Lockdown prompted thousands of new and lapsed cyclists to take to the streets, enjoying quieter roads and relishing the opportunity to embrace a healthier lifestyle, both for transport and leisure. How are central government and local authorities, such as Hampshire County Council, supporting this very welcome trend?
On July 10th, the Department for Transport invited local authorities to bid for tranche 2 funding from the Emergency Active Travel Fund. The deadline for bids is August 7th. Quoting from the letter sent by DfT:
“The objectives of the Emergency Active Travel Fund are to help local authorities implement measures to create an environment that is safer for both walking and cycling (both, not one or the other). This will allow cycling in particular to replace journeys previously made by public transport, and will have an essential role to play in the short term in helping avoid overcrowding on public transport systems. Longer term, it will also help deliver significant health, environmental and congestion benefits.”
The funding offered by DfT totals £225 million; £45 million already granted in tranche 1, and £180 million available in tranche 2. For Hampshire, the sums are £863,000 (tranche 1 – awarded) and £3,453,000 (tranche 2 – indicative). However, DfT has made it very clear that “the actual sums allocated will depend on how ambitious a council is willing to be.” In the first tranche, councils received differing proportions of their indicative allocations, ranging from 115% for the most ambitious authorities to 25% for the least ambitious.
Central government and some local authorities are showing a really encouraging positivity about investing in cycling projects, and not only temporary Covid-19 schemes.
In March, DfT published “Decarbonising Transport”; Grant Shapps stated in the foreword that “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities.” Later in the document we learn that “The Government is committed to increasing cycling and walking and making our roads safer for those who walk or cycle …. the Government’s ambition to make cycling and walking the natural choice for all shorter journeys or as part of a longer journey by 2040.”
In May, when launching the emergency fund, Shapps announced:
“We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities. According to the National Travel Survey, in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling.
Active travel is affordable, delivers significant health benefits, has been shown to improve wellbeing, mitigates congestion, improves air quality and has no carbon emissions at the point of use. Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits.
The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians.”
The guidance from DfT has been very clear that cycle lanes constructed under the emergency funding should be segregated:
“To receive any funding, authorities will need to satisfy the Department that they have swift and meaningful plans to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians. Schemes that do not meaningfully alter the status quo on the road will not be funded. All cycling schemes, permanent or temporary, will need to include segregation or point closures to through traffic: advisory cycle lanes, and those marked only with white paint, will not be funded.”
In response to the Covid-19 situation, and the emergency funding available, Hampshire County Council (the local authority responsible for Winchester’s streets) published an interim policy statement with laudable aspects. Among the type of schemes sought, they identified: cycling schemes that provide an alternative for short bus journeys, walking and cycling schemes to improve local access to key destinations, and additional cycle parking. A very welcome section of the policy highlighted the benefits of greater walking and cycling to town centre commerce, and allayed fears that reduced city centre parking space would hit High Street shopping: “TfL surveys found that shoppers who came by bus, cycling and walking, spent more over the month than people who drove.”
We find all of the above very encouraging. However, for all the fine words, the schemes rolled out in Winchester from tranche 1 funding have been deeply disappointing. Barriers installed in North Walls and Jewry Street appear only to implement social distancing for pedestrians. There is no segregation for cyclists, and little sign that temporary social distancing will migrate into permanent active travel. We don’t know whether the reason is shortage of resources, focus on schemes elsewhere in Hampshire, or lack of ambition. The latter would be very worrying, given the explicit need to demonstrate ambition to achieve (or exceed) the indicative funding in tranche 2.
Cycle Winchester has recently completed a campaign, ‘7 days of action’, to encourage residents to vote for some of the most valuable improvements that could encourage cycle use. The seven highlighted schemes are not some idealistic nirvana. They were selected with a view to rapid and low-cost implementation
In the remaining three weeks before bids close for tranche 2 funding, we urge Hampshire to raise the level of ambition in the schemes they propose – particularly targetting measures for cyclists whose needs have thus far been ignored – to ensure we secure the maximum funding available from DfT, and to Make Winchester Better by Bike.