Transport secretary Grant Shapps has unveiled plans to boost greener, active transport and create a “new era for cycling and walking”.
Pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors will be created in England within weeks as part of a £250 million emergency active travel fund – the first stage of a £2 billion investment, as part of the £5 billion in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February.
The plans will help encourage more people to choose alternatives to public transport when they need to travel, making healthier habits easier and helping make sure the road, bus and rail networks are ready to respond to future increases in demand.
Xavier Brice, CEO at Sustrans on behalf of the Walking and Cycling Alliance, said: “We welcome the UK Government’s immediate commitment of £250 million for new pop-up protected cycle lanes, the widening of footways and to support car-free, cycling, bus and walking streets to allow for social distancing as we begin to move out of lockdown.
“Public transport systems are vital but will not be able to operate at full capacity for some time due to social distancing. Our towns and cities can’t cope with the increased private car journeys this could cause. Instead, we must increase walking and cycling. This won’t just help with social distancing. This will help with tackling the climate crisis, air pollution and public health, decreasing the burden on our NHS.
“This funding is a first step that allows more local authorities to put temporary measures in place so more people can move around safely and actively as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. The full £2 billion announced to increase walking and cycling in the longer-term, with a plan to support this funding expected in June, is the next step in helping to create real long-term change in the way we move around our towns and cities and should also be used to help support new and returning cyclists get used to riding again.
“As we begin to rebuild after this devastating COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage all local authorities to use this funding as soon as possible to make the changes needed. The Walking and Cycling Alliance is here to help and share our expertise with the public and local authorities as we adapt to and create changing environments, whether its tips for cycling and walking or helping to put new infrastructure in place.
“It is imperative going forward that we don’t solve one crisis by perpetuating others and instead create healthier, happier and greener places that we all want to live in.”
The Government will fund and work with local authorities across the country to help make it easier for people to use bikes to get around – including Greater Manchester, which wants to create 150 miles of protected cycle track, and Transport for London, which plans a “bike Tube” network above Underground lines.
“This announcement is official recognition of the major role cycling and walking will play as we emerge from this crisis,” said Chris Boardman, cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester. “By creating safe streets we give people the choice to make active journeys, taking the pressure off our public transport system and protecting our NHS – both now and in the future. When a third of all journeys under one kilometre in Greater Manchester are made by car, the lifesaving impact of this, through improved health and cleaner air, cannot be underestimated.
“Our local authorities are already mobilising their plans to create more space for those on foot or on bikes; a potential lifeline for the third of households across the city region who don’t have access to a car and usually rely on public transport. And whilst this funding will be a vital enabler, fast-tracking the approval of side roads zebra crossings – that are currently used across the world- will help protect people who are choosing to do their bit to help us all.”
Fast-tracked statutory guidance, published on Saturday and effective immediately, will tell councils to reallocate road space for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. In towns and cities, some streets could become bike and bus-only while others remain available for motorists. More side streets could be closed to through traffic, to create low-traffic neighbourhoods and reduce rat-running while maintaining access for vehicles.
Vouchers will be issued for cycle repairs, to encourage people to get their old bikes out of the shed, and plans are being developed for greater provision of bike fixing facilities. Many more will take up the Cycle to Work scheme, which gives employees a discount on a new bike.
An updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy will be launched by the prime minister 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, and creating a long-term budget for cycling and walking similar to what happens for roads.
The Government will also be launching a campaign to encourage more people to look at alternative ways to travel, to walk or get on a bike for their commute instead of public transport. Today, riders from Team Ineos, including Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, will be telling people to #GetPedalling.
E-scooter trials will also be brought forward from next year to next month to help encourage more people off public transport and onto greener alternatives. Originally set to take place in four Future Transport Zones, the trials of rental e-scooters – which will now be offered to all local areas across the country – will allow Government to assess the benefits of e-scooters as well as their impact on public space, with the potential to see rental vehicles on UK roads as early as June.