The Government has outlined the key role active travel will play in the UK’s transition out of lockdown restrictions, backed by a new £2bn funding package.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday (9 May), transport secretary Grant Shapps stressed why a modal shift towards active travel was important to help maintain social distancing as people begin to return to work.
He noted that the country’s public transport system ‘cannot go back to where it left off’ – estimating it would only be able to operate at ‘a tenth of the old capacity’.
Mr Shapps urged commuters to consider active travel – with fears an increase in the number of people driving in order to avoid using public transport could lead to towns and cities becoming ‘gridlocked’.
To deliver this step-change, Mr Shapps announced a £2bn funding packing – the first stage of which is £250m for emergency safety measures, such as pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycle and bus-only streets.
The Government also published new guidance requiring councils in England to cater for ‘significantly-increased’ numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, and making it easier for them to create safer streets.
Mr Shapps said: “During the crisis, millions of people have discovered the benefits of active travel.
“In some places, there’s been a 70% rise in the number of people on bikes whether it’s for exercise, or necessary journeys, such as stocking up on food.
“So, while it’s still crucial that we stay at home, when the country does get back to work, we need those people to carry on cycling and walking, and to be joined by many more.
“Otherwise, with public transport capacity severely restricted, more cars could be drawn to the road and our towns and cities could become gridlocked.”
Putting active travel ‘at the heart of transport policy’
In March, the Government outlined its vision for a future where public transport and active travel will be the ‘natural first choice’ for daily activities – in order to reduce transport emissions.
At the time, Mr Shapps said reducing vehicle use could improve people’s health and create better places to live and travel.
During Saturday’s briefing, Mr Shapps reiterated this message – adding that over the next few months, further measures will be set out to make a ‘once in a generation’ change to the way people travel in Britain.
He confirmed a national cycling plan would be published in early June, helping the Government to reach its goal of doubling cycling and increasing walking by 2025.
Measures under consideration include tougher standards for cycling infrastructure, a new national cycling champion and closer links with the NHS – enabling GPs to prescribe cycling to improve fitness.
There are also plans for at least one ‘zero-emission city’, which would see the centre restricted to just bikes and electric vehicles – and for the creation of a long-term cycling programme and budget.
Mr Shapps also announced that trials of electric scooters are being fast-tracked – with every region able to take part.
The aim is to get e-scooter rental schemes up-and-running ‘as fast as possible’ – helping to reduce car use on shorter journeys, and taking some pressure off buses.
Mr Shapps explained these trials will help the Government assess the safety and benefits of e-scooters, together with their impact on public spaces.
He said: “This £2bn announcement represents the most significant package of cycling, walking and green travel by any British government.
“Clearly, it will never be possible to cycle, walk or e-scooter everywhere. Cars will remain an absolutely vital form of transport for many.
“And so in the coming days there will be further announcements about the huge investment we’re making in road and rail networks – taking advantage of their low usership during this COVID crisis.”