Road Cycling

U.K. Government Boosts Bicycling And Walking With Ambitious £2 Billion Post-Pandemic Plan – Forbes

U.K. transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced an ambitious £2 billion plan to boost cycling and walking both during and after the lockdown. He described it as a “once in a generation” chance to change the country for the better.

Business would be boosted by more people cycling and walking, he stressed.

The £2 billion plan starts with £250 million to enable local authorities to pay for “pop-up” cycling and walking infrastructure to cater for physical distancing during lockdown.

Shapps made the announcements at the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing on May 9.

The £2 billion is not new funding, it is part of the £5 billion in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February. However, the language used by Shapps in the briefing—as well as a raft of unexpected announcements—are very much novel.

“Fast-track statutory guidance to cater for significantly increased cycling and walking,” would be implemented “immediately,” he said.

And it’s this new rule book that is most exciting transport professionals: it removes time-consuming obstacles, will prod reticent local authorities into action, and stresses urgency. In short, it’s compressing 30 years of campaigning for protected space for cyclists and pedestrians into just weeks.

A Department for Transport press statement said that the guidance will “tell councils to reallocate roadspace for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians.” Tell!

“When the country gets back to work, we need them to carry on cycling, and to be joined by millions more,” wrote Shapps in a foreword to the guidance.

“With public transport capacity reduced, the roads in our largest cities, in particular, may not be able to cope without it.”

Shapps’ foreword continued: “Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits.”

Significantly, the transport secretary added: “The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians.”

The statutory guidance is clear: “Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.”

And emergency pop-ups “can be in place for up to 18 months,” states the guidance which recommends some ought to become permanent.

“MANY OF US will have to think very carefully when and how we travel,” said Shapps at the daily briefing.

Boosting cycling and walking would be a “health opportunity,” leading to “lasting changes” with “fitter” citizens, fitter both mentally and physically.

The transport secretary revealed there had been a 70% increase rise in cycling in some cities.

“We need to ask those people to carry on cycling and walking,” he said, “and others to join them.”

Without more cycling and walking, U.K. cities risked becoming “gridlocked” said the transport secretary, warning that, thanks to social distancing measures, public transit would be at a tenth of usual capacity for some time to come.

Family doctors would be able to prescribe cycling for patients, and there would be legal changes to help protect pedestrians and cyclists, added Shapps.

“More side streets could be closed to through traffic, to create low-traffic neighborhoods and reduce rat-running while maintaining access for [motor] vehicles,” said a later DfT statement.

Answering an ITV journalist who suggested that not everybody could get around on bicycles, Shapps replied:

“Outside of London it has been shown that half of journeys are under three miles. You don’t have to be a cyclist to benefit from society switching as a whole to cycling and walking.”

He pointed out that if “cycling increased by only 5% it would mean 8 million fewer car journeys, 9 million fewer rail journeys and 13 million fewer bus journeys.”

Officials fear that Britons could soon get in their cars in greater numbers than pre-lockdown. In Wuhan, China, usage of private cars nearly doubled when lockdown ended.

PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson told parliament on May 6 that the near future “should be a new golden age for cycling.”

An updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy will be launched by Johnson in the summer, revealed Shapps today, including:

  • Creation of a national cycling and walking commissioner, and inspectorate. (This was announced some years ago, but no “cycling Czar” was ever appointed.)
  • Higher standards for permanent infrastructure across England.
  • Creation of a long-term budget for cycling and walking similar to road funding.
  • Appointment of a zero-emission city with very few motor vehicles allowed in the center.

As part of an emergency response to urban travel during the pandemic, the Department for Transport (DfT) has been inspired by “tactical urbanism” measures in cities such as Berlin, Paris, and Milan. Some U.K. cities have already introduced measures of their own: Leicester unveiled a “keyworker corridor” cycleway last week.

The DfT had been coming under increasing pressure to create a national funding package for pop-up infrastructure similar to the one introduced by New Zealand last month.

The Scottish government unveiled a £10-million program to enable the creation of pop-up cycleways and widened sidewalks on April 28.

THAT SHAPPS would be making an announcement on active travel was first revealed on on May 5.

His enthusiasm for backing what he called “own-steam” travel was apparent when he was interviewed on two of Sunday’s flagship TV politics programs on May 3.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the government was looking to encourage cycling and walking after what he described as a “massive expansion” in interest in active travel. Shapps made similar points on Sky TV to Sophy Ridge.

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“Active transport, keeping people off the public transport and getting to work under own steam, could be a very important part of [lockdown] recovery,” he told Ridge.

On both shows, he also mentioned—unbidden—the longstanding government Cycle to Work scheme, a salary sacrifice program that enables many taxpayers to buy bicycles at deep discounts. He reiterated the government’s support for this program during the COVID-19 briefing on Saturday.

E-scooter trials will also be brought forward from next year to next month. Originally set to take place in 4 Future Transport Zones, the trials of rental e-scooters—which will now be offered to all local areas across the country—will allow the government to assess the benefits of e-scooters as well as their impact on public space, with the potential to see rental vehicles on U.K. roads as early as June, said a DfT statement.

During the briefing Shapps unveiled there would be a subsidy for getting broken bicycles back on the road. In France, a €20 million scheme was introduced on April 29 to offer citizens €50 to take their bicycles to registered mechanics to be made roadworthy. French environment minister Elisabeth Borne said the scheme was aimed at reducing motoring.

IN MARCH, the DfT released a plan to “decarbonize” transport. In the document’s foreword, Shapps wrote that “public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities” and that “we will use our cars less.” 

The transport secretary recently welcomed the drop in motor traffic caused by the lockdown. Shapps told Sky News on April 17 that the “level of car use is the equivalent to 1955 and I must be the first transport secretary in history who celebrates the idea that there are fewer cars on the road.”

Officials at some motoring organizations bridled at this suggestion, although Shapps said in today’s briefing that the government still believes motoring to be “vital.”

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said of today’s announcement: “It’s very likely that while traffic volumes are currently down, people will inevitably return to the comfort and convenience of their [motor] vehicles for some journeys when lockdown restrictions are eased, especially where they need to cover longer distances or have a longer commute.”

He added: “The needs of all road users must therefore be carefully considered. For example, authorities will need to be careful about reducing road space in certain areas as they could end up creating problems if traffic demand outweighs those opting to use bikes.”

However, other motoring organizations were more welcoming of the DfT’s announcement. AA president Edmund King said:

“As the country comes out of COVID-19 hibernation, public transport will not be able to cope in our cities so more people will take to walking and cycling. The measures outlined are a massive step in the right direction.”

A recent AA poll found that 22% of members plan to drive less after lockdown ends, and 36% aim to cycle and walk more.

An unnamed Conservative MP told MailOnline that the DfT plan “sounds a bit gimmicky.”

The MP added: “We should be looking at ways to make it easier for people to drive at the moment because that actually from a health point of view is better.”

In fact, a reduction in motoring would benefit everybody’s health, suggests two studies which found that air pollution puts people at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

MailOnline reporters seem not to have understood that the DfT is to help pay for pop-up cyclist-protecting cycleways because the news site claimed that the DfT’s plans are “potentially perilous for novice cyclists navigating busy city roads.”

THE CYCLING AND WALKING investment unveiled first in February—which is where the cash for today’s announcement is coming from—was a mix of capital and revenue funding, and was additional to the funding that is already committed to be spent on cycling and walking over the next five years from wider funding sources. At the time the DfT said the money will be allocated to towns and cities with “well-developed plans for cycling and walking networks, such as those set out in Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans.”

Today’s announcement can be seen as a victory for Andrew Gilligan, one of Johnson’s transport advisors.

Gilligan was cycling commissioner when Johnson was Mayor of London, and it was Gilligan, not Johnson, who was most responsible for pushing through London’s protected cycleway program.

When Gilligan was London’s “cycling czar” from 2013 to 2016 the capital built its curb-protected “cycle superhighways,” which have since been renamed as “cycleways.” 

Gilligan has strong views on cycling, and on the ills of mass motorization. Last year he told Cyclist magazine that the “vast majority of road space is given to the least efficient users of it.” 

He added: “[Cyclists] don’t emit any pollution; they don’t create much congestion if any and they’re not a safety risk.” 

His was the most radically pro-cycling voice inside 10 Downing Street since the entrance of, well, Johnson himself. 

Gilligan told Cyclist last year: “I don’t believe that the answer to London’s transport problems is a vast slew of new railways or transport links. I think the answer is cycling actually.” 

In 2018 Gilligan wrote a report for the National Infrastructure Commission on the potential for cycling in Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes. Running Out of Road recommended the roll-out of many miles of protected cycleways to encourage cycling.

Gilligan has not tweeted since July last year but today he wrote: “Sometimes good things can come out of bad ones,” echoing words said by Shapps during the COVID-19 briefing.

AS EXPECTED, cycling and walking organizations have welcomed today’s announcement.

Ruth Cadbury MP, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling and Walking, said: “It is good to see that several of the recommendations from our ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report (2013) will now become Government policy. What we heard today is a commitment to see active travel modes as a significant solution to reduce pollution and congestion and create a healthier and fitter society.”

She added: “The message from Government was very clear and I hope that Local Authorities around England are bold in following this advice and taking up the support offered.”

Sustrans CEO Xavier Brice said today’s announcement was 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.”

Brice, speaking on behalf of the Walking and Cycling Alliance, added:

“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.”

The Walking and Cycling Alliance is made up of the Bicycle Association, British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, The Ramblers and Sustrans.

“Councils now need to seize the initiative and introduce new cycle provision while our roads are relatively empty,” added Cycling’s UK’s policy director Roger Geffen.

“Mr Shapps’s announcement of £2 billion is still only a fraction of the £6 billion which his department’s research says is the minimum needed to reach its targets to double cycling trips and increase walking by 2025,” warned Cycling UK’s head of communications Adrian Wills.

“It therefore remains to be seen whether the department can secure enough additional funding, including match-funding from local sources, to achieve its targets.”

“I am over the moon,” said transport planner Brian Deegan after listening to Shapps’ presentation and reading the new statutory guidance.

Deegan works for the London design practice Urban Movement and is an advisor to Chris Boardman, the former Olympic champion turned Greater Manchester cycling and walking commissioner.

“It is great seeing some of the detail behind [Boris Johnson’s aim for a] golden age,” continued Deegan.

“It is the best Saturday night ever.”