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  • Gareth Davies

New Era for Cycling & Walking - Does This Herald a New Era? May 2020

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Sir Edward Elgar has a wry smile on his face. After all these years of cycling and walking being driven into the background, or the hedge on country lanes, it takes a virus and an emergency lockdown for the government to wake up to the fact that walking and cycling are good for the country, good for the individual and easy to self-regulate in respect of ‘social distancing’. Wow!

Even more interesting is the fact that the government recognises the fundamental link between walking and cycling and road safety. People are walking and cycling more during the lockdown for the simple reason there is far less traffic and hence far less risk from being killed or maimed by the car, van or lorry.

The result of such enlightenment is an unprecedented announcement by the Minister of Transport for a series of emergency measures to give cyclists and pedestrians a better chance in an environment dominated by the motor vehicle. Under the heading of Reallocating Road Space the Minister announced statutory guidance to local authorities on the 9th May.

He stated:

Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.

None of these measures are new – they are interventions that are a standard part of the traffic management toolkit, but a step-change in their roll-out is needed to ensure a green restart. They include:

  • Installing ‘pop-up’ cycle facilities with a minimum level of physical separation from volume traffic; for example, mandatory cycle lanes, using light segregation features such as flexible plastic wands; or quickly converting traffic lanes into temporary cycle lanes (suspending parking bays where necessary); widening existing cycle lanes to enable cyclists to maintain distancing. Facilities should be segregated as far as possible, i.e. with physical measures separating cyclists and other traffic. Lanes indicated by road markings only are very unlikely to be sufficient to deliver the level of change needed, especially in the longer term.

  • Using cones and barriers: to widen footways along lengths of road, particularly outside shops and transport hubs; to provide more space at bus stops to allow people to queue and socially distance; to widen pedestrian refuges and crossings (both formal and informal) to enable people to cross roads safely and at a distance.

  • Encouraging walking and cycling to school, for example through the introduction of more ‘school streets. Pioneered in London, these are areas around schools where motor traffic is restricted at pick-up and drop-off times, during term-time. They can be effective in encouraging more walking and cycling, particularly where good facilities exist on routes to the school and where the parents, children and school are involved as part of the scheme development.

  • Reducing speed limits: 20mph speed limits are being more widely adopted as an appropriate speed limit for residential roads, and many through streets in built-up areas. 20mph limits alone will not be sufficient to meet the needs of active travel, but in association with other measures, reducing the speed limit can provide a more attractive and safer environment for walking and cycling.

  • Introducing pedestrian and cycle zones: restricting access for motor vehicles at certain times (or at all times) to specific streets, or networks of streets, particularly town centres and high streets. This will enable active travel but also social distancing in places where people are likely to gather.

  • Modal filters (also known as filtered permeability); closing roads to motor traffic, for example by using planters or large barriers. Often used in residential areas, this can create neighbourhoods that are low-traffic or traffic free, creating a more pleasant environment that encourages people to walk and cycle, and improving safety.

  • Providing additional cycle parking facilities at key locations, such as outside stations and in high streets, to accommodate an increase in cycling, for example by repurposing parking bays to accommodate cycle racks.

  • Changes to junction design to accommodate more cyclists – for example, extending Advanced Stop Lines at traffic lights to the maximum permitted depth of 7.5 metres where possible.

  • Whole-route’ approaches to create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes into town and city centres.

  • Identifying and bringing forward permanent schemes already planned, for example under Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans, and that can be constructed relatively quickly.

The emergency active travel fund attracts £250 million of government funding. It’s a good start but not enough when you consider what the government wants local authorities to roll out in double quick time across the country. Can the local authorities come up trumps and grab the opportunity?

Richard Gregson of the Herefordshire Sustainable Transport Group makes some interesting comments about Hereford:

Looking at the Herefordshire Council’s map of cycle lanes reveals a disjointed and disconnected set of recommended cycle routes. There are many sections where the cycle routes vanish, or where the cyclist is required to dismount and walk to connect to another section of the route. The overall impression is that cycle routes have not been planned to facilitate the cyclist’s ability to cross the town easily, but have instead been planned from a car driver’s point of view, to remove the pesky cyclists from the road. If cycling is to be promoted, the cycle routes must connect.

The biggest worry that puts people off cycling is danger from motor traffic. Lorries, buses and cars are large scary objects that overtake cyclists often leaving a small gap between cyclist and vehicle. Traffic calming measures improve this situation by slowing traffic down. Speed humps are helpful, so too are chicanes where cyclists can pass on a dedicated cycle track on the inside of the chicane. There are many places where this could be introduced. Traffic backed up in a busy street is another problem where cyclists have to stop and hence breath in vehicle fumes, or cycle on the pavement or in the other lane risking collision with oncoming vehicles.

The government’s actions are certainly encouraging and laudable. The big question is can local transport authorities follow them through as quickly as the government wants and certainly before the end of lockdown. The danger in a post-lockdown situation is that the use of the car will increase substantially until confidence to use public transport returns.

And what about country areas. Herefordshire is a county with a vast network of unclassified lanes. Lanes that are a pleasure to cycle or walk along except for the danger from vehicles. There is in all probability a greater road safety risk than in the urban area, given the speed that vehicles travel. Some counties have already introduced blanked 50 mph speed restrictions on its primary routes. There is a clear case for a blanket 30 mph or even 20 mph restriction on unclassified lanes. Noticeably there is no mention of country lanes in the advice on 20 mph speed limits given by the government!

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