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The challenges of Active Travel schemes

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, active travel schemes are coming to a street near you soon. The Government has made its policy on the matter very clear with the promise of £2bn funding over 10 years under its Gear Change strategy. This month [JULY], the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking (APPGCW) has been hearing evidence which it will feed into the Government’s second cycling and walking investment strategy.

Many local authorities have been busy bidding for emergency active travel funding from the £2bn pot, the second tranche of which was launched in June 2021. Councils bidding for regeneration funding, such as Levelling Up, are also expected to explain how they will boost the green active transport agenda with their plans.

For authorities, the introduction of active travel schemes such as cycle lanes – which the Government now insists must be segregated if schemes are to attract funding – is a challenging task. While most people can appreciate the health benefits that more bike journeys and fewer cars could create, such proposals often attract opposition. Local businesses fear the impacts of congestion and retailers are concerned that fewer cars and a loss of roadside parking spaces will lead to a drop in revenues.

Some of the pop-up cycle lanes introduced over the lockdown periods have been hastily removed due to public fury over traffic jams next to empty cycle lanes. According to the Daily Mail, which reported stories of failed schemes under the headline ‘End the cycle lane madness’, one cycle lane in Greater Manchester had to be withdrawn after 48 hours.

One of the problems that the ‘emergency’ active travel schemes faced was a lack of time for planning and consultations. With more time to prepare, councils are finding ways to involve local residents and businesses in their plans. Grantham, for example, is going to run an initial version of its active travel scheme in the town centre for six months, adjusting the system based on experience and feedback.

When it comes to getting people on their bikes, councils face a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Without safe places to cycle, some cyclists won’t venture into urban environments. But if there aren’t enough cyclists using designated lanes, those opposing them will argue that they aren’t needed.

One thing we do know is that the Covid pandemic has caused a huge biking boom. According to trade body the Bicycle Association, the UK cycling market grew by £1bn in 2020, almost double what it was in 2019. That’s a lot of bikes.

At Thermal Road Repairs, we saw some of the councils we work for responding to increasing cycle use during the lockdown period. Our crews have been repairing road surfaces along pop-up cycle routes, smoothing out defects such as potholes and poorly reinstated utility trenches which can cause accidents. We have been repairing footpaths too.

Whether you’re a keen cyclist or a car driver frustrated by cyclists (or maybe both at different times), you have to agree that we need to find ways for cars, cyclists and walkers to co-exist more safely. Creating active transport strategies and schemes that allow this to happen without causing unpopular impacts is no mean feat. But it is one that many local authorities must tackle, sooner or later.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Low emission. Permanent solution.


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