The benefits of active travel are undeniable. From saving people money, promoting health and wellbeing, to protecting the environment and getting the country closer to net zero – the list goes on.
So it’s no wonder the government has been on an active travel crusade over the last five years.
UK active travel’s successful 5-year journey
The government first established the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) in 2017, with the expressed aim to make “walking and cycling the natural choice for shorter journeys”.
Fast forward three years and progress had far exceeded their initial plans. In February 2020, Parliament reported a 1.2bn investment in the scheme – almost double their projected target in 2017.
The pandemic then stepped in as a catalyst to accelerate the process even further. With a big focus on economic revival coming out of the first lockdown, the government was keen to encourage people back into the cities.
But with the virus still very much at large, there was a lot of hesitancy from the public about jumping back on public transport. It gave the government added incentive to increase active travel schemes and funding once more.
At the beginning of May 2020, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a “once in a generation” £2 billion plan to boost cycling and walking during and after lockdown.
£250m of the funding injection was freed up for local authorities to act right away, paying for ‘pop up’ cycleways, wider sidewalks and cycle-only streets. As Shapps’ put it: “Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits.”
ATE takes charge of the next active travel phase
But the active travel journey didn’t stop there. At the turn of the year, the government launched Active Travel England (ATE). With commissioner and former British Olympic gold medalist and cyclist Chris Boardman at the helm, ATE is now the official body in charge of managing the national active travel budget.
ATE acts a bit like a regulator – consulting on major schemes, rating highway authorities on their active travel performance and helping them improve standards for walkers and cyclists. It also helps local authorities train staff, spread good practice, and engage the local community.
Based in York, ATE makes good on the government’s levelling up promise, too, putting more civil service jobs in the regions.
Government announces next set of national schemes
Just last month, the government announced the next round of plans for ATE to oversee, with £200 million of funding earmarked for schemes in 46 local authorities up and down the country. That includes new junctions and pedestrian crossings in Liverpool, segregated cycle lanes across the North East, and a new travel corridor in Gloucestershire to reduce traffic and build a number of high-quality cycle routes across the region.
19 authorities including Nottinghamshire, Hull and Manchester are also part of a feasibility study to assess whether these areas could be turned into ‘mini-Hollands’. If the study goes to plan, these areas could eventually mirror something close to the active travel infrastructure Dutch cities are famous for.
In such a short space of time, active travel in the UK has come on leaps and bounds. And the continued collaborative effort of ATE and local government means momentum shows no sign of slowing down. Or as Chris Boardman puts it: “This is all about enabling people to leave their cars at home and enjoy local journeys on foot or by bike.
“Active Travel England is going to make sure high-quality spaces for cycling, wheeling and walking are delivered across all parts of England, creating better streets, a happier school run and healthier, more pleasant journeys to work and the shops.”
Published date: 9th June 2022
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