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Government gets tough on active travel

One year on from the groundbreaking 'Gear Change' report, the government has again released a salvo of key active travel activity.


Gear Change 2: A whirlwind of new directives from the Government

The Gear Change: One Year On report announced last week is the central document that holds all of the updates the government announced last week. Its key takeaways include:

  • £338m, for active travel funding in England (excluding London) which is a one third rise
  • “We will reduce funding to councils which do not take active travel seriously, particularly in urban areas. This includes councils which remove schemes prematurely or without proper evidence, and councils which never installed them in the first place. As Gear Change said, an authority’s performance on active travel will help determine the wider funding allocations it receives, not just on active travel. We will require more from all local authorities, urban or rural.” (For more on this, see our separate story on funding freezes for some London boroughs and new network guidance below)
  • “A new road safety strategic framework… It will draw on the ‘Safe Systems’ approach, and will consider how to improve road safety, and the perception of road safety, for vulnerable road users.”
  • Value of cycling retail in 2020 was £2.31 bn (Halfords says 37% of adults want to buy a bike in the next 6 months)
  • 12 “Mini Hollands” (like the programmes in Engield, Kingston and Waltham Forest, and an LCC idea from our Love London, Go Dutch campaign) outside London coming soon.
  • National e-cycle purchasing help programme coming autumn.
  • Wider powers for city mayors outside London to get power like Sadiq has over the city’s key road networks, planned for 2022
  • Franchising of waste collection by councils to be permitted – to cut the number of big vehicles servicing each road in competition with each other (as has been done in some parts of central London)
  • Infilling of damaged old rail bridges to be paused until active travel potential considered

The end of the NIMBYs?

Alongside Gear Change, the government issued new statutory guidance on “Network Management”. Every council has to pay close consideration to such guidance. And this new document is great. It basically tells councils they have to put in active travel schemes and that such schemes can only be pulled out if they really are failing, not just because some folks don’t like them.

The key paragraphs from the document read: “Trial or experimental schemes should be left in place… until at least 12 months’ traffic data is available and has been published. This will allow them to settle in and for changes in travel patterns and behaviours to become apparent so that an informed decision can be made. Adjustments may be necessary to take account of real-world feedback but the aim should be to retain schemes and adjust, not remove them, unless there is substantial evidence to support this.

“In assessing how and in what form to make schemes permanent, authorities should collect appropriate data to build a robust evidence base on which to make decisions. This should include traffic counts, pedestrian and cyclist counts, traffic speed, air quality data, public opinion surveys and consultation responses.

“Consultation and community engagement should always be undertaken whenever authorities propose to remove, modify or reduce existing schemes and whenever they propose to introduce new ones. Engagement, especially on schemes where there is public controversy, should use objective methods, such as professional polling… to establish a truly representative picture of local views and to ensure that minority views do not dominate the discourse. Consultations are not referendums, however. Polling results should be one part of the suite of robust, empirical evidence on which decisions are made.”

The assumption then is to put stuff in, get it right and not pull it out. And explicitly, if your council folds because some people don’t like a scheme, then it’s going against the spirit and letter of this statutory guidance.

No 10 gets active

What is most striking though in all these new documents is the tone – which many are linking to the approach and experience Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his right-hand man on transport, Andrew Gilligan, had when Mayor and Cycling Commissioner in London. And which in part comes from LCC’s campaigning in 2012 and beyond around active travel.

In Johnson’s forward to the Gear Change Update, the PM says “Of course some journeys by car are essential, but traffic is not a force of nature. It is a product of people’s choices. If you make it easier and safer to walk and cycle, more people choose to walk and cycle instead of driving, and the traffic falls overall. I support councils, of all parties, which are trying to promote cycling and bus use. And if you are going to oppose these schemes, you must tell us what your alternative is, because trying to squeeze more cars and delivery vans on the same roads and hoping for the best is not going to work.”

The document openly accepts concepts and evidence around not just “traffic evaporation” and “induced demand” that will probably have some at the DfT spitting out their tea, but also backs up data and evidence on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in one section with government opinion polling that shows LTNs are not the ‘culture war’ controversy many claim, with 61% of local residents supporting their nearest LTN, double the proportion that opposed, with 49% of those with mobility issues still supportive (36% opposed) and 58% of businesses supportive (42% opposed).


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