Monday, 17 October 2016

A Manifesto for Physical Activity

Let's Get Moving is a  scheme we've set up to encourage everyday physical activity. We haven't got any money, but there again we haven't got a budget to manage or employees to direct. Despite this we still think it's possible to encourage people to incorporate more physical activity into their everyday lives and one way we've chosen to do this is get organisations, voluntary, public and private, to sign up to our Manifesto for Physical Activity.

This starts with a simple acknowledgement of the problem, before making a commitment to try to do something about it and suggests one key way in which this might be done.

We acknowledge that physically inactive lifestyles are a major cause of ill health and premature death

We resolve to encourage the people we work with to incorporate regular physical activity into their everyday lives and to work with others to help make this possible.

We believe that one of the simplest ways for most people to do this is to walk, or cycle, for some, or part of, the everyday journeys they currently make.

Now it's easy to sign up to The Manifesto without really doing anything about it. So we're also asking organisations that do sign up, to come up with one or two concrete pledges about how they'd put it into practice.

To get the imaginative juices flowing I've got a few suggestions; in no particular order of significance.

You could give some sort of reward to people who turn up to your site on foot or bicycle.

You could give a reward to an employee who's prepared to give up a site based parking space.

You could give employees/volunteers an allowance for journeys made on foot or by bike.

You could put up notices encouraging people to use the stairs rather than a lift.

You could hold walking meetings/consultaions in the local park or other quiet public space.

You could ban intra office e-mails and encourage people to get up from their desks and walk over to speak to other people instead.

You could set up a scheme for employees, volunteers or clients to exchange garden produce.

You could allow flexible start and/or finish times to the working day so that it would be easier for employees to use public transport to get to work. This way they'd at least walk to and from the bus stop or station.

You could let people visiting your site know where the nearest free parking zones are so that they could complete their journey to you on foot.

You could produce a map with your site at the centre with rings showing how long it would take to get their on foot or by bike. These have the glorious name of isochrones.

You could appoint someone as a cycling or walking champion or encourage people who already walk or cycle to act as walking or cycling buddies to those thinking of taking it up.

Above all, it's about creating a situation where walking or cycling for short journeys is seen as a normal thing to do.

Earlier posts

If it were a drug gives an overview of the health benefits of becoming active

The cost of sitting around in North Yorkshire looks at the likely health impact in the County of North Yorkshire if we got more people moving.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Summer's here and the brambles are growing.

Today is the last day of term and parents will have to start to wonder what they're going to do with their children over the long summer holiday. If you live in Eastfield (a substantial community to the south of Scarborough) you might decide that it would be a good idea to walk with your children the 4km into town and then, perhaps, take the bus back. This way you'll all get some decent exercise and enjoy the sheer pleasure of being out in the open countryside.

But, if you choose to take the most direct, and nicest route, into town by following the bridleway that runs up the Dell and then continue on down past South Cliff Golf Club, you best not wear your shorts. Not, that is, unless you don't mind getting stung by nettles or scratched by brambles.

Overgrown path as it approaches Oliver's Mount

Of course, you could turn left when going up the Dell and join the new, replacement, bridleway that's been built by Keep Moat (the company responsible for the new Middle Deepdale development) and head across to Musham Bank roundabout where you could then take the path that runs through Blue Bell Woods and around the back of The Mere. But, then again you'd be out of luck because the path here is also overgrown by nettles and brambles,

Path from Musham Bank overgrown by brambles

The new path goes off to the left from the Deepdale bridleway

It then crosses fields as it heads to Musham Bank

Where it joins another bridleway before going down the lane to the roundabout.

We know that low levels of physical activity are beginning to cause major health problems and that the best way to avoid these problems is to incorporate physical activity into our everyday lives. The simplest way to do this is to stop being a passenger and start  getting places under our own steam. 

Politicians, health workers and public servants need to begin to take this issue much more seriously. I've no doubt that the cost of clearing a few paths will be more than covered by savings in health spending but, for reasons about which I can speculate but won't go into here, it just doesn't seem to be happening.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Let's Get Moving

There are lots of links between physical activity and health (see references at the end).

We've recently formed a partnership of official and voluntary bodies with the aim of encouraging the people they deal with  to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. Quite simply this means walking or cycling for some, or part of, the journeys that you'd normally make by car or bus.

To bring attention to this we've produced a Manifesto for Physical Activity for organisations to sign up to and, so that the something actually happens as a result, make some pledges about how they'd put this commitment into practice.

We acknowledge that physically inactive lifestyles are a major cause of ill health and premature death

We resolve to encourage the people we work with to incorporate regular physical activity into their everyday lives and to work with others to help make this possible.

We believe that one of the simplest ways for people to do this is to walk, or cycle, for some, or part of, the everyday journeys they currently make.

Now it's possible to produce a list of all the diseases where the risk can be dramatically reduced - Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, various cancers and dementia - but this doesn't explain why such a simple thing as having a regular brisk walk can have such widespread effects. 

So, I began to look at the basic science and see if there was a simple underlying cause..
What happens when you stop being active

So, here's the simple story.

Our bodies have a whole host of complex feedback mechanisms that allow them to respond to changing circumstances. That's why your heart beats faster if you start walking quickly, why your pancreas releases insulin in response to a rise in blood glucose and why you start to shiver when you get too cold. The detailed mechanisms of nerves and signalling molecules are complicated but they work. 

These feedback mechanisms have evolved over our entire evolutionary history, since before homo sapiens existed, and expect us to be physically active.

Physiology, which I once studied in rather more detail than I can now remember, is the study of the normal functioning of the body and physiologists have looked at the experiments carried out on either sedentary humans, or caged animals that can't move about much, and discovered that it's often the inactivity that's causing the problems not whatever else is being done to them. E.g. mice that have been genetically engineered to be hungry put on weight and show many of the early symptoms of diabetes. Put a wheel in their cage so that they can run around and these effects disappear. (Booth and Laye J. Physiol 2009)

So, what's normal for the mice, and what's normal for us, is to be physically active and it isn't difficult to appreciate the evolutionary reasons why this should be the case. 

‘The selective advantages of increased activity capacity are not subtle but rather are central to survival and reproduction. An animal with greater stamina has an advantage that is readily comprehensible in selective terms. It can sustain greater levels of pursuit or flight in gathering food or avoiding becoming food. It will be superior in territorial defense or invasion. It will be more successful in courtship and mating’ (Bennett & Ruben, 1979)

That's it. Your body has evolved expecting you to be physically active. If you're not, then the regulatory systems that keep your heart and circulation working properly, keep your glucose control system working properly, maintain your bone density, reduce the risk of some of your cells multiplying uncontrollably (cancer), maintain good blood flow to the brain and help wounds heal etc. can't work properly.

Earlier posts

If it were a drug gives an overview of the health benefits of becoming active

The cost of sitting around in North Yorkshire looks at the likely health impact in the County of North Yorkshire if we got more people moving.

Finally, a picture that illustrates how we've been normalising sedentary behaviour.

Done Walking, started dying

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A big sign for the Cinder Track

My blog posts serve a number of purposes. If you could be bothered to look back over them you'd find some that are slightly self indulgent bits of philosophical whimsy (which I hope are grounded in a reasonable version of reality), others are on the more solid ground of basic science and yet more are there to make some political point, sometimes global but often extremely local. The key local themes have at their heart the promotion of everyday physical activity (walking and cycling) and the benefits that this can bring not only to individuals but also to the community as a whole. In particular I've been inordinately keen to encourage the development of the old railway line from Scarborough to Whitby (the Cinder Track) as a high value route for walkers and cyclists.

During the what now seem halcyon days of the last Labour Government, there was a lot more money around to invest in public space and we managed to make significant improvements to the track and a number of adjoining play spaces. At an even more practical level, with the help of the then Future Jobs Fund, we managed to sort out where all the Track's drains were and began to get them back into decent condition. With a house the main thing to look after is the roof, with the Track it's the drains. Along the way we also managed to get a number of big information boards in place; in Whitby, at Robin Hoods Bay, at Ravenscar and at Scalby. But we never managed to get one where the track starts in Scarborough.

Notice board at the start of the track in Whitby

At long last we've just about put together the funds to put a similar sign in Scarborough. Some of the money has come from funds given to local County Councillors to support local projects and some, still to be confirmed, from so called section 106 funding (where developers have to put into a fund to support local infrastructure). We've got a firm lined up to do the final design and manufacture, we're gathering a set of interesting photos, including some pictures of the old railway as it used to be near the site of the sign, but still need some bespoke words to go with them. My job is to come up with about 500 words as a first draft and this blog post is a way of obliging me to get on with it.

"You are standing in what was once the goods yard on the old Scarborough to Whitby railway. This ran for 80 years (until 1965) carrying passengers and goods up the coast to Robin Hoods Bay, Whitby and all stops in between. After closure it was bought by Scarborough Borough Council and became a route for walkers, cyclists and equestrians. Running up through the town's northern suburbs, it's only a couple of miles until you get into open countryside and just a few more until you're in the North York Moors National Park

The line was joined to the main Scarborough to York line by a tunnel under Falsgave Road and, after dropping off their passengers at the then Excursion Station on Londesborough Road, the empty carriages would pass through here on their way to be parked up in carriage sidings on what are now playing fields just north of Manor Road Cemetery.

It was called the Cinder Track by locals in Scarborough, simply because the track bed was made of cinders rather than the more usual crushed stone. Apart from short sections in Scalby, Ravenscar and Robin Hoods Bay, most of it runs along the route of the original line and in many places the surface is still made of cinders.

Four miles up the line in Burniston, the Track goes over the aptly named Rocks Lane. Go down this and after about a mile you come to a steep path leading down to the rocks at Crook Ness. This is also one of many places you can join the Cleveland Way which runs along the cliff tops.

A mile further up the Track and you'll find that the old station at Cloughton has become a popular stop for tea, cakes and other refreshments.

At this point the line begins to climb steadily towards the mid point at Ravenscar. On the way you could always stop off at The Hayburn Wyke Inn or take a short walk down through the woods to the rocky beach where the Hayburn Beck cascades into the North Sea.

As the Track winds its way up the coast, passing through rich woods and crossing numerous small streams, it emerges into open countryside with clear views out over the North Sea. This was the vantage point chosen for one of Britain's first radar stations. Although just a collection of concrete buildings, the views and the excellent information from the National Trust, makes it well worth a visit.

Go onto the platform of the old station at Ravenscar to find out about the town that never was, or continue along the road to rejoin the Track at the National Trust Centre overlooking Robin Hoods Bay. Keep going and you could drop down to the Youth Hostel at Boggle Hole or carry on over the next hill and down into Whitby.

Nowadays the Track is well used by locals as a walking and cycling route to school, to work, to the shops, or to play. Where will it take you?"

Ravenscar Radar Station (built 1941)

Looking back to Scarborough from the rocks at Crook Ness

Monday, 6 June 2016

I blame blame culture

It may not have escaped your attention that, instead of attempting to come to terms with the complexities of modern life, many people choose the simpler option of finding someone, or something, to blame. Let's call this phenomenon blame culture.

We blame poor people for their poverty, fat people for their obesity and immigrants for taking our jobs, lowering our wages and crowding out our schools and hospitals. 

Rather than face up to what were once known as home truths - like the simple fact that we've elected a government that actively wants to shrink the state and that's why the schools and hospitals aren't getting the funding that's needed - or being prepared to accept responsibility for our own actions - we're the people littering the streets, drinking too much and failing to pay attention - we find it easier to pin the blame on someone else. 

Build a wall to keep out the Mexican rapists, leave the EU to stop all those Poles with their annoying work ethic from taking our jobs, and all will be well with the world. We'll be back in charge of our own destiny and the glorious future that we no doubt deserve, because of our obvious innate superiority, will simply follow along just as day follows night.

But, if and when we are back in charge of our own destiny, remember that there'll be no one else to blame if at all goes tits up, as it were*.

*The ending of Henry James' short novel Washington Square has always struck me as almost perfect

"Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy work, had seated herself with it again--for life, as it were."

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Cinder Track report 2016

I'm the Chair of the Friends of the Old Railway (Cinder Track) and next week it's their AGM. Unfortunately I'm going to be away in Belgium meeting an Indian colleague who, though he's working in Europe, hasn't had time to get a visa to come to the UK. So, rather than give my annual report at the meeting I thought I'd do it here.

I'm pleased to report that the Borough Council, who own most of the Track, have made significant improvements to the surface as it approaches Ravenscar from the south. The ruts are gone and it's now obvious where water that used to run along the surface is meant to go. 

Cinder Track just north of Grange Farm crossing

We're now well on the way to getting a custom made interpretation board, similar to the ones in Whitby, Robin Hoods Bay, Ravenscar and Scalby, for a site at the start of the Track at Safe Ways Park (near Sainsburys) in Scarborough. Many thanks to County Councillors John Ritchie and David Billing who've each allocated £750 from the funds that they oversee for local projects. We are confident that this will be matched by the release of some Section 106 money (from local developers) and thanks to Tom Mutton for helping pull all this together. Colin Foster has located a source of good photographs of the line as it used to be in this area and we hope to incorporate these in the sign.

Similar sign in Whitby

Sustrans, with the help of SBC and the Groundwork Trust, made a successful bid for funding from the Coastal Heritage Fund. They're using this to put even more flesh on the existing Development Plan so that if and when funding opportunities arise we'll have shovel ready plans already in place. This is currently going out to wider public consultation.

Public consultation poster

Of course, there have been niggles along the way. At just about every meeting for the last year we've bemoaned the fact that the bin at the foot of the Candler Street ramp, which was leaning at a neglectful angle, had been removed but not replaced. Despite assurances that the pooh bags would soon have somewhere to go this still hasn't quite happened.

The start of a pooh cairn where the bin ought to be

In Guerilla Public Information I wrote about the signs that I'd made and put up myself where the Track crosses Station Road in Scalby. It was recently drawn to my attention that one of the signs had gone missing and so, even though I think the County Council really ought to put up some proper metal ones with stronger fittings than a few cable ties, I got out my saw, stencils and paint, made a new replacement and put it up last weekend.

Replacement finger sign

Finally, for want of a proper web site we've now got a Facebook Page which Tom Mutton kindly administers. 

Andy Sharp 5/5/16

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

NYCC's cycling bid

Last week, in anticipation of this week's meeting of the recently re-established Scarborough Cycle Forum, I was sent a copy of North Yorkshire County Council's bid to the Department for Transport entitled "North Yorkshire Sustainable Travel Towns - Scarborough and Harrogate". 

In the modern fashion, the central government department invites local authorities to enter into competition with one another for limited funding, in this case it's for revenue money to carry projects through from one government funding scheme to another. (i.e one stream is stopping before the other gets started). Because it's revenue funding it can't actually be spent on any solid infrastructure.

Now in our area we're what's known as a two tier local authority. There's the local Borough Council which deals with some local matters like planning and bin collection and a much larger County Council which covers things like Highways, Social Services and Education. The County spends about 5 times as much per head as the Borough. In some parts of the Borough there's actually a third local authority, the North York Moors National Park, but I'll stop now before it gets overcomplicated.

The Cycle Forum meeting duly went ahead at the County Council's Highways office in Whitby so that it would be easier for the County Council to attend but, whilst the local highways manager attended, he wasn't able to enlighten us about this particular bid so we had to go with what we'd read ourselves.

In short, the document began well enough. The preamble highlighted the particular challenges facing these two very different towns (one is much wealthier and closer to the County's seat of power in Northallerton than the other) and in particular noted that Scarborough had very little infrastructure dedicated to cycling; unlike Harrogate which has a pretty extensive set of fully signposted cycle routes.

A couple of years ago a web site (Open Harrogate) was launched giving practical information about sustainable travel option in Harrogate. As noted in the bid this received an initial flurry of hits but this has since declined to roughly 17 visits per day. No evidence is presented in the bid of this project having so far put more people on bikes. A key part of the bid is not only to improve publicity for this web site but also to create a similar one for Scarborough. 

I felt obliged to point out that all the "Open Scarborough" web site could do would be to draw attention to the paucity of provision. The map of cycle routes would essentially be a single line showing the Cinder Track, perhaps with an offshoot for the start of the North York Moors route "Moors to Sea" and the odd on road cycle lane. Producing the web site before having the provision would very definitely be putting the cart before the horse.

The second part of the bid was to employ someone to develop a cycle strategy for Scarborough. You'll have to forgive the dive into history at this point.

Back in the late 1990's, in order to get funding from the Department for Transport for a Park and Ride scheme, the Borough was obliged to set up a Cycle Forum and develop a Cycle Strategy. At this time the Borough acted as agents of the County Council for highways matters in urban Scarborough and so in producing a strategy for the town they were, in effect, producing a strategy for the County Council. This was duly done and the schemes it threw up were then considered by the County Council. We were informed by the then Scarborough Highways manager that the County had assessed all the schemes according to various criteria each with different weightings to give each of them a score out of 100 "to two decimal places". At this point the numerate people in the room began to giggle. In effect, to save their backs from perhaps making the wrong decision, they'd simply avoided making the decision and instead adopted a decision making procedure. As a result there's now some rapidly wearing out paint on the road between the town centre and North Bay.

In 2003 Scarborough was declared to be a Renaissance Town (yet another funding scheme this time through the then Regional Development Agency) and as part of this I started an Action Group focussed on Active Transport (Walking and Cycling). Since the work this Group was doing overlapped strongly with the Cycle Forum we were asked if we'd take on the Forum's role. We said "yes, as long as we get some administrative support". As you can guess, the administrative support practically vanished, but we did continue to develop the strategy, we did produce maps and priorities and we did do it all with the semi active engagement of the Borough Council who were still, at that point, agents of the County Council.

Then, a few years later the agency area was returned to the County Council who quickly held a public meeting in the Library to get an overview of the local highways issues, including walking and cycling. The priorities expressed in that meeting were exactly the same as those that came out of the Cycle Forum. Improvements to the urban section of the Cinder Track and safe routes down the Seamer Road corridor.

So, we don't need a new Cycle Strategy we just need to get together to affirm the existing one.

But, I'm pleased that the County Council in this bid explicitly mentions the importance of the Cinder Track. In the past they've been asked if they'd be part of the Cinder Track Management Team (which includes the Borough, the National Park, the Groundwork Trust, the Friends of the Old Railway and it's Whitby equivalent Gateway, Sustrans and others) on the grounds that it was part of the local transport network but declined saying that since it's only a permissive right of way it wasn't anything to do with them.

Finally, the bid makes the contemporary effort to squeeze numbers where they won't really go, and where I really don't want to get into detailed criticism of the models and/or the assumptions, except to say that the predicted ratio if benefit:cost is a mere 1.9. Probably far too little to get the funding and no where near the up to 35:1 that other schemes have been able to reach.

Advert from a bank in Bruhl (Germany) 
showing cycling as an everyday
and aspirational activity

f.y.i. The Cinder Track is the name given to the old railway that runs from Whitby to Scarborough. In urban Scarborough it runs up through the main northern residential areas and connects 3 schools and 4 play spaces. Far more people use it than, for example, the Nidd Valley route in Harrogate, but for the most part it's far too narrow and the surface is so bumpy that people on road bikes and wheelchairs avoid it.

See Smooth enough for buggies (and wheelchairs) wide enough to pass

The priority for getting people on bikes in Scarborough is obvious.