICE will take up: it's no good telling people to exercise if you make it something that is difficult to do. make exercise really really easy, something that can naturally be integrated into your day without detracting from it, and people will do it.–Joe

  3. Careful what you wish for. If local government starts to plan and construct running faciltites as part of any local transport plan it's likely they'll be just as poorly executed and enforced as those for cycling.The net result will be a lot of public money spent and next to nothing to show for it.

  4. @nrduI know what you mean, it would be good if there was an alternative word to "cyclist" so that sport cycling and cycling could be referred to separately and recognised as different entities by people (and government)@Joe,I too would like to see nice get involved in pointing out the wider social barriers to public health. It would be a refreshing change from other organisations with an interest in public health such as the BMA, who generally don't seem to understand (See their views on helmet compulsion for example).@Pete,I can already imagine the cross country route which merges runners into the main lane of a dual carriageway

  5. Good post, and broadly reflective of my own views of how "cycling" is misrepresented almost everywhere. Although quality infrastructure is fundamental to fostering mass cycling, I think a massive step in the right direction could be made if the bicycle was advertised properly. Stop portraying cycling as the domain of the helmeted, lycra and hi-viz clad male, dutifully using woefully inadequate and circuitous infrastructure. Show normal people from a broad spectrum of society going about their normal daily business on a bike dressed for their destination, and maybe more people will see it and go "hey, I could do that".

  6. Oh, and another thing, does anyone know where in Greater Manchester that photo from the LTP3 was taken? The green monument in the background is quite distinctive, but I nor the few people I've spoken to about it know where it is.

  7. @Marchie,I think the portrayal of cycling as a solely sporting or leisure pursuit is certainly part of the culture barrier, although I can't help but feel that a lot of this is due to the road network being so hostile as to make cycling for any other purpose unappealing to the majority of people. The perception of cycling as a normal mode of transport is something which comes from conditions which are conducive to make cycling an attractive option for the average person. There is definitely some interplay between the two factors though, if cycling can start to become "normalised" I can see this reducing the resistance to making the changes to the road network we so desperately need.As for the photo, it is taken from the well-renowned cycling district of Rochdale (very near the town hall, on a typically useless bit of cycle infrastructure running along one of the town's many town-centre dual carriageways), a part of GM where I seldom ever see a single sole on a bike.

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