The UK government wants to encourage more people to walk and cycle to work, partly as a result of the social distancing guidelines imposed after the Corona emergency. But will it work in a country which famously has virtually no cycle infrastructure, apart from white lines on the roads?
Here’s the statement from HM Gov website;
Pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors will be created in England within weeks as part of a £250 million emergency active travel fund – the first stage of a £2 billion investment, as part of the £5 billion in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February.
Following unprecedented levels of walking and cycling across the UK during the pandemic, the plans will help encourage more people to choose alternatives to public transport when they need to travel, making healthier habits easier and helping make sure the road, bus and rail networks are ready to respond to future increases in demand.
The government will fund and work with local authorities across the country to help make it easier for people to use bikes to get around – including Greater Manchester, which wants to create 150 miles of protected cycle track, and Transport for London, which plans a “bike Tube” network above Underground lines. (IE Note – work has continued throughout the Covid-19 outbreak on extending Manchester’s cycleway scheme – Ed )
Fast-tracked statutory guidance, published today and effective immediately, will tell councils to reallocate roadspace for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. In towns and cities, some streets could become bike and bus-only while others remain available for motorists. More side streets could be closed to through traffic, to create low-traffic neighbourhoods and reduce rat-running while maintaining access for vehicles.
Vouchers will be issued for cycle repairs, to encourage people to get their old bikes out of the shed, and plans are being developed for greater provision of bike fixing facilities. Many more will take up the Cycle to Work scheme, which gives employees a discount on a new bike.
Responding to this afternoon’s announcement, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said:
“We welcome the Government’s approach to increasing safe cycling and active travel for people to get about, particularly as concerns about the safety of using public transport are likely to persist for some time.
“The success of new walking and cycling schemes will depend on how attitudes to using cars for short journeys have changed over recent weeks, and if those attitudes translate into people permanently switching to active forms of personal transport. The needs of all road users must therefore be carefully considered. For example, authorities will need to be careful about reducing road space in certain areas as they could end up creating problems if traffic demand outweighs those opting to use a bike.
“The additional funding allocated for electric vehicle charging infrastructure is much needed. While the proportion of drivers looking at purchasing an electric vehicle as their next car choice remains relatively low, interest is increasing. Charging infrastructure in the UK has improved significantly, though drivers still say this remains a barrier to them choosing an electric vehicle, alongside range and comparable cost to a similarly sized conventional vehicle.
“While drivers are lukewarm about the idea of having e-scooters on roads, they also often tell us they would like to have cheap, reliable alternative forms of transport so the Government is right to look at different ways for us to get around in congested cities. E-scooters could provide that alternative for short trips, though their safe use must always be the number-one priority.
For example, it makes sense that these devices have safety features like reflectors and speed limiters fitted, and that options such as insurance and training are carefully looked at to see if they can bring additional safety benefits.
(Hard to see how insurers can underwrite the PI risks involved long term, when people will inevitably lose their lives in busy traffic. The scooter can be covered as a gadget yes, but TP liability and PI up to two million for life changing injuries?- Ed)
The Department for Transport might also need to look at changes to the Highway Code to accommodate new forms of road transport.”
“The Transport Secretary said the car will continue to play a vital role and we also await further detail on his pledge to look at investing in wider road infrastructure, including using this period of lower traffic volumes to fix potholes on our local roads.”
Anyone who has cycled in Amersterdam or Copenhagen knows how far adrift the UK is in terms of safe, well-planned cycling infrastructure.
In the UK there are no cycle storage areas at shopping malls, or in most town centres, most workplaces have a single bike rack, which lacks decent security, no showers or kit lockers on site either – guess what, it rains in the UK so commuting by bike, or walking, means you get soaked, utterly soaked, at least ten tmes a year.
Having these green pipe-dream policies is great, but £2 billion will not create a useful cycle lane network in London, never mind Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff and many other large towns and cities.
Then there is the culture of cyclist hate online. Social media is full of comments where if you changed the word `cyclist’ to ‘BAME person’ the Police would be straight round to the Twiter/FB poster’s front door. The concept of shared roadspace in the UK is alien to many people, not just car owners, in Britain. There is a belief that cyclists are intrinsically a nuisance, a problem that must be dealt with, rather than a solution to traffic jams, packed public transport, and a plague of obesity that kills far more than Coronavirus ever will. Fact.
So the government’s proposals will bring about more anger, more social division, as commuters and residents see their roads closed off to cars, at least for part of the day, to make room for non-existent walkers or occasional buses ferrying pensioners to Aldi. The answer is to build a network of traffic light controlled cycling lanes, for bikes, and e-scooters, linking suburbs to town centres, shopping centres and leisure facilities. The places that people actually want to go to on a weekly basis – simple.
Having visited Amersterdam last year, and seen the vast number of people, of all ages, happily cycling wherever they like, parking in secure racks, and NOT wearing helmets because traffic is kept completely separate from bikes and e-scooters, I can see that the UK hasn’t really got their heads around the concept yet. Perhaps we never will.