£2bn investment to create new era for cycling and walking

 
New traffic signs will support social distancing

 
As the government considers how to ease the lockdown in the coming weeks, it has announced transformational plans to reallocate road space in favour of walking, cycling and buses in England. While addressing the immediate challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, the government also sees “an opportunity to make lasting changes”.

At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, transport secretary Grant Shapps said that travel behaviour must change because capacity on public transport will be severely restricted by the need to maintain social distancing and the road network will become gridlocked if car use increases.

He announced that “pop-up bike lanes”, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors will be created in England within weeks as part of a £250m emergency active travel fund. This funding the first stage of a £2bn investment, which is part of the £5bn in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February.

“We have accomplished so much over the past seven weeks of lockdown … Millions of households across the UK have changed their behaviour for the greater good,” said Shapps.

“Getting Britain moving again, whilst not overcrowding our transport network, represents another enormous logistical challenge.

This is a problem which presents a health opportunity too…. an opportunity to make lasting changes that could not only make us fitter, but also better-off – both mentally and physically – in the long run.

“Yet this is a problem which presents a health opportunity too… an opportunity to make lasting changes that could not only make us fitter, but also better-off – both mentally and physically – in the long run.”

This statement is consistent with the government’s plans for public transport and active travel to “be the natural first choice for our daily activities” as the UK decarbonises its transport system.

Shapps said that millions of people had already discovered the benefits of active travel during the coronavirus crisis.

“In some places, there’s been a 70% rise in the number of people on bikes whether it’s for exercise, or necessary journeys, such as stocking up on food,” he said.

“So, while it’s still crucial that we stay at home, when the country does get back to work, we need those people to carry on cycling and walking, and to be joined by many more.

“Otherwise, with public transport capacity severely restricted, more cars could be drawn to the road and our towns and cities could become gridlocked.

He also acknowledged the need for pedestrians to have more space in this new world.

 
Reduced public transport capacity

Shapps said that the need to maintain social distancing means that “our public transport system cannot go back to where it left off”.

Even with public transport reverting to full service – once you take into account the two-metre social distancing rule – there would only be effective capacity for one in ten passengers on many parts of the network

“Here is a very stark fact,” he said. “Even with public transport reverting to full service – once you take into account the two-metre social distancing rule – there would only be effective capacity for one in ten passengers on many parts of the network. Just a tenth of the old capacity.

“So, getting Britain moving again, while not overcrowding our transport network, is going to require many of us to think carefully about how and when we travel.”

The sustained reduction in public transport capacity will deprive operators of essential revenues, requiring the government to think carefully about how to support them in the months ahead. The government is currently paying bus operators in England £14m a week under the new COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant as part of a broader support package announnced last month.

 
Making streets safer

The government yesterday published fast-tracked statutory guidance, effective immediately, “requiring councils in England to cater for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, and making it easier for them to create safer streets”.

An updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy will be launched by prime minister Boris Johnson in the summer, with further measures to transform cycling and walking to deliver the government’s aims to double cycling and increase walking by 2025 – including:

  • the creation of a national cycling and walking commissioner and inspectorate;
  • higher standards for permanent infrastructure across England;
  • getting GPs to prescribe cycling and exercise;
  • legal changes to protect vulnerable road users;
  • at least one “zero-emission city,” with its centre restricted to bikes and electric vehicles;
  • creating a long-term budget for cycling and walking, similar to what happens for roads.

While recognising that cars will remain a vital mode of transport for many, Shapps points out in the foreword to the new statutory guidance that over 40% of urban journeys in 2017-18 were under two miles – “perfectly suited to walking and cycling”.

There’s clear evidence, including from the prime minister’s time as mayor of London, that making streets safe for walking and cycling is good for retailers, business and the economy

Speaking at the press conference, he said: “There’s clear evidence, including from the prime minister’s time as mayor of London, that making streets safe for walking and cycling is good for retailers, business and the economy.”

 
Harnessing technology

Shapps also highlighted the importance of new digital technologies to help people to make more informed transport choices during the coronavirus crisis.

“At a time when transport demand could quickly overwhelm capacity if users have no access to real-time travel information, it is crucial that we take advantage of the UK’s digital tech expertise,” he said.

“With the right mobile apps, people can find out which parts of the transport network are overcrowded – and avoid them! They can choose alternative travel options, to help maintain safe social distancing or they can get information to help stagger their journeys – and lift the burden on public transport at peak times.”

This week Shapps chaired a roundtable with key players like Google, Microsoft and Citymapper to develop both data and apps to help the public view crowding across the transport network, in real-time.

Meanwhile, the transport secretary announced the fast-tracking of trials of e-scooters, bringing this programme, already underway, forward from next year, to next month. These trials will be extended from four local authorities to every region in the country that wants them “in a bid to get e-scooter rental schemes up-and-running in our cities as fast as possible”.

 
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