Government plans to boost active travel to relieve pressure on public transport during the pandemic have been welcomed but road campaign groups have urged for safety to be a top priority.
Announced over the weekend, the Department for Transport measures will see a £250m emergency active travel fund that will enable alternative ways to travel, such as walking and cycling.
The fund will be used to enable local authorities in England to create pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors. Examples of work include in Greater Manchester, where the councils want to create 150 miles of protected cycle track, and Transport for London, which plans a “bike Tube” network above Underground lines.
Funding will also be available directly to cyclists, including vouchers for cycle repairs, and a push on the existing Cycle to Work scheme, which gives employees a discount on a new bike.
The work will in turn help public transport networks that are already restricted and subject to concerns over current and future overcrowding.
The funding is part of a £2bn package to create a “new era for cycling and walking”, which comes under the £5bn in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February.
An updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy will follow 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.
Transport Secretary Grant 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.”
He added: “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.”
The Government is also fast-tracking plans for e-scooter trials and working alongside the tech sector to see how technology could be used to help commuters stagger their journeys and advise on alternative modes of travel. Potential solutions could include mobile phone apps warning when public transport is particularly busy or advising on a quieter time to travel, allowing people to flex their hours and prevent the transport network from being overburdened.
The plans on active travel have been welcomed by Brake, which has warned of the road risks of increased car travel whcn lockdown restrictions lift. Director of campaigns Joshua Harris said: “This horrific pandemic has caused a huge amount of pain and damage but we must learn what we can from it and it is clear that people value cleaner, quieter, and safer streets – it is incumbent on the Government to grasp this unique opportunity and make a permanent change to the way we get about.
“We look forward to the announcement by the Prime Minister in the summer, setting out further details, and urge him to focus investment on safe infrastructure for cycling and walking. Our streets need to be designed for the needs of people, not motor traffic.”
IAM RoadSmart has also warned that cars and motorcycles will still be many people’s first choice of transport outside main urban areas when the current rules are eased.
Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s research and policy director, said: “We don’t really know what the new normal for transport will look like and many surveys suggest drivers can’t wait to get back into their cars. Outside London, the car dominates travel to work and leisure journeys as the transport mode of choice.
“With the anticipated limitations on public transport use and the need to avoid overcrowding to minimise the risk of a second spike of coronavirus infections, clearly there will be a need to consider alternative forms of transport. Our concern is that it seems a little premature to plan the future of transport when everything is still closed and demand is unknown.”
Greig also warned that driving and riding skills will be even more essential if car and motorcycle use rises: “More highly skilled and confident drivers and riders will not only make the changes to our road network and transport choices safer, it will also help to minimise the risk of overloading the NHS and other emergency services. It is also essential that the role and value of training is not forgotten and the government roadmap includes a dialogue on how we can share our expertise safely in the new normal.”