Active travel – cycling and walking – has been brought to the forefront by the pandemic. Now there is the need to build on the progress made during the initial lockdown, reports Laura Laker
As the global pandemic raged, forcing restrictions on citizens’ movements and fundamental changes to our daily lives, the Government announced what seemed a sea change in how we move about, day-to-day.
‘Gear Change’ was Boris Johnson and his team’s long-term vision for cycling and walking in England.
Meanwhile, an emergency active travel fund (EATF) would help protect social distancing on streets, enable safe daily exercise and fend off a post-Covid boom in car use.
Gear Change was a raft of measures to switch everyday trips to active travel modes.
These included new tougher design standards for cycling and walking infrastructure, a re-announcement of “thousands of miles of protected cycle routes in towns and cities”, and heralded a new inspectorate, Active Travel England, to manage the programme and help ensure quality standards are met.
Also announced were a long-awaited Highway Code review to better protect vulnerable road users, universal cycle training to include adults, funding for cycle parking, 12 showcase cycling and walking zones or ‘Mini-Hollands’, and low traffic neighbourhoods.
There was even talk of a “national e-bike programme”, along with £50 vouchers for bike repairs, and additional funding for a mobile cycle repair programme, delivered by national cycling charity, Cycling UK – as well as a trial “cycling on prescription” scheme.
For those familiar with London, all these will seem familiar, some of it mirroring what Johnson, as London mayor, and Andrew Gilligan as his cycling commissioner, implemented in the capital between 2012-2016.
Now the pair, with a much larger remit, a larger team and bigger challenges, are looking to harness a growing national desire for active travel, along with a pressing need to prevent gridlock as people seek to avoid public transport.
The document set out four main themes:
1 Better streets for cycling and people.
2 Cycling at the heart of decision-making.
3 Empowering and encouraging local authorities.
4 Enabling people to cycle, and protecting them when they do.
This could also be interpreted as infrastructure, politics and behaviour change, i.e. a vision to fundamentally alter the way we view and plan for active travel as well as how often we do it.
The question is, are we ready for it, as a nation, and are we in a position to deliver it?