Active travel to help the UK ‘emerge from coronavirus crisis’

The Government has outlined the key role active travel will play in the UK’s transition out of lockdown restrictions, an issue which carries significant importance in the Capital.

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’.

This issue is particularly prevalent in the Capital – where  it is anticipated the number of commuters using buses and tubes could fall by as much as 40% from pre-lockdown levels.

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.

The London Streetspace programme
Last week, authorities unveiled plans to create temporary cycle lanes and close roads to through traffic to support an ‘unprecedented’ rise in active travel once lockdown restrictions are eased.

Early modelling by TfL suggests there could be a 10-fold increase in cycling and five-fold increase in walking – as Londerners shun public transport due to social distancing concerns.

The ‘London Streetspace’ programme, announced by mayor of London Sadiq Khan and TfL on 6 May, sets out to rapidly repurpose London’s streets in order to accommodate this growth.

The programme focuses on three areas, including the fast-tracked construction of a strategic cycling network – with new routes aimed at reducing crowding on underground and train lines, and on busy bus corridors.

A ‘complete transformation’ of local town centres will also take place, with wider footways among the measures to enable local journeys to be safely walked and cycled where possible.

The final element of the plan is to reduce traffic on residential streets, creating low-traffic neighbourhoods.

12 May 2020