The government has published a policy paper, Gear Change: A bold vision for cycling and walking, in which it states, “We want – and need – to see a step-change in cycling and walking in the coming years.” Complementing this is the long-awaited, radically-updated Cycle Infrastructure Design guide, which “sets out the much higher standards we will now require if schemes are to receive funding.”
The policy debate about whether cycling is a Good Thing is over. It’s now time to accelerate the construction of infrastructure to make it safe and convenient for as many people as possible to walk or cycle most short trips.
There is strong popular support for this. Only a small, if vocal, minority are opposed – in part because they underrate the benefits: more people walking and cycling means fewer cars on the roads, less congestion and cleaner air.
The key is to design and build cycling infrastructure as its own network, separate from footways and separate from all but low-speed, low-traffic roads. This will minimise the number and severity of conflicts between motor vehicles, cycles and pedestrians, so everyone can feel safe and confident, whatever their abilities.
Funding will no longer be given to paint white lines on roads: “Cyclists must be physically separated and protected from high volume motor traffic, both at junctions and on the stretches of road between them.” Nor will it be given for schemes that shunt cycles onto pavements: “On urban streets, cyclists must be physically separated from pedestrians.”
Active Travel England, a new commissioning body and inspectorate, will give teeth to the new policies. It is to have the power to recall funds if a local authority spends them on a non-compliant scheme. It will also be a statutory consultee within the planning system to ensure developments incorporate the new design standards.
We now need local authorities to lead an informed and inclusive debate about how we will reallocate space in urban, suburban and rural areas to create or widen pavements where they are missing or too narrow; and build protected cycle lanes, new paths and cut-throughs to connect all parts of our cities, towns and villages.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 5 August 2020.