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Cycling and walking plan on track in England

Words: Laura Edgar
Bikes / iStock: 1091920206

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched a cycling and walking plan that seeks to tackle the causes of ill health and build on increased numbers of people cycling during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As cycling is “proven to offer huge benefits for people’s physical and mental health”, the government explained, the plan sets out a “comprehensive, long-term vision” to maintain and increase active travel and embed the benefits of walking and cycling in how people get around. 

Johnson said: “From helping people get fit and healthy and lowering their risk of illness, to improving air quality and cutting congestion, cycling and walking have a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face.

“But to build a healthier, more active nation, we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels.

“That’s why now is the time to shift gears and press ahead with our biggest and boldest plans yet to boost active travel – so that everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling.”

The £2 billion plans includes: 

  • Cycle training will be available for every child and adult who wants it. This can be accessed through schools, local authorities or cycle training schemes.
  • More cycle racks will be installed at transport hubs, town and city centres and public buildings, and funding will go towards new bike hangars and on street storage for people who do not have space to keep a bike at home.
  • Thousands of miles of protected cycle routes in towns and cities will be built and higher standards for cycling infrastructure will set. This will be overseen by a new inspectorate. The National Cycle Network will also be improved. 
  • Creating a long-term cycling programme and budget to bolster a guaranteed pipeline of funding.
  • Consulting on strengthening the Highway Code to better protect pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Improving air quality and reducing traffic by creating more low-traffic neighbourhoods to reduce rat-running, including by consulting on communities’ right to close side streets; putting in place more “school streets” to reduce traffic by schools; intensive funding of 12 new areas to become more cycle friendly, known as ‘Mini Hollands’; and creating at least one zero-emission transport city centre.
  • Encouraging GPs to prescribe cycling, with patients able to access bikes through their local surgery.
  • Increasing access to e-bikes by setting up a new national e-bike programme to help those who are older, who have to travel long distances or are less fit to take up cycling.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a shift in attitudes for generations to come, and get more people choosing to cycle or walk as part of their daily routine.

“The measures we’ve set out in this revolutionary plan will do just that. No matter your age, how far you’re travelling, or your current confidence on a bike – there are plans to help and support you.

“By helping to fix your bike – or get an electrically powered one; by increasing storage space at stations, on trains and buses; and by introducing more ways to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe, we’re making it easier than ever to make active travel part of your daily life, and leading England to become a great cycling nation.”

The government has also published higher standards for cycling infrastructure in updated guidance to ensure that schemes are better designed around cyclists’ needs. Schemes that “do not make meaningful change to the status quo” on the road, will not be funded. The standards will be overseen by a new inspectorate – Active Travel England. It will be responsible for the cycling budget and help make sure schemes are compliant with the new standards.

Xavier Brice, CEO of the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, welcomed the plan. “By helping more people to leave the car at home for shorter journeys, this package of measures will cut pollution, tackle the causes of poor health, and improve the safety of our streets. 

“Sustrans welcomes the creation of Active Travel England, which will have a key role in supporting local authorities to deliver this important agenda, ensuring public money is invested wisely and design standards are enforced. Making sure cycling and walking are at the heart of all planned new developments from the start, including properly linking routes to public transport, is a big part of realising the potential of healthy, liveable neighbourhoods for generations to come and opening up access to vital services on foot or by cycle for everyone.”

James Harris, policy manager at the RTPI, said the institute fully supports the plan to place cycling and walking at the heart of transport policy, planning and place-making.

“In particular, we welcome the commitment to create a long-term budget for active travel, deliver cycling networks through highways investment and other funding programmes, and review the transport appraisal process. However, with car use threatening to rebound to higher levels post-Covid, wider measures will be needed to ensure that planned investment in the local and strategic road network does not continue to induce traffic.

“We firmly agree that new housing and business developments should prioritise sustainable travel, including cycling and walking, and make it the first choice of journeys. We hope that Active Travel England can raise the bar for what is expected, and welcome the commitment to improve local authority capacity."

For Harris, strong and effective strategic planning is needed to ensure that new development is located and designed in ways that support walking and cycling, while better resources are also needed to support early engagement between planners, transport providers, developers and local communities.

“We look forward to seeing this reflected in updated Planning Practice Guidance on sustainable transport, but are concerned that the recent expansion of permitted development rights will further reduce opportunities to shape new development, and limit financial contributions to much-needed local transport infrastructure.”

Gear Change: A Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking can be found here on the UK Government website.

Read more:

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

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