Boris Johnson unveils £2billion increase for walking and cycling infrastructure
The package will fund a range of initiatives, including improvements to cycle paths and walking paths, the rollout of bike racks, training in cycling skills and a national e-bike program.
Most of the tabloid coverage of the ad is about a new bike repair scheme, in which any member of the public in England can apply for a £50 voucher, to be redeemed at a company offering bike repair services. The Department for Transport (DfT) has not yet announced how many vouchers it will issue, but warns the scheme is “limited”. It is hoped that the program will encourage people with disused bicycles to use them again instead of choosing a car for short trips.
Other newspapers are leading on new measures that will allow NHS GPs to prescribe cycling to patients. The scheme, whereby bikes for hire will be donated free of charge by doctors’ surgeries, is being tested in areas of England where public health is considered to be worse than average.
But elsewhere, the package includes a multi-million pound plan to build protected cycle lanes in towns and villages – 12 of which will receive “crash funding” to create super low-traffic, ultra-cyclist-friendly areas, dubbed ‘Mini Holland’s. Changes have also been made to the standards for new cycling infrastructure, with the aim of ensuring that new infrastructure is safer and of higher quality than the UK’s existing stock, with future changes planned for the rules of the road.
It also transfers funds to local authorities to create ‘school streets’ – roads where car use is prohibited or restricted during school hours – and to crack down on traffic offences. Metropolitan mayors also benefit from greater participation in decision-making processes for major road networks.
Finally, the package includes a commitment for the DfT to roll out a national e-bike program by the end of 2020. Under this program, older people, those with pre-existing medical conditions affecting their fitness level can lend electric bikes. bicycles at reduced prices.
Johnson called the package “the Conservative Party’s biggest and boldest plans to boost active travel” and said its overarching goal was to ensure “everyone can experience the transformative benefits of cycling”.
“We have a unique opportunity to create an attitude change for generations to come and inspire more people to choose to cycle or walk as part of their daily routine,” said the Transport Secretary, Grant Shaps.
Between the start of the lockdown on March 23 and mid-April, vehicle kilometers traveled (VMT) in the UK fell to the lowest level since records began, dropping 56% in just one week.
Similar travel trends have been documented across continental Europe, with citizens told to work from home and non-essential businesses ordered to shut down.
Taking note of this, national governments and local authorities in continental Europe, including those in Italy/Milan, have strengthened plans for cycling infrastructure and bicycle rental schemes.
There were fears that emissions from transport – which overtook electricity generation to become the UK’s highest emitting sector in 2016 – would rebound from the lockdown without adequate government investment in active travel and public transport. Indeed, the first half of June saw a rapid increase in emissions and air pollution attributable to road transport.
Johnson’s new measures aim to “lock in” the reductions in emissions and air pollution achieved as a result of the pandemic. He and his ministers are now called upon to draw up an equally ambitious package for public transport.
Among the organizations lobbying ministers is Greener Journeys, which this week published a cost-benefit analysis of investing in local bus services post-lockdown. Conducted in partnership with KPMG, the research shows how £2bn of central government investment would generate 425m more bus journeys outside Greater London every year, an increase of 20%.
Every pound of this investment would generate £4.48 in wider social, economic and environmental benefits, according to the research, with cost savings likely to be generated for the NHS and in the form of conserved natural capital .
The DfT is currently developing a national bus strategy and has said the policy package will be published by the end of 2020. It is also continuing work on its roadmap to decarbonise “every mode of transport” in line with the National Network 2050 .zero goal.
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