Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today announced a £250m emergency active travel fund which will see pop-up bike lanes and other measures to improve cycling and walking created in England within weeks. The money is part of £5bn in funding for cycling and buses outside London that was announced in February. Shapps said £2bn of that is earmarked for active travel.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of a “new Golden Age of cycling” having previously told UK mayors that far more commuters would need to cycle when the nation begins to emerge from lockdown.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, Shapps urged people to walk and cycle more to take the pressure off roads and public transport.
“During this crisis, millions of people have discovered cycling - whether for exercise or as a means of safe, socially-distanced transport," he said.
"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.
“Otherwise, with public transport’s capacity severely restricted at this time, our trains and buses could become overcrowded and our roads gridlocked – holding up emergency services, critical workers and vital supplies.
“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.”
Maintaining the two-metre rule means buses, trains, trams and tubes will be able to carry far fewer passengers and it’s been estimated that transport capacity could be reduced by as much as 90 per cent.
Speaking last week, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman said that if just a fraction of those people switch to cars, the capital would grind to a halt.
The story is similar in other areas and the funding is therefore intended so that local authorities to improve roads for pedestrians and cyclists.
"The crisis has exposed how little space is allocated to people,” observed Cycling Commissioner for Greater Manchester, Chris Boardman.
"If we enable people to travel differently, we will protect them now during the crisis, and afterwards when the public health benefits of more people exercising and breathing in cleaner air kick in – that's how you protect the NHS."
Writing to Shapps earlier in the week, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Ruth Cadbury MP, urged him to act quickly and allocate funding to local authorities to widen pavements and add cycle lanes.
She said if such initiatives were implemented soon, “they will be less likely to bear the wrath of vehicle drivers complaining about cyclists and pedestrians taking road space. Continued positive messaging from the Government would of course be very welcome too.”
A coalition of nine environmental and transport pressure groups including Greenpeace and Cycling UK has also written to the government demanding a big increase in spending on walking and cycling.
"It would be completely absurd if, after the unprecedented efforts and sacrifices made to save thousands of lives from Covid-19, we allowed thousands more to be cut short by the devastating impacts of toxic pollution," they said.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said: “The last thing we want when lockdown ends is everyone jumping into their cars to drive to work because they’re concerned about taking public transport.
"Pop up cycle lanes and widened pavements are cheap and easy to implement solutions which will allow millions to move in safety, not just from the risks of motor traffic but also from the risks of catching coronavirus.”