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Young people, travel and the future of Peterborough

Businessman cycling

As part of the Future Workshop Programme, we have been working on a youth-focused event to bring the voices of the next generation to the fore in discussions about our future communities and society.

As part of this, we have asked several young people from Peterborough and Huntingdon to contribute blogs on key themes. The first explored the origins of Multi-Academy Trusts and our second navigated the experiences of education as a student in Peterborough.

This latest by Miriam Sellick, Environment Lead on Peterborough Youth Council, looks at sustainable travel, climate discussions in Peterborough and the role of youth in it all:

As Peterborough Youth Council representative on the Peterborough City Council Climate Change and Environment Scrutiny Committee, I review the plans to make our city more sustainable. Peterborough is often heralded as ‘The Environment Capital’ and we do have some things to be proud of – like the Green Wheel – and the district heat network, coming soon. However, anyone living in Peterborough will tell you this doesn’t match the reality of everyday life.


So, what’s the problem? Yes, we do have the Green Wheel (the circular cycle path around the edges of the city). But it is primarily for leisure cycling, not for providing a credible alternative to driving. Instead, inside the city, the rare cycling routes that do exist on roads are often dangerous and ignored by cars. The network is fragmented, with cycling routes often stopping dead, leaving cyclists to face complex junctions unprotected. 


And, in my view, recent road projects have made this worse, like the Taverner’s Road/ Lincoln Road junction that leaves cyclists essentially in the path of oncoming traffic. There are some offroad cycling routes, but they rarely connect with where people actually want to go, and they feel unsafe - unlit at night, again not allowing people to actually use cycling (and walking) as an alternative to driving. All of this means that Peterborough has a low cycling rate (6% cycle at least once a week, compared with the 16% national average – despite our lack of hills!)


There is some public transport in the city too, with buses connecting some areas to the city centre. But again, there are connectivity problems, with people often not being able to get where they actually need to go. Buses to some areas are infrequent in the evenings and can be unreliable because we lack bus lanes and junction priorities. So, some people don’t feel comfortable depending on them for getting to school or work or trips out.


All of this has disastrous consequences on the people of Peterborough (especially young people) and our planet. A recent study by Sustrans (Transport to Thrive) showed that lack of transport is a barrier to young people achieving their ambitions. Some people even said that lack of public transport meant that they couldn’t take up a job they wanted. It found that young people (16 – 24) make fewer trips than other age groups – surprising considering we are most likely to want to be out and about. Bus fares are key because 80% of young people rely on public transport to get around, which is higher than other age groups, so our travel is more affected by the cost-of-living crisis. 


In short, we urgently need better cycling (and bus) infrastructure to enable people to cycle for a purpose: to school, to town, to the shops. Only this would encourage the modal shift away from cars to public (buses and trains) and active (cycling and walking) travel that we require to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


What would this look like? We need segregated cycling paths that give cyclists priority at junctions, making cycling safer and easier for all. And these paths need to actually link where people live, work and study with where they want to go to relax and enjoy themselves. There are some good ideas in the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan that the Council approved recently, but we need funding and investment to make these plans a reality. 


We need radical thinking to transform the city centre from a polluted husk to a bustling green space with easy public and active transport connections. This would include more frequent and better-connected bus services, and possibly a low emissions zone to discourage non-essential cars from the city centre. Longer term, we need to ensure that future housing developments in Peterborough have strong transport connections to the centre, as well as local community facilities (shops, leisure, schools), so people can access what they need within 10 minutes walk or cycle ride. 


All of this would make Peterborough a better place to live for all, tackling inequality and encouraging accessibility. Better cycling infrastructure would encourage more cycling which would improve the physical and mental health of people in Peterborough – and reduce damage to the environment. Transport represents 39% of Peterborough’s carbon emissions and it is an area where young people have the agency to make a difference. 


Housing accessibility for active and public transport needs to be a planning requirement, alongside implementing national policies to shift to renewable energy generation, low carbon buildings and circular economies to tackle global warming, ensuring that future generations can thrive. 


Miriam Sellick (Environment Lead on Peterborough Youth Council)


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