The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 16: Transport through a gendered lens

Featuring: Hirra Khan Adeogun

We talk to Hirra Khan Adeogun, head of car-free cities at Possible, about transport through a gendered lens and how inclusive the current system is.

Hirra Khan is currently leading on Possible’s landmark programme to kickstart the process of making private cars obsolete in our cities, accelerating the move to a zero carbon Britain built by and for everyone. She’s passionate about designing sustainable futures that centre social justice, human rights and community cohesion.

Episode 16 transcript

Hirra Khan Adeogun: We’ve built roads, we’ve built parking, and all of this unfortunately locks some people into car ownership. But it also makes life much more difficult for those who don’t have a car.

Sabine Groven: Hello and welcome to the Practical Democracy Podcast by Delib. My name is Sabine Groven and I’ll be speaking with some great movers and shakers working to make practical change today. On this episode we’ll be talking about Car Free Cities, transport through a gendered lens, and exploring ways communities can take climate action. And I’ve got a fantastic guest on this week.

Hirra Khan Adeogun: My name’s Hirra Khan Adeogun. I’m head of Car Free Cities at the climate action charity, Possible. And what we’re working on is a positive vision of our cities where car dependency and car dominance is no longer a thing.

SG: Hirra’s London upbringing has inspired her work and she enjoys being part of a community.

HKA: Yes, I’m from East London and I was raised in East London and that’s, you know, I still live in East London, that’s home for me. And when I went to university I began meeting sort of lots of different people who hadn’t lived in cities before. And so many of them thought that cities were you know, quite cold, they’re quite isolating. But for it’s the complete opposite, you know, for me cities are community and it’s home and it’s lives and it’s culture. So I’ve always had a strong passion towards urban life.

And what I noticed was that the environmental movement for quite a while- I mean it’s changing now, but for quite a while cities didn’t seem to have a central role to play when we think about like, you know, the environmental movement, it often was based in sort of like, you know, countryside environments and what we consider to be natural. Which I think again it’s quite interesting when you think about how natural is the nature that we find in Britain when so much of it is sort of shaped by the human hand. But yes I’d like, you know, I live in Tower Hamlets right now and I love getting involved in local issues. I was trustee of the Women’s Environmental Network which do fantastic work in Tower Hamlets. And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, you know. I’m passionate about local work and cities and building sustainable futures.

SG: Possible focuses on four UK cities and I wanted Hirra to tell me more about what they do.

HKA: At Possible we create and build and share, you know, different kind of ways for people to take meaningful action on climate change. And that is, you know, we kind of combine individual and local actions with larger systemic change. But we make sure we face climate dread with a fun attitude, a can-do attitude. So we do things like tree planting days and community owned solar to lobbying MPs on onshore wind. So basically Possible is all about inspiring more people to take more ambitious action on climate change. And so we are currently working on the Car Free Cities campaign in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and London. And the way those places were chosen were basically looking at- We kind of had a list of the top 10 cities in the UK and we know that transport is one of the biggest, or the biggest contributor to carbon emissions in the UK. And we know that within that private car contributes like the most to those transport emissions.

And so if we’re going to look for where we can reduce private car use, it has to be in the cities that have public, you know, better public transport and people are living in more dense environments and where people can get about more easily. Or the idea being people can get about more easily than for example in a rural environment where things are much more spread out. So that’s kind of why we have chosen those four cities. We also have the Car Free Megacities campaign and that works in London and with partners on the ground in Paris and New York. And that again has a very similar vision but whereas Car Free Cities is focused on, you know, the UK and like small, slightly smaller cities. We want to show that, you know, Car Free Cities as a concept can work on a mass scale as well, like in these big mega global cities, and that’s why we’ve got Paris and New York. And you know, just globally people are, you know the shift from the percentage of people living in rural versus urban is increasing exponentially. So we know that is the future and if we’re looking at carbon savings that’s kind of- Cities have to be front and centre of people’s minds to be able to do that. So yes we’ve got some exciting projects coming up that work across the UK, not just in the four cities we’re currently working in in the UK. So that should be coming out fairly soon actually.

SG: When Hirra and I spoke before recording the podcast she told me she’s passionate about looking at transport through a gendered lens and talking about how inclusive or not the current system is.

HKA: Transport is no different to any other, you know, area in our society. It’s not inclusive enough and there are biases built into the system. And you know so for decades really, decades, you know, we have prioritised the private car over other modes of transport and that’s why we’ve built roads, you know, we’ve built parking, all of this unfortunately locks some people into car ownership. But it also makes life much more difficult for those who don’t have a car.

So for example if you rely on the bus and you’re not being served properly by proper bus routes or cheap enough public transportation, that makes your life more difficult. You know we had a report released quite recently that’s looking at inclusive visions of low car cities. And we worked with disabled participants on their experiences and heard what they had to say. And ultimately many of them can’t drive. Some of them do drive. But the current system basically locks them out because, you know, pedestrianised spaces are so important for mobility and wheelchair users. And so I think there’s multiple inequalities at play. There’s, you know, when we think about air pollution and who is most affected by air pollution, noise pollution and it’s the whole- It runs the whole gamut.

And so we need to recognise that our transport systems are built inequitably basically. And I think gender plays a particular role in that. And that’s sort of like a particular interest of mine. So I think what’s interesting about gender is women still overwhelmingly play distinct social roles within our societies. Which means why they’re travelling and the way they’re travelling and when they’re travelling is very different from the typical reasons that men travel. And so for too long our transport networks have thought very much about these commuter corridors that men tend to use. So they will go from their homes to the centre of the city for work and then back out again. It’s very much like a straight A to B type situation.

But women are much more likely to, it’s something called trip chain, and that means they sort of mix a bunch of different destinations within a single longer trip. So they’ll drop the kids to school and then they’ll go to the supermarket and they’ll go the GP. So it’s not a A to B, it’s a A to B to C to D. And because of the, you know, societal roles that women play, they are much more likely to travel with children, with elderly parents, and with groceries. And so without public transport options that are cheap, that are accessible, that are going to go where they need them to go at the times they need them to go, that will lock some women into car ownership. But it also means a lot more difficult and expensive public transport trips than men. And the other really important issue when it comes to women and transport is the huge issue of women’s safety in the public. And the recent murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa I think really brought this issue to the fore. There’s lots of research that shows the majority of women will think about safety, you know, when they consider how and when they travel.

And they’ll even change modes and change travel times to feel safer. And so that is, you know, there’s a really framing of looking at this as the women’s safety tax, this extra time and labour and money that women need to spend to think about their safety in public that often men take for granted. So yes, systems are built inequitably, like I know in London women are much more likely to use the bus than men. And so, 'do we have the right kind of routes that go around a local area rather than just going to the centre?' are just some of the sort of small ways that we can think about this issue.

So when we kind of think about unpaid carers, you know, and where people- If it takes a community to kind of raise a child, you kind of have to take quite seriously how cars and traffic sever our sense of community. And so, you know, we have research that shows that people who live in low traffic areas have more connections to the people on their street than those living in high traffic areas, because it’s a lot safer to meet and create community. So if we seriously implemented the idea of 15-minute neighbourhoods it would mean that those journeys that unpaid carer currently take are within easy access without a car. But I think I recognise that 15-minute neighbourhood also has its limitations.

I think your local amenities will always be, should always be, you know, local to you within the 15-minute neighbourhood. But then there are things like, you know, tourist attractions or if you want to go and see something on a night out, then I think women shouldn’t be penalised for wanting to do that. And what we need is just a transport system that is safe for them and works for them. Women are more likely to use a bus than men. Women are less likely to drive than men. You know, and women are more likely to earn less money than men. These are, all of these things have ramifications. Women are much more likely to be carers than men. And you know women are then further exposed to air pollution and noise pollution than men based on where they are living and the types of journeys that they are going on.

So I think the other thing that’s really interesting is then, how do women play a role in changing the transport structures when, you know, women, because of the responsibilities they often have, they’re time poor, it often requires people to come along to consultations and take part. And it’s sort of basically another layer of unpaid labour when we’re saying, “Oh please participate in this consultation or come to these meetings to help us decide.” There’s lots of fantastic women doing amazing work but I think there has to be a recognition that at the moment the system- And not just for women to be honest, it doesn’t work very well for lots of different people who are time poor and have different priorities at play.

SG: I thought Hirra’s point on consultations was interesting and wanted her to say more about how she thought authorities should engage with communities when planning for car free cities.

HKA: Councils consult because they feel that they have to consult because they want to get the views of the local communities. But I really question whether consultations actually represent the view of local communities. Or whether it is just the people who- And you know I think, I saw some research into this, the people who are responding to consultations tend to be older. They tend to be more white. They tend to be richer because they have, you know, often it’s people who have the time to be able to get involved in that sort of work. So whilst consultations is important, I think sometimes consultations are used as a way of delaying implementing the kind of changes we need in a local area.

And what’s- And this might be controversial but what’s interesting is that we’ve put out, you know, on the Car Free Megacities website, you can go on it and you will see the stories of change map. And it will show you stories from all around the world where traffic reduction and traffic calming measures have been put in place. And the same pattern happens again and again. It will be, you know, a traffic reduction measure is going to be put into place. People will be outraged. There will be uproar. People will say they hate it. It’ll come into place and after a few years people will love it and they wouldn’t want it to go back. And so, you know, that kind of uproar changes because people’s travel patterns change, people adapt, we’re very adaptable.

And so what I would say to local authorities and the local councils, I mean we saw it in the recent elections actually where LTNs, low traffic neighbourhoods became like this big issue and people are constantly saying, consult, consult, consult. But actually at the end of the day, what the election results showed is that that’s not the reason people are voting. And so we should trust transport experts and the local authorities to make the changes necessary. I don’t want it to be mistaken, I’m not saying we shouldn’t consult. I think we should consult. But I think we really need to be questioning whether consultation is a true representation of participation and democracy. I think often it’s not. It’s a very vocal minority of people who have the time and privilege to be able to engage in them.

I think like, you know, that’s what the sort of council elections showed. Like people were voting on the cost of living crisis. And I think we have an opportunity to link the savings that can be made by giving up a car with the cost of living and savings on carbon as well. I think that is a really important conversation at the moment to say, we understand you’re worried about the cost of living. Actually walking and cycling can be much cheaper for you than owning a car. And also introducing new mobility options such as cargo bikes. People are always amazed at the wonders you can do and what you can carry and how you can move around with cargo bikes. But also e-scooters and the affordability, the flexibility that e-scooters can provide. I think there’s lots of different options now. We should see it as, you know, the freedom to choose all these newer low carbon options versus being locked into private car ownership.

SG: I wanted to pick up on something Hirra mentioned earlier which is disabled people because when we talk about car free cities, this can be a concern for them.

HKA: Well I think it’s really interesting, so we did this recent research and what we found is that, you know, disabled people are less likely to drive a car than non-disabled people. But for some disabled people the car is their safe space. It, you know, provides them with a level of autonomy that a car, that they can’t get currently through using public transport. So what we always say, particularly with our campaign, is that we want those people who can go without a car to go without a car, knowing that it makes the lives of everyone easier including those who have no alternative but to use a car. And we heard this loud and clear from the disabled people in our research. They were actually saying that they need to use their car. The alternatives do not work for them.

But they equally are very concerned about the climate crisis and they know we need to make carbon emission savings. And so they were calling on non-disabled participants to basically use alternatives where they can because that will help them and make their lives easier. And it means we all benefit through the savings on cleaner air, a safer environment, everyone benefits through that system. So it’s not as clear cut as people assume it is, that, you know, disabled people need a car. In fact most disabled people don’t need a car, there are some disabled people who do, and actually if you can move to other alternatives you will be helping disabled people as well. When we think about who does the status quo benefit and who doesn’t benefit from the status quo, so just thinking about parking spaces, there are lots of areas within cities where car ownership rates are very low, some of the lowest car ownership rates in the UK are in our inner cities. And yet if you took a look at the kerbside and you took a look at the space there, almost 100% of it is dedicated to car parking.

And so then you have to question, right so who is benefitting from public space and who is not benefitting from public space? And this is where our campaign for parklets really comes in where we try to- What we want to see is for residents to be able to apply to the council for a parklet permit just in the same way that you might apply for a car parking spot. And we just think it’s a much more, a much better use of public space to have a spot that is open to the public, where people can sit down, you know, it provides a resting space for those with mobility needs and you know, it provides green space for areas that are severely lacking in green space. And you know it takes a polluting car off the road. It takes space away from cars of course because public space should be for the public. It should be equitably accessible.

SG: Something our community can do is get a parklet. Possible defines a parklet as an old parking space that has been transformed into something for people to enjoy. For example they can be used for things such as playing outside, growing vegetables, or being areas for outdoor learning.

HKA: The people who don’t own a car should have the same right to public space as people who own a car fundamentally. And I think parklets are a great sort of bottom-up community led approach to fostering a great sense of community but also, you know, it is climate action. And that’s one of the things that I always say, like this is also climate action. It doesn’t look like climate action in the way you understand it, but it is climate action.

SG: Possible continue their work and for anyone listening, Hirra has got some good advice on how you can take climate action too.

HKA: There’s a couple of campaigns we have going on. The first one is our Parklets Campaign. So I would encourage everyone who would like a parklet to go along to our website and basically write to your councillors, letting them know that this is something that we want, that is climate action. But also talking to your friends and your family and your neighbours about parklets and parking. And you know, the climate crisis. That is also climate action. What we know is that the climate crisis isn’t going to get resolved by one individual. It’s going to get resolved by all of us working together collectively on lots of different problems. And inch by inch moving forward.

My biggest concern is that we are running out of time, so the change we need to see and the changes we need to make are going to be transformational. But it does require people who have that, you know, sense of fortitude and love organising and love talking to people to get on board and start doing that. And I think parklets as an example are a great way of going about and doing that.

Another example is to speak to your councillor about getting a low traffic neighbourhood in your area. So low traffic neighbourhoods are, you know, ways to reduce through traffic from cutting through. They’re not new, they’ve been around for decades. And what’s happened is over the past 10 years because of things like Google Maps and Waze, and you know, sat navs, they’ve diverted traffic from main roads onto side roads, which is affecting the amount of traffic these smaller roads are having to cater to. Now that is increasing air pollution in those areas. It’s increasing road danger in those areas. And so sometimes people have said you know these low traffic neighbourhoods, they benefit one group of people, a richer cohort of people over another.

We did some research into this. We didn’t actually find that to be the case. But my argument still would be that what we need is more low traffic neighbourhoods so that more people are served by them and can benefit from the reduction in through traffic and the reduction in noise pollution. And also the reduction in car ownership. So again you can go onto our website, you can read some of our resources there and you can write to your councillor. I know we’ve previously spoken about people being time poor and how that really affects who can get involved and how they can get involved. So what I would say is, I wouldn’t limit it to one issue. I would say across the board, talking to your neighbours and talking to your councillor is a really important way for you to get plugged in. And you don’t need to feel like it’s burdensome, particularly with the tools that we have available, we try to make it quick and easy for people. So you can write to your councillor in less than five minutes to let them know what you think about this particular issue.

SG: That’s it for now. Thank you so much to Hirra Khan Adeogun for joining the podcast, sharing some very interesting ideas and knowledge. If you want to follow the work Possible does, you can find them on Twitter at @_wearepossible. Or visit Thank you very much for listening. Should you wish to contact us email This episode is hosted, edited and produced for Delib by me, Sabine Groven, our creative director is Tiffany Maddox. I’ll be back in a month with another episode. Until then you can visit for great content and people making practical change, improving democracy. Bye.