Coronavirus: Ministers unveil £2bn boost for cycling and walking in bid to ease pressure on public transport
The boost for active travel comes amid warnings that public transport will be curtailed for some time to come.
The Government is pledging a £2bn boost for cycling and walking schemes while public transport remains “severely restricted” by the coronavirus crisis.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the daily Downing Street press conference that a £250m “emergency active travel fund” would kick off the investment package in a bid to curb the number of people who have to use cars, trains and buses to get to work.
The Cabinet minister said: “By cycling or walking, we’ve been able to enjoy this remarkably warm spring whilst sticking to the guidelines.
“In some places, there’s been a 70% rise in the number of people on bikes whether it’s for exercise, or necessary journeys, such as stocking up on food.
“So, while it’s still crucial that we stay at home, when the country does get back to work, we need those people to carry on cycling and walking, and to be joined by many more.
“Otherwise, with public transport capacity severely restricted, more cars could be drawn to the road and our towns and cities could become gridlocked.”
Mr Shapps said a new national cycling plan would be unveiled in early June, as he promised “a series of swift, emergency interventions to make cycling and walking safer” in the meantime.
“In towns and cities, some streets could become bike and bus-only while others remain available for motorists" - Department for Transport
According to the Department for Transport, the funding will be used to support schemes including the widening of pavements and the creation of cycle and bus-only streets, while those with old bikes could be handed vouchers to get them repaired.
Compulsory guidance for councils, coming into force immediately, will tell them to “reallocate roadspace for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians”, the DfT said.
“In towns and cities, some streets could become bike and bus-only while others remain available for motorists,” it added.
The Transport Secretary’s announcement comes as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil a “roadmap” which will be used to guide the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Mr Shapps said the current social distancing guidelines in place to combat the virus meant that the UK’s public transport system “cannot go back to where it left off”.
He said: “Even with public transport reverting to full service - once you take into account the 2 metre social distancing rule – there would only be effective capacity for one in ten passengers on many parts of the network.
“Just a tenth of the old capacity. So, getting Britain moving again, while not overcrowding our transport network, is going to require many of us to think carefully about how and when we travel.”
The move has been given a caution welcome by Labour’s Dan Jarvis.
The Sheffield City Region mayor said: “I’m pleased that the Government have listened to Dame Sarah Storey and I, and the wider active travel community and will be investing in schemes that will enable more people to walk and cycle.
“For our public health, our economy and our environment going back to the status quo is just not good enough. Cycling and walking are already at the heart of my transport strategy, but this is the moment to realise their true potential.”
Meanwhile David Rennard, transport spokesperson at the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said: “We are pleased the Government has announced measures today to allow councils to help the country transition to the new way we will need to travel around, including to and from work.
“This new way of travelling is likely to become part of everyday life once the coronavirus measures are lifted and beyond.”