London 2012 uses the Summer Games as a catalyst to inspire more people to walk and cycle.
Just because I put on my tennies and jog around the block doesn’t make me Allyson Felix. Renting a bike from Capital Bikeshare to run errands won’t make me Kristin Armstrong. Walking toe-to-heel on the curb (watch me stick the dismount!) doesn’t make me Gabby Douglas. And considering that my only stroke is the dog paddle, Missy Franklin has nothing to fear from me.
But watching the summer athletes over the last few weeks – running, biking, cycling, swimming, rowing, leaping, lifting – did inspire me to be more active. No, I can’t do what the Olympians do. But I could certainly kick it up a notch in my daily life. To start with, I could walk a little further and a little faster.
London 2012 endeavored to tap into this inspirational dynamic of the Games through its Active Travel program, which is part of its larger effort to host the first truly sustainable Games. According to planners, “Never before has an Olympic and Paralympic Games placed such an emphasis on encouraging walking and cycling and ensuring a long-term legacy.”
This first-of-its-kind Olympic program encourages attendees at the Games to walk and cycle (because if you’re on your way to watch elite athletes push the human body to its limits, then why not get there under your own power?) while also promoting walking and cycling in London and across the U.K.
According to the program’s write-up, nearly three-quarters of all journeys in the U.K. are less than five miles, offering a “huge potential for positive and lasting change.” Not only does active travel benefit travelers by promoting health and fitness, but it also reduces energy consumption and the resultant pollution, as well as easing traffic congestion. The bottom line: active travel is good for people, good for the planet, and good for cities.
However, if you want more people to walk and bike, especially in an urban environment, you need to make it convenient, safe and enjoyable. Olympic inspiration won’t get you very far without infrastructure and information to back it up.
In preparation for the Games, the Olympic Development Authority upgraded walking and cycling routes that lead to venues (both in the Olympic Park and other locations where events were held). In the Olympic Park and river zone areas, more than 46 miles of walking and cycling routes were upgraded. This included widening paths, resurfacing, improving road crossings and adding dropped curbs.
For example, one of the upgrade projects involved 1.5 miles of the Greenway Pedestrian Cycle Track, a path that sits on top of the historic Northern Outfall Sewer (which, as it happens, plays another key role in London 2012’s sustainability plan: wastewater from this sewer is reclaimed for a variety of uses throughout the Park).
The Greenway had been renovated in the 1990s, but had already fallen into disrepair and suffered from what a learning legacy report about the project describes as anti-social behavior: vandalism, graffiti and “fly-tipping” (translation for the Yanks among us: that’s dumping over trash bins).
To make the path more walkable, rideable and appealing, the ODA removed all graffiti along the Olympic Park section; cleaned up all rubbish and put a plan in place to keep the path clean; and provided new seating, signage, fencing, surfacing, and landscaping. Public art was also installed along the path.
In addition to upgrading paths and offering information and services to support pedestrians and cyclists at the Olympic Park and across London, the Active Travel program threw a wider net by recognizing more than 50 programs across the UK that support walking and cycling.
On of those programs is Cycloan, which teaches juveniles offenders how to repair bikes using stolen and recovered bikes. Once the bikes are fixed up, they are donated to people in need of bikes, including victims of cycle theft.
Another program earning recognition is Walk England’s Walk4Life, which placed markers on 2,150 mile-long routes across the U.K. (exceeding their goal of designating 2,012 mile-long walks by 2012). These one-mile walks can be searched online as part of a database that contains more than 45,000 walking routes in the U.K. of varying distances and degrees of difficulty.
Alright, that’s it. I walk quite a bit around my Capitol Hill neighborhood, which has a pretty high walk score. But I could easily work in a few more miles each week, one mile at a time. Watch out, Usain Bolt, I’m putting on my cross-trainers.