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Covid-19: England to get pop-up cycle lanes ‘within weeks’

Words: Laura Edgar
Cycling / Shutterstock_181277675

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced that £250 million is to be invested in creating pop-up cycle lanes, wider pavements, safer junctions and bus-only corridors in England.

The government said these would be delivered “within weeks”.

The £250 million investment forms part of a £2bn emergency active travel fund which, in turn, is part of the £5 billion of new funding announced for cycling and buses in February, explained the government.

Levels of walking and cycling have increased during the coronavirus (Covd-19) pandemic, after the government told people to avoid public transport and stay at home to control spread of the virus. The government wants to enact these plans to encourage more people to choose alternatives to public transport as well make healthier habits easier.

It will work with local authorities across England to make it easier for people to cycle – including Greater Manchester, which wants to create 150 miles of protected cycle track, and Transport for London (see below). 

Statutory guidance, published over the weekend (9 May) tells councils to reallocate road space to accommodate “significantly increased numbers” of cyclists and pedestrians. It could see some streets in towns and cities used by bikes and buses only, while others are available for motorists.

More side streets could also be closed to through-traffic, so neighbourhoods would see less traffic and a reduction in ‘rat-running’.

Additionally, the government said vouchers would be issued for cycle repairs to encourage people to get old bikes out of the shed, while plans are being developed to more repair facilities. 

Referring to the number of people turning to cycling as a form of exercise or as a safe means to travel, Shapps said that “when the country does get back to work we need those people to stay on their bikes and be joined by many more”.

“Otherwise, with public transport’s capacity severely restricted at this time, our trains and buses could become overcrowded and our roads gridlocked – holding up emergency services, critical workers and vital supplies.

“We know cars will continue to remain vital for many, but as we look to the future we must build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will publish an updated cycling and walking investment strategy in the summer. It will aim to double cycling and increase walking by 2025. Measures are expected to include:

  • The creation of a national cycling and walking commissioner and inspectorate.
  • Higher standards for permanent infrastructure across England.
  • Creating a long-term budget for cycling and walking, similar to that allocated for roads.

E-scooter trials will be brought forward from next year. These were originally set to take place in four Future Transport Zones but will now be offered to all local areas, with the government set to assess the benefits of e-scooters as well as their impact on public space. 

The West Midlands is one area that will be trialling e-scooters, and is one of the original four zones. Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), Birmingham City Council and Coventry City Council will work together to test the technology and better understand the benefits, which have only been legally allowed to be used on private property until this trial.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “This trial will help bring more flexibility, choice, and greener travel solutions for the region, at a time when we are facing a climate emergency and urging people to leave the car at home. 

“We will also use the trial to look at the current transport challenges the coronavirus pandemic has presented us with, and explore how e-scooters could be used to help tackle them.”

The government added that it would double its funding – an extra £10 million – to its street residential charge-point scheme, which aims to allow local authorities to install up to 7,200 devices. 

Work is also being undertaken with the tech sector to see how it could help commuters stagger journeys. Shapps met with several transport tech firms last week, including Google and Trainline, to discuss how technology could be used to ease overcrowding.


Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London published their ‘London Streetspace’ programme last week. This is intended to “rapidly” transform London’s streets to accommodate increased walking and cycling when lockdown restrictions are eased.

London’s public transport capacity could be running at a fifth of pre-crisis levels and therefore journeys will need to be made by other means. If just a fraction of those journeys are done by car, Khan said the capital risks “grinding to a halt” while air quality worsens.

To prevent this, TfL, working with London boroughs, is to repurpose London’s streets to accommodate more walking and cycling. 

According to early modelling by TfL, there could be “more than a tenfold increase in kilometres cycled, and up to five times the amount of walking” compared with pre-Covid-19 levels.

Changes will focus on three key areas:

  • The rapid construction of a strategic cycling network using temporary materials, including new routes aimed at reducing crowding on the London Underground and train lines, and on busy bus corridors.
  • A complete transformation of local town centres to enable local journeys to be safely walked and cycled where possible. Wider footways on high streets will facilitate a local economic recovery, with people having space to queue for shops as well as enough space for others to safely walk past while socially distancing.
  • Reducing traffic on residential streets, creating low-traffic neighbourhoods right across London to enable more people to walk and cycle as part of their daily routine – as has happened during lockdown.

TfL said it would review temporary schemes, which could become permanent.

Work has already begun to enable better social distancing using temporary infrastructure –
the width of pavements have been doubled in Camden High Street and Stoke Newington High Street. More of this should happen in the coming weeks.

Khan said: “The capacity of our public transport will be dramatically reduced post-coronavirus as a result of the huge challenges we face around social distancing. Everyone who can work from home must continue to do so for some time to come. The emergency measures included in our major strategic London Streetspace programme will help those who have to travel to work by fast-tracking the transformation of streets across our city. Many Londoners have rediscovered the joys of walking and cycling during lockdown and, by quickly and cheaply widening pavements, creating temporary cycle lanes and closing roads to through traffic we will enable millions more people to change the way they get around our city."

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