News of a multi-million pound government investment to create safe spaces for cycling and walking has been broadly welcomed by local leaders, although Greens are urging for greater ambition from Bedford Borough Council.
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, today (Friday) announced that councils in the East of England would be given a further £22 million to invest in schemes to encourage cycling and walking.
The funding comes as a recent survey by Kantar Media reveals that 65% of people across England support reallocating road space to cycling and walking in their local area. Nearly eight out of ten people (78%) support measures to reduce road traffic in their neighbourhood.
The new money, part of the £2bn announced for cycling and walking in May, will fund measures including School Streets, where streets around schools are closed to motorists at school times; Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), where residential side streets are closed to through traffic to stop rat-running; segregated cycle lanes; and pedestrian improvements.
The aim is to give people more opportunities to choose cycling and walking for their day-to-day journeys, which, say Green councillors Lucy Bywater and Ben Foley, people will do if active travel is made safer and easier.
“Bedford Borough came bottom compared to other authorities in the region in terms of successful funding allocations to increase walking and cycling infrastructure this year,” said Lucy.
“There are some great examples from other councils such as Suffolk that we should be learning from. As councillors, we know locals are crying out for measures to make it safer for cycling in particular.
“Local people will make the shift to sustainable and active travel IF it’s made safer and more attractive.
“We need really ambitious change to make the town cycle-friendly which will reduce car use, improve air quality, improve health and benefit local businesses too. Better is possible and Covid has helped highlight the need for these changes.”
Ben said, “There’s plenty of potential locally for carefully thought out Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and School Streets.
“This funding is dependent on residents and businesses being consulted about such changes and as councillors we spent time this summer informally consulting some specific streets and residents’ associations across Castle ward.
“We asked about measures to prevent rat runs in the Midland Road area. Despite our passing on enthusiastic responses from the two residents’ associations, nothing was put forward to get the available funding for this to happen.”
The multi-million-pound investment marks another step in the Government’s ambition to deliver more active travel options in communities across the country and build back greener – benefitting the nation’s health and the environment.
Evaluation of early School Streets projects has shown traffic outside schools has reduced on average by 68%, children cycling to school has increased by 51%, and harmful vehicle pollution outside schools is down by almost three-quarters.
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford & Kempston, said, “We have waited a long time for an announcement on funding for green transport so this news is welcome.
“A lot of cycle infrastructure is already in place in the Borough and opportunities are limited to create further opportunities in an urban environment when factors like roadside parking, access to driveways, bus lanes, tree lines and road widths must be taken into consideration.
“However, the funding will improve cycle paths along Goldington Road, from Norse Road to Riverfield Drive and I will of course support Bedford Borough to continue to put in new infrastructure to improve walking and cycling for a greener future.”
The funding is part of the most ambitious plans yet by Government to encourage even more people to choose active travel and build back greener.
Commitments from the plan include making cycle training available for every adult who wants it, setting new, higher standards for cycling infrastructure and boosting access to e-bikes.
As well as promoting Active Travel, the Government is moving ahead with significant plans for road upgrades across the country.
£27.4 billion is being invested over the next five years through Highways England’s roads plan to ensure the road network is fit for the future and safe, reliable and efficient for drivers and businesses.
Cllr Ben Foley expressed opposition to the Government spending more than a thousand times more on road infrastructure than active travel.
“Tackling a climate emergency needs serious efforts to move away from fossil fuels and car dependency. Building new roads and doing little more than tweaking existing infrastructure is absolutely not helpful.”