The UK has been promised a biking revolution for many years. In 1996, then-transport minister Steve Norris enthused about quadrupling biking journeys by 2012. Equally, former prime minister David Cameron promised a “biking revolution” in 2013 which fizzled out as funding did not observe. Little has modified for over 50 years. Over this time, biking journeys have been in steep decline. The identical is true of strolling. Solely not too long ago has there been a small enhance in cycle use.
However streets empty of automobiles throughout lockdown meant that lively journey grew to become enticing to a level not seen for many years. Proof from Scotland, the place I’m primarily based, reveals a altering sample of journey behaviour from March onwards, with 9% of these surveyed saying that they had been strolling and biking extra and 62% saying that they had been driving much less. Automotive use is now again up close to pre-March ranges however this may increasingly nicely change as winter – and the second wave – progresses.
Nationwide campaigns are being run encouraging folks to cycle or stroll relatively than take public transport in an try and cease COVID spreading. Small scale funding has been launched throughout the UK. Measures embrace widened pavements, pop-up cycle lanes – typically re-allocations of street area from two lane carriageways – and 20mph velocity limits.
This will likely make a distinction for some residing and travelling alongside explicit corridors the place area has been protected, but it surely received’t assist most who may ponder strolling extra typically or beginning biking: analysis reveals that they need an entire, perceivably secure community. And importantly, the present protection of COVID-19 insurance policies to assist lively journey are very a lot patchwork, with many gaps. Some appear to be being carried out the place schemes could be put in rapidly, relatively than the place they’re wanted most.
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It’s comprehensible that schemes could have their pitfalls – having, in spite of everything, been put in extremely rapidly. The hope is that, over time, longer routes will begin to be created and networks shaped. However the second have to be seized: the coronavirus disaster gives an actual alternative to revolutionise lively journey within the UK – with the potential for widespread well being, social and environmental advantages.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem like that is the case: in October the Transport Secretary appeared to backtrack, writing to native authority leaders instructing them to “stability the wants of cyclists and pedestrians with the wants of different street customers, together with motorists and native companies”. Contemplating ongoing discouragement of using public transport there clearly must be some vital and clear assist for lively journey if solely to cease city areas from reaching gridlock if extra folks really feel there is no such thing as a selection however to drive.
And the methods to attain this should not speculative – they’ve been completed earlier than, and within the UK.
1. 20-minute neighbourhoods
The idea of the 20-minute neighbourhood encapsulates the concept that every little thing you want for day-to-day residing must be inside a 20-minute stroll.
Persuading folks to remain native is straightforward sufficient to attain in cities and cities as a result of most city localities have already got sufficient outlets and facilities inside a 20-minute stroll. Energetic journey could be inspired by putting in modal filters: street blocks or planters put in in residential streets that cease rat-running, forcing most motorised visitors on to most important roads whereas giving direct route entry and benefits to these on foot or biking.
This encourages folks away from ordinary automobile use to a norm of strolling or biking. It additionally helps rebuild communities: folks begin to see one another routinely on the road, permitting neighbours to attach and construct belief.
COVID-19 response funds might make a significant contribution right here. Variations of 20-minute neighbourhoods have been carried out within the UK. Most well-known is London borough Waltham Forest’s Mini-Holland scheme, the place over 50 aspect street junctions have been reworked into “steady footways” lately. Pedestrians have precedence over automobiles. Cycle hubs have been established at native practice stations. Modal filters discourage through-traffic. In comparison with areas elsewhere in London the place such schemes have been carried out extra slowly, in Walthamstow common survey contributors elevated their lively journey by 41 minutes per week.
2. Faculty avenue closures
Faculty runs have been a spotlight of consideration in transport coverage for over 30 years. How do you obtain excessive ranges of lively journey whereas charges of automobile possession are rising and extra dad and mom are in work? Most earlier interventions have relied on encouraging folks to vary their behaviour with out altering the bodily atmosphere. As native champions and eager college employees transfer on, these schemes have typically failed.
Enter college avenue closures: merely shut the street to motorised visitors forward of the beginning and shut of the college day. I used to be positively stunned after I undertook a evaluation of the proof earlier this yr. Regardless of the street closures solely making use of to 1, two or three roads straight outdoors main colleges, the outcomes demonstrated vital reductions in automobile use and a corresponding rise in lively journey. As well as, no vital street security issues arose, akin to automobile migration to neighbouring streets.
3. Scale it up
Each of those examples are comparatively easy to attain. However constant city and city-wide schemes are wanted, and these are trickier. But, final yr, my colleagues and I recognized a number of profitable previous such schemes, inside the UK, that offered larger assist and security for pedestrians and cycle customers.
The Sustainable Journey Cities (2004-9) was one such scheme. Three city programmes put in place a spread of initiatives aiming to encourage extra use of non-car choices. The methods adopted included the event of a powerful model; journey consciousness campaigns; promotion of public transport, biking and strolling; and college and office journey planning. Automotive mileage per particular person was decreased by as much as 10%, in comparison with a nationwide development of lower than a 1%.
How a lot did that price the taxpayer? A miserly £10 million shared throughout the cities. Scaling this up could be an actual discount, particularly in comparison with the poor worth for cash of the billions spent on roads, and would enable the UK to lastly ship an actual revolution in native journey behaviour.