‘Active travel’ has been on the rise for many years now. Thanks to years of campaigning and state-backed initiatives like congestion charges and pay-as-you-ride bikes, people are much more likely to choose pedals over petrol.
In 2017, the Government made their biggest move to date. After years of pressure from groups of cyclists and civil servants, they introduced the Cycling and Walking Strategy (CWIS) to make “walking and cycling the natural choice for shorter journeys”.
By February 2020, it was clear we were making real progress. Parliament reported a £1.2bn investment in the scheme, almost double the projected target in 2017.
So the plan was to carry on in much the same way and invest a further £1.2bn by 2022. However, by May of last year a lot had changed. The pandemic had completely transformed our relationship with public transport.
Coming out of the first wave, the Government was keen to get the economy back up and running and encourage workers back into towns and cities as soon as possible. But a combination of social distancing measures and people’s own preference meant faith in public transport was at an all-time low. And so, an opportunity for our cycle paths and walkways presented itself.
Our transport secretary Grant Shapps announced a “once in a generation” £2bn plan to transform cycle routes and walkways across the nation. £250m of which was for local authorities to act right away, paying for ‘pop up’ cycleways, wider sidewalks and cycle- only streets.
The Government also fast-tracked statutory guidance to give local authorities the licence to reallocate road space without having to go through the usual time-consuming procedures.
Shapps said it was 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.”
It’s an enormous step for our nation’s green infrastructure. Since May, more than 900 schemes have been implemented up and down the country.
The reaction hasn’t all been positive, though. A major reason cycle schemes couldn’t get approval before the pandemic was because of local objections. However, local authorities were able to press on with these schemes and bypass having to consult with the community, which has caused a number of campaign groups to react.
Some campaigners have vandalised wooden planters blocking through traffic and poured oil into the gaps left for bicycles to pass through. Wandsworth has experienced so much push back that it’s had to suspend its plans to create a new low-traffic neighbourhood.
So although the Government’s move is a positive one, local authorities still need to be mindful that not everyone in their community will see it that way. Some of the initial CWIS fund was invested in behavioural change and that needs to be re-emphasised.
While it’s great to see local authorities put more plans into action, they still have to take an education approach to win over the naysayers, and everyone finally pedalling and walking in the right direction.
Published date: 8th April 2021
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