At the weekend, the UK government released the first hints at plans for life after lockdown, which included £2 billion for active travel improvements. This funding was announced earlier in the year, but more details have emerged on how it is to be spent including trials of e-scooter rentals, cycling to be prescribed by GPs, and a long-term budget for high-quality infrastructure. £250 million of this investment is to be spent on swift, emergency interventions to make cycling and walking safer during the coronavirus pandemic. The prime minister would like to see a “new golden age for cycling” to protect those who need to take public transport, while preventing the increased congestion that would result from a mass switch to travel by car.
Announcing the investment on Saturday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that in order to comply with the need for social distancing, public transport would be reduced to a tenth of its previous capacity in many areas. In some places, levels of cycling have risen by 70% during the lockdown period and Shapps said those people will need to keep on cycling, and be joined by many more, in order to avoid overcrowding the transport network.
The government has fast-tracked statutory guidance on temporary schemes such as pop-up cycle lanes, widened pavements and cycle- and bus-only streets. It expects local authorities to make significant changes to road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians, with all measures implemented within the coming weeks, to ensure an urgent change to travel habits before the lockdown is relaxed. Evaluation must also be included to encourage authorities to make temporary measures permanent where possible, enabling a long-term shift to active travel as the economy is moved “from restart to recovery.”
Planning for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough region is already well underway, with an initial list of schemes submitted to the Prime Minister last week by local mayor James Palmer. This followed collaboration with officers from local authorities and input from active travel charities Camcycle and Sustrans.
Welcoming the funding, Sustrans CEO, Xavier Brice, said that investment in active travel wouldn’t just help with social distancing, but would also address issues such as the climate crisis, air pollution and public health, reducing the burden on the NHS. He said:
“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. 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.”
Roxanne De Beaux, Executive Director of Camcycle, said:
“As the UK’s leading cycling region, we know that many of those currently cycling for essential journeys and exercise are already facing difficulties on some of our busiest routes, so it is essential that we urgently roll out temporary schemes to provide more space for safe cycling and walking. We urge local decision-makers to listen to their communities as they plan new active travel networks and to follow the new guidance carefully as they deliver school streets, residential zones, safer junctions and the other measures needed to ensure walking and cycling are safe, convenient and attractive choices for people of all ages and abilities.”
Camcycle has been gathering suggestions from local residents over the last few weeks as part of its ‘Spaces To Breathe’ campaign. An open letter to decision-makers calling for emergency interventions has gained over 230 signatures from people including Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner and many business and healthcare professionals. The campaign is working to identify places where more space is needed for walking and cycling during the coronavirus pandemic so that those who are making essential journeys can stay safe and people can continue walking and cycling for daily exercise. Encouraging people to stay active during lockdown is important for both physical and mental health, and from Wednesday, the government is amending its guidelines to allow for unlimited exercise outdoors with members of the same household as long as social distancing rules are followed.
Cambridgeshire residents can find out more about Camcycle’s campaign and add their ideas for new spaces for walking and cycling at camcycle.org.uk/spacestobreathe. All suggestions will be shared with local authorities as they plan their schemes of emergency measures.