The government is proposing to reallocate roadspace to cyclists and pedestrians within weeks as the country prepares to emerge from lockdown. While addressing immediate challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also sees “an opportunity to make lasting changes”.
With public transport capacity severely constrained by the need to maintain social distancing, the government fears that the roads will become gridlocked if people travel by car instead. With over 40% of urban journeys being under two miles, the government believes that many more journeys could be undertaken on foot or by bicycle – a transition that will improve public health and support efforts to combat climate change.
During last Saturday’s Downing Street press conference Shapps announced that pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors will be created in England within weeks as part of a £250m emergency active travel fund. This funding the first stage of a £2bn investment, which is part of the £5bn in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February.
“We have accomplished so much over the past seven weeks of lockdown … Millions of households across the UK have changed their behaviour for the greater good,” said Shapps.
“Getting Britain moving again, whilst not overcrowding our transport network, represents another enormous logistical challenge.
“Yet this is a problem which presents a health opportunity too… an opportunity to make lasting changes that could not only make us fitter, but also better-off – both mentally and physically – in the long run.”
The government has published fast-tracked statutory guidance, effective immediately, “requiring councils in England to cater for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, and making it easier for them to create safer streets”.
An updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy will be launched by prime minister Boris Johnson in the summer, with further measures to transform cycling and walking to deliver the government’s aims to double cycling and increase walking by 2025 – including:
- The creation of a national cycling and walking commissioner and inspectorate.
- Higher standards for permanent infrastructure across England.
- Getting GPs to prescribe cycling and exercise.
- Legal changes to protect vulnerable road users.
- At least one “zero-emission city,” with its centre restricted to bikes and electric vehicles.
- Creating a long-term budget for cycling and walking, similar to what happens for roads.
Shapps said that the need to maintain social distancing means that “our public transport system cannot go back to where it left off”.
“Here is a very stark fact,” he said. “Even with public transport reverting to full service – once you take into account the two-metre social distancing rule – there would only be effective capacity for one in ten passengers on many parts of the network. Just a tenth of the old capacity.
“So, getting Britain moving again, while not overcrowding our transport network, is going to require many of us to think carefully about how and when we travel.”
The sustained reduction in public transport capacity will deprive operators of essential revenues beyond the lockdown period and the government is being asked to provide new funding.
Representing bus operators, the Confederation of Passenger Transport said yesterday: “Reduced capacity combined with extensive home working will mean greatly reduced fare revenue and sustained investment from government being required to ensure the costs of an expanded network can be delivered until passenger numbers return to normal levels.
“This funding needs to be delivered quickly and be flexible to react to alternations in the bus network as social distancing measures are relaxed or tightened.”
About the Author
This post was written by Robert Jack. Robert is Managing Editor and Publisher of Passenger Transport. He has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher in the passenger transport sector for 18 years. He has played a key role in many transport-related conferences and events.