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Time running out for councils on new 'pop-up' cycle lanes

Councils have weeks left to make space for walking and cycling under emergency measures

Time is rapidly running out for councils to make space for walking and cycling via pop-up bike lanes and pavements, to avoid gridlock from people rushing to private cars to avoid public transport, say campaigners.

Under new emergency statutory guidance released in May, Government told councils to reallocate road space for active travel as part of COVID-19 mitigation measures, particularly where public transport levels are high – and £250m was allocated to all English councils to do this. However not all councils have made plans public yet, and although this doesn't mean officials aren't making plans yet to be made public, if don’t spend the money within the coming weeks, funding could be withdrawn.

In its guidelines the Government warned councils must create space for cycling as people return to work, to avoid excessive road traffic levels. The longer councils take the more cars will fill the available road space – and this is already happening.

Chris Boardman told the Times there were two weeks to set the transport agenda for the next two decades.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK head of advocacy and campaigns, says: “With lockdown restrictions starting to be relaxed and motor traffic increasing, time is rapidly running out for local authorities to install temporary bike lanes and wider pavements – councils need to act now, not tomorrow. Those that don’t will squander this golden opportunity to change the way people move in our towns and cities.”

Cycling UK says to get people cycling for the 68% of UK trips of less than five miles, people need to feel safe. “Encouragement is not enough,” says Dollimore. “Councils have to put the infrastructure in place to make cycling and walking realistic options.”

Rachel White, Head of Public Affairs at Sustrans, calls the coming month “critical for local authorities”.

“The Statutory guidance calls for temporary measures to be put in place swiftly and meaningfully, and finished within eight weeks or the Government has the right to withdraw part or all of the allocated funding,” she says.

White says while councils can accelerate existing cycling and walking plans, which can be made permanent if people like them, “chronic underfunding” of active travel means some local authorities will need more help developing and deploying plans than others.

South Gloucester council removed a temporary bike lane after just five days this week following complaints it was causing congestion. Cycling UK says the new infrastructure wasn’t in place long enough to change travel behaviour, however.

Dollimore said: “More people are turning to private car use over public transport, which means more congestion. The longer councils leave it, the less chance they will have to enable people to walk or cycle instead.”

Funding has already been allocated to local authorities by government, and the list was published last week. All UK councils will receive money, via their local road authority, and all they need to do at this stage is fill in a simple form by Friday.

Councils that have not yet announced plans may still intend to implement emergency bike lanes, and they don't need to submit details to government yet. However, as the money will be allocated in three tranches, if councils aren't able to implement plans and spend the first instalment in time, they won’t receive the second or third – and local people hoping for safe places to cycle will lose out. 

The Department for Transport's Rupert Furness wrote to councils last week telling them walking and cycling are “essential” forms of transport that can “help us avoid overcrowding on public transport systems as we begin to open up parts of our economy.”

As Forbes reported, Furness wrote: “We have a window of opportunity to act now to embed walking and cycling as part of new long-term commuting habits and reap the associated health, air quality and congestion benefits.” He suggested "point closures" - closing neighbourhood streets to through traffic as well as main road protected cycle routes, that could later be made permanent.

Cycling UK is calling on those who want safe cycling routes to tell their council via an online letter.

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