'Spaces for People' active-travel policies could help heal unhealthy Scotland but councils must bring the public with them – Scotsman comment

According to Hippocrates, dubbed the father of modern medicine and known for his famous oath, walking is the “best medicine”.

A new cycle lane created under the Spaces for People scheme in Edinburgh

Today’s doctors would add any form of active travel, like cycling, and exercise in general. And, given so many of us are unfit, over-weight and over-fond of alcohol, Scotland would benefit more than some countries from a liberal application of this most natural of remedies.

Among the few silver linings of the Covid crisis has been a surge in the number of people going out into the great outdoors to exercise. The risk is that, as the lockdown is eased, we forget our new good habits.

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Now is the time to capitalise on the growth in popularity of the great outdoors.

With this in mind, the head of Mountaineering Scotland, Stuart Younie, has added his voice to calls to appoint a national ‘champion’ of outdoor recreation whose job would be to help make it easier for people to go hillwalking and take part in a host of other activities.

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War of words over Edinburgh's Spaces for People scheme

One reason why people were able to exercise more during lockdown was that they were working from home and therefore not spending as much time travelling.

As people return to the office, many will face lengthy commutes in gridlocked traffic, particularly as some will initially shy away from crowded buses.

Under the Spaces for People programme, temporary changes to road layouts designed to encourage active travel instead of car journeys have been introduced. Many have been uncontroversial but some have caused local outrage, particularly where it seems that measures – often rushed through with little consultation – could be made permanent.

There is considerable support for active travel across the political spectrum because the benefits are obvious. Helping people to turn their daily commute into a form of exercise is a good way to create enough time in the day to actually do some.

The benefits for individuals would be significant and, if enough people do it, it could have a real effect on the economy, with fewer sick days, better productivity and less pressure on the NHS.

But councils must take care not to ruin the public’s perception of a laudable idea, whose time may well have come, by being high-handed, over-eager to usher in a brighter future or failing to listen to local opinion.

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