Gear Change vision for cycling and walking

28th July 2020

Birmingham Blue cycle route
Birmingham Blue cycle route

The government's plans to boost walking and cycling are announced today. Gear Change, A Bold Vision for cycling and walking, was published last night. There are also new principles for cycle infrastructure design, and a consultation on changes to the Highway Code.

Government press release

The government's press release today is headed 'PM kickstarts £2bn cycling and walking revolution'.

The main themes of the press release are:

The thinking is that we should tackle the causes of ill health, not just the symptoms, and cycling benefits physical and mental health. The plans announced aim to build on the increase in cycling during the pandemic. It is intended to be a comprehensive, long-term vision to increase active travel.

Boris Johnson is quoted as follows:

"From helping people to get fit and healthy and lowering risk of illness, to improving air quality and cutting congestion, cycling and walking have a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges we face."

Grant Shapps said:

"We've got a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a shift in attitudes for generations to come, and get more people choosing to cycle or walk as part of their daily routine."

The funding available is still the same £2bn already announced in May, but the press release does add that there's to be a long-term cycling programme and budget.

Standards for cycling infrastructure are to be improved through updated guidance published today. The press release states:

"...higher standards will make clear that schemes which consist mainly of paint, which makes pedestrians and cyclists share the same space, or which do not make meaningful changes to the status quo on the road, will not be funded. These standards will be overseen by a new inspectorate, Active Travel England, which will be responsible for the cycling budget and help make sure schemes are compliant with the new standards."

Bike repair vouchers worth £50 will be released, starting with a batch of 50,000 just before midnight tonight (Tuesday 28th July).

Gear Change, A bold vision for cycling and walking

Gear Change is a 52-page document that sets out the details of today's announcement.

Foreword

A foreword by Boris Johnson notes that, 'Vast numbers of car journeys are very short and could easily be travelled by bicycle. People often think that encouraging bikes and walking causes congestion - but it doesn't...'

Johnson notes that in the light of the pandemic, we need to make lifestyle changes to keep us more active and fit, and how we travel is central to that.

Finally, he comments on opposition to building bike lanes in London, and points out that '...when the results of consultations and opinion polls came back, our opponents were often surprised to find themselves in a small minority.'

Introduction: A case for Step Change

The Introduction sets out some of the benefits of increased active travel, and challenges it can help tackle: air quality, climate change, health and well-being, inequalities, and congestion.

A Bold Vision for a New Era

The vision is to make cycling and walking the natural first choice for many journeys. That's the same as the vision in the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, which has yet to result in any real change. Now there's a target of half of all journeys in towns and cities being cycled or walked by 2030.

Better cycling and walking infrastructure is to be at the heart of transport policy and planning, and this is to lead to healthier, happier and greener communities, and safer streets.

Gear Change stresses action, not just words - and that has to be right, because we've had the words before but no action. The plan is to encourage and empower local authorities to take bold decisions. The themes that follow set out the action needed.

Theme 1: Better streets for cycling and people

This section talks about first hundreds, then thousands, of safe, continuous, direct routes for cycling in towns and cities, physically separated from pedestrians and volume motor traffic. Key points include:

Cycle Infrastructure Design

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway

There's new Cycle Infrastructure Design for England and Northern Ireland. A summary of 22 points is in the Appendix to Gear Change, and the full 188-page guidance is in Local Transport Note 1/20.

Read more about the new Cycle Infrastructure Design.

Theme 2: Putting cycling and walking at the heart of transport, place-making and health policy

Theme 2 contains a number of principles designed to ensure that cycling is at the heart of policy. They include:

Theme 3: Empowering and encouraging local authorities

Local authorities own all roads except motorways and trunk roads. They need to be helped to improve conditions for cycling on their roads. Measures include:

Theme 4: We will enable people to cycle and protect them when they cycle

Points under this heading include:

Appendix

The Appendix is a summary of principles for cycle infrastructure design, with 22 points to it. I think it's worth a separate web page - not least because it will then be a handy, self-contained resource to refer to in future.

Highway Code consultation

Highway Code

Proposed changes to the Highway Code include a Hierarchy of Road Users, so those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility. Important suggested amendments include:

Read more about the the Highway Code Consultation.

Spending on active travel vs new roads

The announcement today is undoubtedly good news, and there are any number of positive changes in there. Still, a huge contradiction remains.

The government is spending £2bn on active travel, but has committed to spending £28bn on new roads. That is £2bn on measures that improve health and quality of life, and 14x that amount on more destruction of the natural environment, more traffic, more pollution, and more ill health. The idea that quality bike lanes will form part of new road schemes only partly mitigates the damage of such a huge, high-carbon splurge.

The thinking behind this active travel announcement is coherent and logical, but the government should implement this good policy without destroying the benefits 14 times over.