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26/08/2020

Are we on the brink of a walking and cycling revolution?

The Department for Transport's Gear Change plan marks a step forward for active travel planning, but there's still so much to be done, says Helen Hemstock

Yes. Well, possibly. Maybe – if local authorities, planners and communities embrace the opportunity.

The Department for Transport’s Gear Change plan, published in July, read like a wish list of active travel interventions. It set out commitments to improve infrastructure, wayfinding, the hierarchy of our roads – as well as to prioritise direct routes for pedestrians and cyclists, and even to end funding of thinly painted white line cycle paths that force cyclists to travel at the very edges of the road, contending with debris and drainage grates.

Brilliant. But pedestrians didn’t feature as highly in the plan. They weren’t neglected: no more funding for shared cyclist/pedestrian routes; housing developers to consider walking as the priority mode of transport; ‘rat running’ to be curtailed. Again, great.

But there’s still nowhere near enough money to implement these big ideas. Local authorities will need to get creative about how to deliver this. The £2 billion of funding allocated pales in comparison with the £27 billion already committed to roadbuilding – and there are thousands of miles of substandard infrastructure that wasn’t addressed by this plan.

“There’s still nowhere near enough money to implement these big ideas”

It’s likely there will be cities that show creative thinking, such as Nottingham, Birmingham, Cambridge and Manchester. But it’ll take the newly formed Active Travel England to encourage and support local authorities in moving this forward.

I’d have loved to see all local authorities being required to make their city centres zero-emission/little Holland exemplars, rather than just a dozen pilot projects. We need swift and significant change to make a big difference.

What’s become apparent over the past few months is a massive divergence in attitudes around the way we travel. At RideWise, we’ve had unparalleled interest in adult cycle training across the country.  We hear stories of bucket list wishes, desires to get rid of the car and commute by bike, people who have discovered the joys of cycling during lockdown and want to improve their confidence.

But our networks have been awash with examples of eye-watering close passes, abuse from other road users and new cyclists who have been scared off by the volume and proximity of road traffic.

Although the plan sets out the intention for infrastructure, there’s a massive piece of work needed to change everyone’s attitudes to travel. It’s down to each of us as road users – not just drivers and cyclists – to make this a travel revolution.

Helen Hemstock is chief execcutive of RideWise, the community cycling charity

Image credit | iStock

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