If a week is a long time in politics, how about three years? That’s how long we’ll have to wait to read the full report commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) into cycling and walking schemes paid for under the Active Travel Fund, introduced last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the meantime, the DfT says that it is due to receive a “baseline report” of schemes that will be included in the study by December 2022 – still 12 months away.
The charity Cycling UK, which has mounted legal challenges to schemes put in place with the help of emergency funding but removed before they could be properly evaluated – protected cycle lanes in Shoreham by Sea in West Sussex and on London’s Kensington High Street being two cases in point – has said that pending publication of the full report, the government needs to be clear over what it expects from local authorities in terms of such infrastructure, and what consequences they face should they be dismantled without adequate assessment of how effective they are.
In a written question, Damien Moore, the Tory MP for Southport, asked “What recent assessment [the DfT] has made of congestion levels in areas where Active Travel Fund projects have been implemented.”
Replying on behalf of the government, Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It is for local authorities to manage their roads and to ensure that the active travel schemes they install are designed in such a way as to take into account the needs of all road users.
“The Department requires all local authorities to monitor and evaluate the impacts of their active travel schemes.
“It takes time, however, to understand the long-term impacts of new cycling infrastructure, both on rates of cycling and on the flow of other traffic.
“The Department has commissioned a formal national evaluation of the Active Travel Fund (ATF) which will consider this matter in some detail.
“A baseline report of schemes selected for evaluation is scheduled to be received by the Department in December 2022,” he added. “This will be followed by a final report in late 2024.”
Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, urged Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to be clear in what the government expects from local authorities in terms of active travel schemes – and what consequences they will face if they remove them before there has been adequate opportunity to evaluate their effectiveness.
He told road.cc: “If the baseline report isn’t going to published until December 2022, and final report not until late 2024, the crucial question is what local authorities are expected to do in the interim?
“Can they adopt with impunity the West Sussex and Kensington approach, removing schemes within weeks without proper evaluation, or will that have consequences in terms of future funding or the retention of their traffic management powers?
“And what happens if local authorities now press pause on schemes pending the evaluation of the fund?
“If we’re waiting three years for a final report, the Secretary of State must spell out unequivocally what he expects from local authorities regarding active travel schemes, but also the consequences if and when they ignore him, and he then has to act when they do.
“It shouldn’t be down to Cycling UK, as we’re doing with West Sussex, to hold councils to account when they treat active travel schemes as an optional extra, making up their own rules about evaluation and removal in defiance of both government policy and the statutory guidance,” he added.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.