Events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic drew attention to the importance of local neighbourhoods as people were encouraged wherever possible to work from home, the physical and mental health benefits of active means of travel were promoted, and communities became more reliant on services in their local areas. At the same time governments around the world have been promoting the benefits of active travel in policies geared towards encouraging modal shift. Active means of travel continue to be promoted in the recently published Welsh Government Transport Strategy (Y Llwybr Newydd) which sets a target of 45% of journeys to be made by public transport, walking and cycling by 2040 (Welsh Government, 2021a). The increased investment in active travel infrastructure by the Welsh Government (to £75m in 2022/23) to support policy goals geared towards reducing the impact on the environment, support local economies and promote wider health benefits for residents has also raised the public profile of such research. At the same time, the need to enable sustainable access to key services within reasonable travel times using active modes of transport is a strategic goal of the national spatial development plan, Future Wales (Welsh Government, 2021b). The pandemic brought many of these issues to the fore for planners concerned with wider implications of neighbourhood design encompassing the provision of open spaces and accessible services via active and public transport means (Bolleter et al., 2022). Hence, the role of active travel (walking, and cycling) in enabling access to facilities and services for shorter journeys within local jurisdictions has gained even greater prominence.
Chen et al. (2011; p. 58) define accessibility as “the ease (or difficulty) with which activity opportunities may be reached from a given location by one or more modes of transportation.” There is an extensive literature on the merits and limitations of different approaches to measuring accessibility (Higgs, 2004). With respect to policy measures concerned with neighbourhood planning activities and the availability of services within reasonable travel times, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have been widely used to create catchment areas from fixed points of demand that encompass service destinations (Geurs and van Wee, 2004). The primary focus of the current paper is on the types of cumulative opportunity measures that are widely used to measure accessibility within neighbourhood studies. This involves aggregating the opportunity types or total numbers of services within defined travel times via alternative means of transport from defined points of demand (summarised in this instance by postcode headcounts). This presents an intuitive measure of accessibility that permits a sensitivity analysis that enables the impact of varying travel time thresholds, or different means of transport, on the number of facilities ‘reachable’ to be easily modelled.
Political recognition of the desire to gauge local levels of provision comes in the form of governmental policy documents such as the Scottish Governments’ Programme for Government 2020 which includes ambitions for 20-minute neighbourhoods with claims that this is a realistic goal in Scotland in a range of geographic settings (O’ Gorman and Dillon-Robinson, 2021). Using networking tools, isochrone analysis has been used to calculate the numbers of facilities or job opportunities and to estimate populations within specified catchment areas at different cut-off times. Most recently, this has been facilitated by the increased availability of open-source data sets that can be used to calculate a wide variety of accessibility measures via different modes of transportation. One of the main aims of the current study involves the inclusion of active means of travel that enable postcode level cumulative opportunity measures to be calculated for access to key services in Wales. By examining spatial patterns in access to some of the key services included in the accessibility domain of the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (2019) index, this analysis has the potential to support studies concerned with promoting active means of travel to access facilities at national, local authority and political constituency levels.
Local authorities in Wales are required to prepare and promote active travel network maps (ATNMs) to meet the statutory requirements of the Active Travel (Wales) Act (2013) (National Assembly for Wales (2013). Despite some local progress however, national levels of active travel in Wales remain low and are largely confined to those engaging in exercise and leisure activities rather than users accessing services. The maps included here present a benchmark with which to monitor changes in access by such means over time, but also illustrate how such approaches can be used to target areas of lower availability should access-standard approaches to monitor trends in public service provision be implemented by the Welsh Government.