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Active Travel Zones Explained

Back in 2018, we launched our long-term transport strategy – Connected Southampton - which sets out a range of measures to transform the city’s transport over the next 20 years. In this blog, we’ll be looking specifically at our plans for Active Travel Zones and how these will contribute to our vision for a liveable and sustainable city.

First up, what is an Active Travel Zone?

Put simply, Active Travel Zones are local neighbourhoods that encourage active travel through a range of measures which calm or discourage traffic and instead prioritise people walking and cycling. These might include things like bollards or planters which are used to stop traffic from cutting through a particular area, while still allowing access for people walking and cycling.

Planters on Millbrook Road East

Why is this important for the city?

As a city, we face pressing issues around air quality and road traffic congestion. By encouraging and enabling more people to swap their cars for walking and cycling, we can take considerable steps to tackle these challenges head on.

But in order to do this successfully, active travel needs to become a safer and more appealing option. We know that, for cycling in particular, safety and confidence are big barriers for people. Active Travel Zones address these barriers by providing safer, more accessible neighbourhoods where people feel able to walk and cycle with confidence. This in turn means less pollution and less traffic on the roads, contributing to a healthier, more pleasant and welcoming environment for everyone living, working and visiting there.

Watch our video below to hear what local residents have to say about the benefits of these types of measures.

What else?

‘Placemaking’ is a design concept that involves the creation of attractive public spaces to promote people’s health, happiness and wellbeing. This is an important aspect of the design process for Active Travel Zones and provides new spaces and meeting points, turning the local streets into ‘places’ - and not simply parts of routes for people driving. This helps to improve social cohesion, encouraging people to interact in their outdoor spaces and bringing the local community together. This also attracts more people to the area, boosting local trade as a result.

And the economic benefits don’t stop there. There is a significant business case for investing in walking and cycling: it is widely shown that people walking and cycling spend considerably more time and money in local shops than their driving counterparts. We have seen first-hand the positive outcomes this can have in Bedford Place, where we’re currently trialling the pedestrianisation of the local area.

Businesses therefore have lots to gain from making it easier and more enjoyable for people to travel actively and spend time in the local area.

A pedestrianisation scheme is currently being trialled in Bedford Place

How are Active Travel Zones created?

Members of the local community play a crucial role in creating Active Travel Zones and are closely consulted at every stage of the development process. Initially, they are asked for their thoughts on the local area and any changes they would like to see, usually in a perception survey. This initial feedback is presented at a series of co-design workshops, during which residents discuss potential solutions for the neighbourhood with specialist engineers. This output from the co-design workshops is then used to develop detailed designs for the local area which are consulted on and, subject to approval, finally implemented.

Enabling communities to shape their own Active Travel Zones in this way gives people a feeling of ownership and helps them to foster a strong sense of pride in, and connection to, their local neighbourhoods. This is important to ensure that the positive momentum continues once the changes have been made and that the scheme is a success in the long term.

What have we already done?

Our transport strategy outlines our plans to roll out Active Travel Zones across a number of the city’s neighbourhoods in the years to come. We have already made an excellent start on this in St Denys, where we’ve been working collaboratively with local residents over the past year to understand issues in the neighbourhood and design solutions to address these.

The initial perceptions survey for St Denys received almost 1,000 contributions in December 2019, with people telling us that their main concerns were traffic, safety and air quality. This was followed in February 2020 by four co-design workshops, where residents and pupils from the local primary school had the opportunity to work together with us to develop ideas to tackle these issues.

St Denys co-design workshop in action

The suggestions that came out of this were subject to a feasibility study and detailed designs were created which were then presented back to the community for consultation. Delivery of the final proposals commenced at the end of 2020 with the installation of trial modal filters on Kent Road and North Road, designed to help prevent local roads being used as short cuts. Looking ahead, further improvements will soon be on the way, including a third modal filter on Priory Road North and other measures to encourage walking and cycling.

Click here to find out more about our work in St Denys

Modal filters on Kent Road

What's next?

This work in St Denys follows a successful history of other similar schemes elsewhere in the city. Take the recent examples of Oxford Street and Millbrook Road East, or Alma Road and Avenue Road, where modal filters have now been in place for a number of years. Even Above Bar, the city’s main high street no less, was once completely open to cars before later being pedestrianised. It’s hard to remember a time when these roads weren’t the way they are now – safer, more pleasant and more accessible for the people who live, work and shop there.

St Denys signals an exciting milestone in this history and sets a high benchmark for other similar projects coming up around St Mark's C of E Primary School in Shirley, The Polygon and Woolston. We want Southampton to be a modern, liveable city that supports sustainable growth and puts people first. Going forward, Active Travel Zones will form an important contribution to this, with local communities leading the way and working together to make small but effective changes towards this goal.