Transport secretary Grant Shapps says that encouraging people to cycle to work will form a key part of the government’s plans to ease England out of the lockdown imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, and is expected this week to announce funding to enable councils to introduce pop-up cycle lanes.
Interviewed by Sophy Ridge on Sky News yesterday, the cabinet minister said there had been a “massive increase in active transport, in cycling” as well as a boom in sales of bikes through the Cycle to Work scheme.
And with the government grappling with how to ensure social distancing can be guaranteed on public transport once the current restrictions on movement are relaxed and non-essential shops and businesses, as well as schools, reopen, Shapps suggested that encouraging active travel may form an important part of its plans.
He said: “I’m going to be saying more about that shortly because active transport — keeping people off public transport and getting to work under their own steam — that could be a very important part of this recovery as well.”
Pop-up cycle lanes and other reallocations of roadspace away from motor vehicles towards cyclists and pedestrians are beginning to appear in some London boroughs and in English cities such as Leicester, while last week Transport Scotland announced £10 million in funding that councils there could bid for to introduce temporary cycle lanes.
Similar measures are already in force or have been announced in a number of locations worlkdwide including Berlin, Milan, Paris, New York City and Bogota.
The government is reported to be looking at allowing shops, offices and other workplaces that are currently shut to resume operations from 26 May, and for schools to reopen from 1 June.
Shapps said however that any easing of the restrictions would need to be accompanied by staggered working hours to avoid the morning and evening peaks that could result in overcrowding on public transport.
Currently, under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (separate legislation exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), people can only leave their homes if they have a “reasonable excuse.”
Those include “to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household" and “to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living.”
As we’ve noted before, “the emergency powers are vague and leave plenty of room for the government to interpret them and re-interpret them in any way that suits the situation.”
However, it's clear from some media reports that there is still widespread confusion about the circumstances in which people can currently leave their homes under the regulations, which came into force on 26 March and are due to have their second three-weekly review this Thursday.
The Mail on Sunday reported yesterday that people may be permitted to exercise more than once a day, and to drive to the countryside to go for a walk and stopping for a picnic while doing so.
While deaths due to COVID-19 continue to rise – the UK is expected to overtake Italy this week as the second worst-hit country globally after the US – the newspaper quoted a ‘senior government source’ as saying :“Thanks to the huge efforts of the British public we are past the peak of the virus without the NHS having been overwhelmed.
“Now we can start to look at which elements of the social distancing rules can be adjusted while keeping the rate of transmission down, so we are looking at how to lift everyone’s spirits by allowing the public to get into the great outdoors."
But as previously reported on road.cc, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance to police forces in England on enforcing the current legislation already says that such activities are likely to be considered as a “reasonable” excuse for leaving the home.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.