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Getting Fit for Active Travel

Last week saw the announcement that Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman will become national commissioner for Active Travel England (ATE). The new body will be charged with improving infrastructure for cycling and walking and will award funding from the national active travel budget – and influence how other transport funding is awarded.

“ATE will also begin to inspect, and publish reports on highway authorities for their performance on active travel, and identify particularly dangerous failings in their highways for cyclists and pedestrians,” says a Government press release about the launch. ATE’s assessment of how local authorities perform on active travel will influence funding for other forms of transport, according to the Government’s Gear Change strategy published last year.

ATE will provide guidance and training to local authorities too. Inspiration could perhaps come from Greater Manchester, where Boardman was cycling and walking commissioner from 2017 and more latterly transport commissioner. In Greater Manchester, Boardman helped set up the first phase of the Bee Network, cycling and walking infrastructure which aims to eventually connect all the areas of the city region.

The Bee Network is a huge undertaking which will link into other modes of transport, deploying different measures for active travel lanes on different types of road: segregated routes on busy streets, special signage and crossings on quieter ones and prioritising some streets for cyclists and walkers. Manchester’s highway engineers have also created special CYCLOPS (Cycle Optimised Protected Signals) junctions, featuring green and red asphalt to demark routes for pedestrians and bikes.

ATE will also be a statutory consultee on major planning applications, tasked with making sure that large developments cater for cyclists and walkers. “We will set up our ability to act as a statutory consultee on all planning for anything over 150 houses. Anything that’s built in the future must have active travel in it,” Boardman told Cycling Weekly.

For local authorities looking to create more cycling and walking routes, one of the first steps is to introduce trials. Many local authorities tried this approach during the pandemic, with mixed results; some were forced to remove them after complaints from local residents and businesses.

Whether a trial lane or a permanent one, a comfortable ride which includes a smooth surface is one of the core requirements, according to the Government’s Cycle Infrastructure Design. Some of Thermal Road Repairs’ recent jobs have involved the repair of potholes and defects for new and trial cycle lanes, to ensure that cyclists are both comfortable and safe.

The Government also announced £5.5m more funding to add to the £2bn pot it announced last year. But that may not go too far. Greater Manchester reckons it will spend £1.5bn on its 10-year active travel programme.

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