The Sustainable Access to Leisure Sites and Amenities (SALSA) project, promoted by the Londong Borough of Ealing, aimed to work with children and parents to reduce the use of cars for transporting children over short distances to leisure facilities, and to increase the proportion of such journeys which are carried out by cycling or walking. SALSA built upon work within the UK and other Member States of developing safe routes to school, but it was the first attempt to work with other aspects of children's lives, recognising that journeys to leisure amenities account for an ever increasing share of car usage, and hence air pollution in urban areas throughout Europe.
The project aimed to test two hypotheses:
- Would the provision of safe routes to local leisure facilities from high density residential areas increase the percentage of short urban journeys (<2 miles) undertaken on foot or by bicycle, rather than by car, between these facilities and the targeted residential areas'
- Would the involvement of local residents (parents and children) in the planning of such routes increase support for their use and result in a reduction in the number of 'escort trips' made by car between the areas targeted and local leisure facilities.
SALSA was built on two key principles, partnership and participation. Participation was secured from the Sustrans network, the main NGO in the UK supporting sustainable transport alternatives. Three national bodies responsible for the development of sports and leisure planning and policy development were also partners in the project. In addition, active support and participation was forthcoming from the local health authority, from the Metropolitan Police and from a range of local environmental organisations. The project was also closely coordinated with Local Agenda 21 activities in Ealing. Outside the UK, experts from Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands contributed to the project formulation and implementation. SALSA also involved intense consultations with and involvement of local residents in defining both the problems preventing children from using walking or cycling to access local leisure facilities and the solutions to these problems. SALSA incorporated a significant programme of dissemination, which benefitted from the high level of support the project received from national experts and state of the art practitioners across the EU.
Although the project constructed four routes linking the targeted leisure facilities and residential areas, the action of construction alone did not increase the percentage of journeys undertaken on foot or by bicycle. It is clear that a sustained publicity campaign is needed to engineer a gradual change in parental behaviour. Furthermore, it seems that overriding concerns about personal safety outweigh the positive impact of physical road improvements. The strongest community involvement was experienced in the Dormers Wells area where safe routes work benefitted two local schools as well as the five leisure facilities along the route. Even here, where parents were recorded as actively looking forward to the summer period, when they anticipated cycling with their children, very poor route usage numbers were recorded. Post implementation meetings with the same residents group identified another series of barriers to using the route. Some problems were as simple as a puncture on a bicycle that remained unrepaired all summer. Others related to uncompleted or further construction work, such as the installation of bollards to prevent vehicles mounting the pavements. The conclusion is that for the majority of parents, attitudes towards safe route work is one of agreement regarding the benefits but reluctance to change established behaviour.