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Cash for cycle and pavement infrastructure fast-tracked for post-Covid streets

Shutterstock cycle lane
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UK streets could feature wider pavements and more cycling infrastructure in the near future to help social distancing and reduce transport challenges when lockdown eases

Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced a £250 million emergency active travel fund during his recent Covid-19 press briefing (9 May) to create pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors.

According to the AJ’s sister title New Civil Engineer, the funding mark the first stage of a £2billion investment from a wider £5billion commitment in new funding for cycling and buses announced in February.

Shapps said: ’During this crisis, millions of people have discovered cycling - whether for exercise or as a means of safe, socially-distanced transport. While there is no change to the ‘stay at home’ message today, 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.’

Shapps added that an updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy will be launched by government this summer with additional measures to double cycling and increase walking by 2025. Shapps said that the strategy will include creation of a national cycling and walking commissioner and inspectorate; higher standards for permanent infrastructure across England; and creating a long-term budget for cycling and walking similar to what happens for roads.

Shapps also revealed that e-scooter trials will also be brought forward from next year to next month to help encourage more people off public transport and onto greener alternatives.

The new followed on from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) revealing their “London Streetspace” programme last week, while the Scottish Government’s “Spaces for People” initiative commits to fully funding a new infrastructure programme for pop-up walking and cycling routes or temporary improvements to existing routes.

In post-Covid London, public transport capacity will potentially run at a fifth of pre-crisis levels, meaning millions of journeys a day will need to be made in other ways. If even a fraction of these journeys switch to cars, the capital could grind to a halt, air quality worsen and road danger increase.

As such, TfL’s London Streetspace programme will “rapidly repurpose” the capital’s streets, giving space to new cycle lanes and wider pavements. This will enable social distancing and accommodate a possible ten-fold increase in cycling and five-fold increase in walking when restrictions are eased.

The programme’s changes – which could drive Khan’s ambition for 80 per cent of trips in London to be made on foot, by cycle or using public transport by 2041 - focus on three key areas. The first is the rapid construction of a strategic cycling network, using temporary materials. This will include new routes aimed at reducing crowding on underground and train lines and on busy bus corridors.

Secondly, local town centres will be transformed 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.

Finally, traffic will be reduced on residential streets, creating low-traffic neighbourhoods across London to enable more people to walk and cycle as part of their daily routine, as has happened during lockdown.

Euston Road is one of the first main thoroughfares to benefit from temporary cycle lanes. Park Lane could follow suit under plans being studied. The temporary schemes will be reviewed by TfL – and could become permanent.

Meanwhile, pavements have doubled in size at Camden High Street and Stoke Newington High Street and widened at six further locations, with more to follow in the coming weeks.

Improvements as part of the London Streetspace plan

  • Creating new walking and cycling routes along major corridors, including temporary cycle lanes in Euston Road. TfL is also looking at creating temporary cycle lanes on Park Lane. Upgrades will also be made to existing routes including creating sections of temporary segregation from Merton to Elephant and Castle, and Pimlico to Putney. Space for cycling will be created between Catford town centre and Lewisham via the A21, and on the A23 between Oval and Streatham Hill.
  • The Cycleway 9 scheme between Kensington Olympia and Brentford, and the Cycleway 4 scheme between Tower Hill and Greenwich will be accelerated with temporary measures so the Londoners can benefit from them more quickly. Meanwhile on-street parking and lanes for cars and general traffic will be repurposed to give people on foot and on bikes more space.
  • Widening more pavements in town centres to allow people to access local essential shops and services more easily. Pavements will be widened in more than 20 locations, including in Brixton and Earl’s Court in the coming days.
  • Working to make walking and cycling in local neighbourhoods safer and more attractive by reducing the speed and volume of motor traffic. A low-traffic neighbourhood will be created in Hounslow along the future Cycleway 9 route by closing local roads to through traffic and further locations across London will follow, with TfL actively supporting boroughs to reduce motor traffic on residential streets to make walking and cycling safer and easier.

Khan said that working from home should continue where possible, but that the emergency measures will help those who need to travel for work.

’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,” he said.

’I urge the government and boroughs to work with us to enable Londoners to switch to cleaner, more sustainable forms of transport - and reduce the pressure on other parts of our transport network – once the lockdown is eased.”

TfL managing director of surface transport Gareth Powell added: ’As people are choosing to walk and cycle, both for their essential journeys and for exercise during the lockdown it is vital that they have the space to do so safely and are able to continue socially distancing.”

Sustrans London Head of Built Environment Giulio Ferrini stressed the importance of taking action to create a cleaner city.

‘As the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle, we’re excited to see ambitious plans at a London-wide and borough level,” he said. ’Bold actions from boroughs today can make a tangible difference to Londoners’ daily lives and will lead to a healthier, happier and fairer London as travel restrictions are lifted in the weeks to come.’

Specific measures of London Streetspace will be announced in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government’s Spaces for People initiative will be supported by a package of guidance and support to local authorities from Transport Scotland and Sustrans Scotland for improvements such as widened pavements and cycle lanes.

It comes as a replacement to the government’s Places for Everyone active travel infrastructure programme, which allows local authorities to design and apply for infrastructure funding. This year, up to £10 million is being reallocated to the Spaces for People initiative since the impact of Covid-19 means authorities do not have the capacity to apply for complex programmes.

Following a statement to the Scottish Parliament confirming the measures, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity Michael Matheson said: “’or our air quality, climate, health and particularly for our mental wellbeing at this time, walking and cycling remain our most beneficial form of transport.

‘We should all be encouraged by the increases we are seeing in cycling and this government will do what it can to continue to support this through our recovery and beyond.’

Transport Scotland data for the period 27 April - 3 May identifies a 55 per cent decrease in rail journeys, a 35 per cent increase in cycling and a 20 per cent increase in walking since its lockdown baseline, taken from 30 March - 5 April 2020.

Matheson said that it is ‘vitally important’ that people can physically distance for essential trips or for exercise.

Active Nation Commissioner for Scotland Lee Craigie added: ’It has taken this crisis for towns and cities across the world to realise the urgency with which space for walking, running, cycling and wheeling is needed, and especially in our urban areas.

‘It has never been more important that we look after our own health and the health of members of our society who have limited access to such spaces. When life resumes its usual pace, let’s not forget how good it feels to enjoy having more space to move freely.’

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