Half of all journeys in England could be made by walking and cycling by 2030, says Chris Boardman,

12 April 2022

Half of all journeys in England could be made by walking and cycling by 2030, says Chris Boardman, the interim head of the Government’s new executive agency Active Travel England (ATE), but he admits it is a big challenge that keeps him up at night.

The establishment of ATE with Boardman as its national commissioner was confirmed earlier this year to deliver on the Government’s Gear Change vision, as part of Boris Johnson’s so-called “golden age of cycling” – which includes the 50% active travel target. Currently, cycling is 3% of all trips, and walking 32%.

Speaking to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Walking and Cycling, Boardman said it was time to finally deliver at scale on active travel. “I think for those of us who’ve been involved in active travel for decades now… we’ve actually got everything that we wanted: we’ve got literally billions of pounds, we have an organisation to deliver, we’ve got an incredible strategy and we’re proud to have an organisation that will deliver it.”

ATE will “hoover up anything to do with active travel”, he said, including ensuring standards are met, being a statutory consultee to major developments, and giving local authorities tools and support to deliver decent quality routes.

Reflecting a continuing debate about the subject area, Boardman said he doesn’t consider e-scooters “active travel”, but he sees micromobility as another user of cycle lanes, and an industry for ATE to work alongside.

Boardman’s interim head of inspection, Brian Deegan, said investment won’t just go on cycle routes, but improving small links, including dropped kerbs to enable walking trips, and the side road zebra crossings the pair have worked on in Manchester. 

Deegan wants to “empower” local authorities to deliver better infrastructure, and said he hasn’t turned any councils’ plans down outright, only that some proposals weren’t ready yet.

Boardman hopes this – and publishing a “league table” celebrating the best local authorities – will encourage healthy competition, as only those with well-prepared plans will receive funds. “Nobody is going to be forced to do anything. They just can’t do it badly anymore,” he said. 

He points out there are 30 different government policies and strategies in which active travel is now embedded, including Highway schemes and Bus Back Better. He said for its £2bn investment, England will get £12bn of value in returns on the likes of health, air quality and decongestion.

Alongside the activities of ATE at the national level in England, a number of the regional/Mayoral transport bodies have been pursuing their own Active Travel strategies, including Greater Manchester, where Boardman cut his teeth. 

In 2019 South Yorkhire’s mayor Dan Jarvis appointed Dame Sarah Storey as the first active travel commissioner for the region, while in the West Midlands the role has been given by mayor Andy Street to Adam Tranter. 

It looks certain that these initiatives will continue, and Tranter said on Twitter this week that the West Midlands will spend £254m to enable active travel over the next five years as “a game-changing investment to make walking and cycling the natural first choice for short journeys”, though it is not yet clear how exactly these projects and their funding will dovetail with ATE’s national agenda.