Gear Change: One Year On - Government reinforces active travel agenda

30 July 2021

Gear Change: One Year On - Government reinforces active travel agenda

A further £338m released to support active travel and changes to the Highway Code put pedestrians at the top of road user hierarchy. Changes to the Highway Code will include placing pedestrians at the top of a new “road user hierarchy”, the Department for Transport has announced.

The revisions to road user hierarchy were announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps alongside a commitment to increase the cycling and walking budget announced at the Spending Review to £338m. The infrastructure upgrades, changes to The Highway Code and new requirements to ensure that active travel schemes’ effects are properly assessed are among the raft of measures included as part of what the government is calling a Summer of Cycling and Walking.

Shapps said: “Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment. As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone. This £338m package marks the start of what promises to be a great summer of cycling and walking, enabling more people to make those sustainable travel choices that make our air cleaner and cities greener.”

The announcement builds on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s £2bn Gear Change cycling and walking programme which was announced exactly one year ago. A year one review of Gear Change looks at what has been achieved, then sets out evidence from a number of case studies and explains the benefits of the investment. In May 2020, the government announced £2bn of new money for cycling and walking over the course of the parliament.

During 2020/21, it provided over £320m to local authorities through a new Active Travel Fund, and to Transport for London (TfL) through the first two tranches of its funding deal, to reallocate road space and create dedicated walking and cycling routes.

In May 2020, the government also published new statutory Network Management Duty guidance requiring local authorities in urban areas to reallocate roadspace for cycling and walking. In July, the government published Gear Change, a cycling and walking plan for how the money will be spent, and Local Transport Note 1/20, which offered detailed design guidance requiring much higher standards for cycling schemes.

The past year has seen cycling rise more than in the previous 20 years put together, with the number of miles cycled on British roads rocketing by 45.7% to five billion, according to the PM and the DfT. Independent opinion polling and new research, also just published by the DfT, shows that active travel schemes are supported, on average, by a ratio of two-to-one.

Increased funding

The £338m funding commitment is a 30% increase to the £257m announced for active travel in last year’s spending review. The funding is intended to support the construction of hundreds of miles of new high-quality cycle lanes and aid the delivery of new schemes to encourage walking. This will include the delivery of improvements across the National Cycle Network.

The revenue grant will enable local transport authorities to promote cycling and walking in their areas by:

  • the development of infrastructure plans, including drawing up bids for capital funding that are compliant with local transport note (LTN) 1/20
  • carrying out behaviour change activities, such as training and promotion.

The fund is separate from the larger capital grant fund, which will be allocated depending on the quality of authorities’ LTN 1/20-compliant bids for infrastructure schemes. Following a number of councils removing cycle lanes and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the face of vocal objections, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris has formally written to the leaders of all English local authorities with transport responsibilities.

The letter said active travel schemes supported by government funding emphasises need to be left in place long enough for their impacts to be properly monitored and assessed. The letter warned councils that if cycling and walking schemes installed using central government money are hastily abandoned, this could affect future grants.

As well as improving safety for cyclists, the government is also aiming to make cycling easier and more accessible through a new scheme aiming to increase awareness of electric cycles (e-cycles) and tackle barriers to their use. An e-cycle support programme will be launched later this year and comes after the government has already provided funding to help nine local authorities deliver e-cycle initiatives.

Other key measures included in the Summer of Cycling and Walking include: plans to publish a new road safety strategic framework; commitments to help train hundreds of new Bikeability instructors; and exploring how historic railway structures can be converted into cycle routes.

The Department for Transport has also committed to making an announcement on the enforcement of pavement parking later this year.

The government has also announced that the new Active Travel England (ATE) commissioning body, which will hold the national cycling and walking budget, will begin work later this year.