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The Friday Blog | Cycling Infrastructure and Nature: Paving the Path to Human-Nature Connection

James Scott Director of Behaviour Change & Development at Cycling UK

As the buzz around Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) fills the air, it’s got me thinking about some research I conducted during my MSc.

LTN’s aren’t just about roads and picking the side of motorists and non-motorists (they actually increase travel options, but that’s a blog for a different day!). LTNs can reshape our environment, attitudes, and behaviours, especially when building nature into the urban environment.

I’ve turned a small piece of research into the following blog:

Initiatives like Lower Traffic Neighbourhoods present an opportunity to diversify travel options and explore the community from fresh perspectives. They invite us to rethink our streets, shifting the focus from car-dominated thoroughfares to spaces that foster relaxation and playful interactions. Moreover, these interventions provide a platform to reintroduce nature into urban landscapes, recognising that the environments we create significantly influence our daily routines.

The spaces we inhabit are more than just physical surroundings – they mould our emotions, behaviours, and even our sense of self. Among these spaces, our streets stand out as vital conduits that not only facilitate our journeys but also influence our choices. The significance of street design is paramount, particularly when it comes to fostering active travel and forging strong communities. Including nature within the built environment can encourage us to lead more pro-environmental lifestyles and forge a much-needed relationship to the environment.

The Power of Human-Nature Connection: Nature's Role in Urban Cycling

When streets are designed to prioritise people over cars, it paves the way for a reimagined urban experience. By replacing the hum of engines with the rustling of leaves and the scent of flowers, lower traffic neighbourhoods can seamlessly integrate nature into the daily lives of residents. This human-nature connection has far-reaching effects, from boosting mental well-being to encouraging pro-environmental behaviours. Commuting through green spaces and natural enclaves not only elevates the cycling experience but also nurtures a sense of belonging and responsibility towards the environment.

Personal Experience: Discovering Nature in Urban Cycling

As individuals’ cycle through streets adorned with trees, parks, and green pathways, they have the opportunity to rediscover their community in new and enriching ways. The act of cycling becomes an immersive journey, allowing people to witness the changing seasons, hear the chirping of birds, and feel the rhythm of the environment. Such encounters with nature during everyday travel has proven to stimulate positive emotions, reduce stress, and contribute to an enhanced overall quality of life. Lower traffic neighbourhoods that include nature within their design have a transformative potential for wellbeing.

Biophilia: Nature's Influence on Identity and Well-Being

Biophilia, our innate affinity for nature, comes into play within lower traffic neighbourhoods. By introducing natural elements, such as trees, flowers, and water features, these spaces tap into our biophilic tendencies, igniting feelings of awe and connection. When residents witness the integration of nature into their neighbourhoods, it triggers a deeper sense of identity, wherein their well-being becomes intertwined with the well-being of the environment.

Biophilic design principles within lower traffic neighbourhoods amplify feelings of self-assurance, encouraging more individuals to embrace cycling as a sustainable and fulfilling mode of transportation. Plus, there are still places to park cars and access your home via the road albeit via a different route.

Aesthetics and Well-Being: The Positive Impact of Nature on Urban Cycling

Aesthetics play a pivotal role in shaping our perceptions and experiences. By weaving nature into lower traffic neighbourhoods, these spaces become not just functional pathways, but also sources of aesthetic delight.

Cycling or walking through verdant corridors, shaded by trees and surrounded by blooming flowers, elevates the visual appeal of the journey. This aesthetic enhancement translates into enhanced well-being, where active travel becomes an activity that invigorates both body and mind. Nature-infused cycling infrastructure offers an escape from the urban hustle, creating moments of tranquillity and rejuvenation amid the daily routine.

Nature in Lower Traffic Neighbourhoods: Creating Healthier Urban Environments

The presence of nature within lower traffic neighbourhoods transcends aesthetic pleasure; it also contributes to creating healthier urban environments. Integrating greenery and natural elements serves as a catalyst for improving air quality and reducing pollution. As residents’ cycle through these rejuvenating corridors, they breathe cleaner air and experience the physical benefits of a more vibrant urban ecosystem. Moreover, the availability of lush surroundings and the absence of constant traffic noise elevate the overall quality of life for individuals residing within these neighbourhoods.

Cities Embrace Nature-Integrated Cycling: Vitoria-Gasteiz's Success Story

Vitoria-Gasteiz's journey towards becoming a European Green Capital exemplifies this shift. By infusing green spaces and cycling paths into its urban fabric, the city has not only reduced congestion but also nurtured a thriving community connected to its environment. Lower traffic neighbourhoods, with their emphasis on nature-integrated cycling, serve as models for cities seeking to reimagine their streets and enhance the well-being of their residents.

Conclusion: Nature-Integrated Cycling for a Sustainable Future

Incorporating nature within cycling infrastructure in lower traffic neighbourhoods is not just a design choice; it is a path towards a more sustainable and interconnected future. As cities evolve, the integration of green spaces and natural elements becomes an integral part of reimagining urban mobility. These interventions extend beyond cycling; they invite individuals to embark on a journey of discovery, fostering a deep sense of community, identity, and well-being. By choosing to cycle or walk through nature-enriched corridors, individuals not only rediscover their environment but also contribute to a greener and more sustainable world. In the realm of lower traffic neighbourhoods, the inclusion of nature becomes a transformative force that shapes our daily habits and nurtures a profound human-nature connection.

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