Boris Johnson spoke in parliament a month ago about the opportunity to create a new “golden age” of cycling. The fear, according to Lucy Greaves at her community cycling project in Bristol, is that the chance is already slipping away.
Urban roads that were so blissfully quiet during lockdown, encouraging many people on to bicycles, are starting to fill again with cars, vans and buses. A government pot of £225 million to turn road space over to pedestrians and cyclists has been open for bidding by local authorities for pop-up lanes and other schemes — but the worry is whether those measures will arrive soon enough for returning commuters to go to work on their bikes instead of getting back into their cars.
That the coronavirus outbreak has caused a unique opportunity for cycling is not in doubt. A survey by British Cycling of 2,000 adults, published this week, found that 19 per cent of commuters were more likely to cycle to work as the lockdown eased. However, 26 per cent said that they were more likely to drive to avoid public transport. Given that less traffic and quieter roads are key to keeping people on their new bikes, after a surge in sales since March, that is a problem.
Chris Boardman, the Olympic gold medallist is Greater Manchester’s first walking and cycling commissioner.
Boardman told The Times last month that the lockdown was an opportunity for cycling, adding “without wishing to sound melodramatic, this can change our lives for ever”. But he also warned of the challenges of persuading cautious local authorities to make quick and radical alterations to city roads. He welcomed pop-up lanes as a chance to experiment. Days later, Manchester city council, led by Sir Richard Leese, indicated that it did not believe pop-up measures were effective.
Mr Johnson is said to have become “evangelical” about cycling since discovering that obesity was a significant cause of the severity of his case of Covid-19. Those involved in cycling at the Department for Transport have suddenly found themselves able to jump to the front of the queue.
A letter sent to English local authorities last month inviting bids for £250 million of emergency active travel funding — £25 million of it for £50 cycle-repair vouchers — was unusually robust in warning that money could be demanded back if work was not started within four weeks of receiving funds, and completed within another eight weeks. Pop-up cycle lanes and wider pavements are among many of the proposals but there is also a belief in government that blocking all cars from some city centre roads with bollards, rather than looking at more complex alterations, is necessary for quick action and cultural change.
The deadline was June 5 and bids are being examined before what is expected to be a launch this month, accelerating what the government claims will become a £2 billion investment in cycling and walking.
Taking his lead from Downing Street, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has stressed that his department would be “speeding up the cycling revolution”. It was also announced this week that from next Monday local authorities in England will have new powers to use CCTV to issue penalty charge notices to drivers who block cycle lanes. Ministers have also been looking to activate power to councils to fine those who drive into cycle lanes. Source: The Times)