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Councils in England face big challenges for active travel

Councils in England face big challenges for active travel

The UK Government has published its new plans for active travel in England. Although the document is titled Gear Change – A bold vision for cycling and walking, it is chiefly a manifesto for cycling (‘cycling’ is mentioned 143 times, ‘walking’ just 75 times). But it is bold. And local authorities will be held to account for its delivery.

We’ve banged on before about the need to act now in order to embed the healthier and greener behaviours adopted under lockdown restrictions, so we were delighted to see the Government echo that as ‘a once-in-a-generation chance to accelerate active travel’:

The recent COVID-19 restrictions have profoundly impacted the way people live, work and travel as evidenced by the public’s desire to be more active, and the rise in popularity of cycling and walking (Sport England, 2020). Now, we can embed those changes in people’s travel behaviour, increase active travel, and transform permanently how many people move around, particularly in towns and cities.

The opportunity is huge, but it is also time limited – without intervention, people will likely slip back to old behaviours. We need to act now.

From next year, a new body – Active Travel England – will be responsible for both commissioning and inspecting local provision for walking and cycling. In fact, its assessment of active travel will also influence the funding a council receives for other forms of transport:

Since active and sustainable travel will be at the heart of our policy, Active Travel England’s assessment of an authority’s performance with respect to sustainable travel outcomes, particularly cycling and walking, will be taken into account when considering funding allocations for local transport schemes.

It’s going to be a wake-up call for many local authorities, who will find themselves having to completely re-think their approach. For example, councils that have put in temporary markings for cycle lanes will be expected to make them permanent. They will also have to physically separate cyclists from pedestrians on urban streets, and not force them onto the same paths. And they will be expected to keep footpaths and cycle paths free from ice in the winter, as they do with roads.

There is a commitment here that feels new. It is the first time, for example, that I have heard a Government tell local authorities that the people designing the cycling infrastructure must cycle it themselves.

The document includes the Government’s 22 principles for cycle infrastructure design. We have summarised it for you here:

  1. Cycle infrastructure should be accessible to everyone from 8 to 80 and beyond
    It should be planned and designed for everyone. The opportunity to cycle in our towns and cities should be universal.
  2. Cycles must be treated as vehicles and not as pedestrians
    On urban streets, cyclists must be physically separated from pedestrians and should not share space with pedestrians. Where cycle routes cross pavements, a physically segregated track should always be provided. At crossings and junctions, cyclists should not share the space used by pedestrians but should be provided with a separate parallel route.
  3. Cyclists must be separated from heavy traffic
    Cyclists must be physically separated and protected from high volume motor traffic, both at junctions and on the stretches of road between them.
  4. Side streets may be used in some circumstances
    Side street routes, if closed to through traffic to avoid rat-running, can be an alternative to segregated facilities or closures on main roads – but only if they are truly direct.
  5. Cycle infrastructure should be designed for significant numbers of cyclists, and for non-standard cycles
    Our aim is that thousands of cyclists a day will use many of these schemes.
  6. Cycling provision will influence future funding applications
    Consideration of the opportunities to improve provision for cycling will be an expectation of any future local highway schemes funded by Government.
  7. Largely cosmetic interventions will not be funded
    Largely cosmetic interventions which bring few or no benefits for cycling or walking will not be funded from any cycling or walking budget.
  8. Cycle infrastructure must join together
    Cycle infrastructure must join together, or join other facilities together by taking a holistic, connected network approach which recognises the importance of nodes, links and areas that are good for cycling.
  9. Cycle parking must be included in substantial schemes
    Particularly in city centres, trip generators and (securely) in areas with flats where people cannot store their bikes at home. Parking should be provided in sufficient amounts at the places where people actually want to go.
  10. Schemes must be legible and understandable
    Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike must be in no doubt where the cycle route runs, where the pedestrian and vehicle space is and where each different kind of user is supposed to be.
  11. Schemes must be clearly and comprehensively signposted and labelled
    Users must feel like they are being guided along a route. They should not have to stop to consult maps or phones.
  12. Major ‘iconic’ items, such as overbridges must form part of wider, properly thought-through schemes
    There is sometimes a temptation to build costly showpiece structures in isolation without thinking enough about the purpose they truly serve and the roads and routes which lead to them.
  13. As important as building a route itself is maintaining it properly afterwards
    Routes must be maintained and cleared regularly, even in winter.
  14. Surfaces must be optimal in all weathers
    Surfaces must be hard, smooth, level, durable, permeable and safe in all weathers.
  15. Trials can help achieve change and ensure a permanent scheme is right first time
    This will avoid spending time, money and effort modifying a scheme that does not perform as anticipated.
  16. Access control measures, such as chicane barriers and dismount signs, should not be used
    They reduce the usability of a route for everyone, and may exclude people riding nonstandard cycles and cargo bikes.
  17. The simplest, cheapest interventions can be the most effective
    Perhaps the single most important tool to promote cycling may be the humble bollard, used to prevent through traffic. It is relatively inexpensive and can be erected quickly.
  18. Cycle routes must flow, feeling direct and logical
    Users should not feel as if they are having to double back on themselves, turn unnecessarily, or go the long way round.
  19. Schemes must be easy and comfortable to ride
    Cycling is a physical effort. Schemes should not impose constant stopping and starting or unnecessary level changes.
  20. All designers of cycle schemes must experience the roads as a cyclist
    Those who design schemes should travel through the area on a cycle to understand how it feels – and experience some of the failings described above, to understand why they do not work.
  21. Schemes must be consistent
    Strenuous efforts should be made to avoid inconsistent provision, such as a track going from the road to the pavement and then back on to the road.
  22. When to break these principles
    In rare cases, where it is absolutely unavoidable, a short stretch of less good provision rather than jettison an entire route which is otherwise good will be appropriate. But in most instances it is not absolutely unavoidable and exceptions will be rare.

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