Last month, Cambridgeshire County Council and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) each voted unanimously to support a package of temporary measures to introduce more space for safe cycling and walking during the Covid-19 pandemic. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer also supports this scheme to increase active travel across the region and reallocate roadspace to those walking, cycling and using mobility aids. Having submitted a bid for funding from the government’s coronavirus-response fund for active travel, the local authorities were actually allocated more money than they asked for from the Department for Transport in recognition of the ambition of their plans.
Encouraging as many people as possible to walk and cycle where possible is vital to tackling urgent issues of public health and supporting the rebuilding of the local economy without attracting unsustainable levels of motor traffic. Before the pandemic, the Greater Cambridge area already suffered from congestion and pollution and research published by the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy has shown that unless local authorities make significant improvements to their cycle routes, the percentage of people who drive to work could increase by 60% to 70% on pre-lockdown levels, with an estimated 1.06m more cars on the road across Britain (based on public transport users with access to a car switching to driving). Other research has shown that particles of air pollution may actually play a role in spreading the virus.
Camcycle welcomes the temporary schemes approved by local authorities and the initial changes, including the new bus gate on Mill Road bridge and pavement widenings along the street. These have opened up more space for those walking, cycling or using mobility scooters to visit local businesses, and the reduction in motor traffic has improved safety for everyone. However, we urge the county council to complete the works quickly and respond to community concerns over insufficient signage, lack of enforcement on bridge restrictions and pavement parking, and improvements needed to disability access. It is also vital that changes across Cambridgeshire are communicated well both before and during installation so that all those who live and work in the area remain well-informed about the measures and are prepared for any adjustments to their journeys.
Camcycle also calls for local people to work together to support and enhance these street improvements, which have been designed to keep our communities safe and to create cleaner, healthier and more pleasant environments for everyone during the Covid-19 pandemic and recovery. Camcycle’s Executive Director, Roxanne De Beaux, said:
“During this transition period, we ask the people of Cambridgeshire to remain patient as schemes are installed, while submitting constructive feedback to the county council so officers can improve safety and disability access where required. Evidence shows that in other locations across the UK, measures like this have boosted trade for local businesses and improved residents’ health, but a time of transition is needed for each scheme as the lockdown rules are relaxed and habits change. Meanwhile, we encourage everyone who is able to walk and cycle to do so for their everyday journeys, so that there is space on the road and on public transport for those who can’t avoid using motor vehicles.”
Speaking at a meeting of the GCP, county council officer Richard Preston said:
“With many of the schemes we’re implementing, we’re severing routes but not closing them. That means that you won’t be able to use them for through-routes but we will be maintaining access to all properties. We will be working closely with all local communities to make sure we take on board all the issues and concerns that they want to raise [as] we need to understand what the key concerns are on an individual scheme-by-scheme basis.”
GCP Director of Transport Peter Blake said:
“Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on various vulnerable groups in our community and many of the measures are aimed at creating space for all non-motorised users which will be particularly important to disabled members of our community. To expedite delivery of [the] schemes as requested by government, the measures are being introduced on an experimental basis. We will be consulting fully – including with disability groups – once the measures have been introduced.”
Camcycle has written a blogpost to provide more information about the type of measures being installed, such as modal filters and pop-up cycle lanes and to answer some frequently asked questions about cycling, car traffic and the needs of people with disabilities.