20 minutes a day that could help start a revolution - Alastair Dalton

May challenge is a step towards reclaiming space for walkers

Pedestrians will need more pavement space to stay 2m apart when the lockdown is eased. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

Among exhibits at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow are pairs of shoes.

They reflect the fact footwear is just as important a form of transport as the giant steam locomotives and historic trams and buses with which they share the building.

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But while walking is an activity many of us are doing much less of since the lockdown restrictions were imposed, there’s never been a more important time for it.

For most, the suspension of the daily commute and movement around our workplaces has meant our step counts will have plummeted.

Rather than being a natural part of our routine, we’re having to find time to force ourselves out of the house for exercise.

Without the physical separation of home and work, it’s easy for office hours to stretch out until we just feel like slumping in front of the TV – in my family’s case, the nightly instalment of the full Marvel Cinematic Universe that we’re re-running to mark the latest 21 days of lockdown.

However, I’m finding getting outside is a vital antidote to the onset of cabin fever. Former champion mountain biker Lee Craigie –now Scotland’s active nation commissioner – likens it to everything being “just squashed in”.

Sunrise photos

We’re only supposed to be out for up to an hour, so your neighbourhood streets may be becoming overfamiliar. I find that doesn’t matter with distractions like listening to music or podcasts.

Innovations elsewhere include local self-guided walking tours, such as one of the Roseburn area of Edinburgh produced by Murrayfield Community Council.

Elsewhere in the capital, Northern Lighthouse Board chief executive Mike Bullock has tweeted some amazing sunrise photos from deserted streets during his early-morning strolls.

Perfectly timed if you need that extra encouragement, today marks the start of National Walking Month, organised by campaigners Living Streets.

Its target, supported by Craigie and fellow cyclist Chris Boardman, is #Try20 – for everyone to walk 20 minutes a day during May.

For those living near normally-busy roads, this should be an attractive opportunity to be seized when the lack of traffic means you often hear birdsong.

You can even cross roads at junctions where you’d normally have to wait for the green man.

However, when the lockdown restrictions are eased, we will still need to keep two metres apart from each other but with many more people on the streets and vehicles on the roads.

Blazing a trail

The extra space planned for walkers and cyclists by councils this week will be crucial in making such “active travel” viable options.

Walking is, after all, top of the Scottish Government’s “sustainable travel hierarchy”. What better way to put that into practice?

Edinburgh is blazing a trail by closing three roads by Sunday in the first of a series of moves.

But rather than turning out to be token gestures, this should be the catalyst for a wholesale reallocation of road space – as I mentioned in this column last week in relation to cycling.

Even before the pandemic, the need for separating walkers and riders had been identified, with one senior transport official telling me there was “no case” for the two groups to be forced to share off-road paths in urban areas.

That also means cyclists staying off pavements.

Here lies a great opportunity, but it must be led from the top in government, both nationally and locally.

They must also clearly communicate the strategy to avoid a backlash from those who think the car is the solution to everything.

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