Louise Gold is Head of Behavioural Change at Sustrans, the UK charity that campaigns to improve the UK’s walking and cycling culture and infrastructure.
How did Sustrans begin?
In the 1970s, a band of hippies decided to forge the Bath to Bristol cycle path, which led to creation of the National Cycle Network. This gave rise to a plethora of behavioural changes, collaborative design and infrastructure work across the UK. Sustrans aims to connect people and places, create liveable neighbourhoods, transform the school run and deliver a happier, healthier commute.
Your job title is Head of Behavioural Change – what sort of projects do you work on?
My role is to ensure the delivery of projects that promote sustainable and active travel in London. Most recently, I developed an infrastructure improvement project in Barking and Dagenham, which won a London Transport Award for Excellence in Cycling and Walking. I also have responsibility for Bike It Plus (our schools’ engagement work), the London workplaces programme and air quality projects.
What’s the main aim for you at Sustrans?
To make it easy for anyone to travel actively in London. At the moment, infrastructure improvements are often prioritised over softer measures like behaviour change, so culturally we’re so behind somewhere like Holland. It’s important to empower people to use the great Quietways, Cycle Superhighways, Mini Hollands and Liveable Neighbourhoods that are being built around London.
Do you think the culture of cycling and walking in the UK has changed in the last decade?
In London, definitely. The figures speak for themselves: cycling is now four times more popular in London than 19 years ago and it’s more visible, too. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy has ambitious targets (its main one is for 80 percent of trips to be made on foot, by cycle or public transport by 2041), but we need to ensure it’s put into practice.
Are there any countries or cities that Sustrans use as benchmarks?
I was lucky enough to speak at the Velo-City conference in Holland last year and cycled through Regio Arnhem-Nijmegen on the segregated 16km Super Cycle Highway. The route involves a cycle and pedestrian suspension bridge, which runs next to the railway bridge across the Waal River, through expansive, flat countryside. I felt safe at every stage – cars stopped and it was all joined up.
While the UK has an obesity epidemic, in Holland 53% of adults do moderate physical activity 4-7 days a week. The World Health Organization says the Netherlands is the one EU country not heading for an obesity crisis, predicting that in 2030, the Dutch obesity rate will be 8.5%, while in Ireland, for instance, it’ll be 50%.
New York is another example of improving a city by trialling radical cycling and walking schemes, thanks to transport commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Sustrans does that too – it has a modular Street Kit to trial road closures, public seating and planters, and often trials crossing points to understand how people will respond.
What sort of cycling do you do?
I cycle for work, riding along Quietway 2 from Hackney to Farringdon and to meetings around London. I did the Dunwich Dynamo a few years back. You ride through the night from London to Dunwich beach in Suffolk for sunrise. I also cycled around Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, which was like being on a crazy sci-fi film set, cycling through dust storms and intense heat.
Could commuting in London be improved?
It’s more doable than people think; cycling infrastructure is improving and with planning there’s usually a safe route. Funding is at an all-time high for infrastructure but there needs to be more for behaviour change projects.