In an effort to relieve the pressure on public transport as well as boost greener and more active transport, the British government has decided to push for more aggressive initiatives that aim to help get more of its citizens walking and cycling.
In a press release posted in its website, the government says that it is investing a total of £2 billion for the project, with £250 million going to the immediate development of infrastructures like pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors.
The decision was made after assessment of the unprecedented levels of walking and cycling across the United Kingdom no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The British government hopes that this effort will help encourage people to opt for healthier alternatives to public transport when they need to travel, and in turn, help ensure that roads and bus and rail networks are primed and ready to respond to future increases in demand.
“During this crisis, millions of people have discovered cycling – whether for exercise or as a means of safe, socially-distanced transport. While there is no change to the ‘stay at home’ message today, when the country does get back to work we need those people to stay on their bikes and be joined by many more,” explains the country’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps.
He adds, “Otherwise, with public transport’s capacity severely restricted at this time, our trains and buses could become overcrowded and our roads gridlocked – holding up emergency services, critical workers and vital supplies.”
In addition to this, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also hopes that the move will help reduce obesity in the country. Experts found that the effects of Covid-19 are significantly worse for people suffering from obesity. Johnson cites that even his own recovery from the disease was impeded by his weight.
With a sense of urgency, the British government released fast-tracked statutory guidance immediately following the announcement of the project. The said guide tells councils to “reallocate road space for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. In towns and cities, some streets could become bike and bus-only while others remain available for motorists. More side streets could be closed to through traffic, to create low-traffic neighborhoods and reduce rat-running while maintaining access for vehicles.”
Furthermore, the government also started issuing £50 bike repair vouchers to its citizens to help get the estimated 16.5 million bikes gathering dust in people’s sheds and hallways, back on the road again.
“If ever there was a good time to get on your bike, it’s now. You will be helping to take the pressure off public transport. You will be looking after your health. You will be looking after the health of others and you will be helping the environment. Let’s all get pedaling and help Britain on the road to recovery,” says Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Principal of Team INEOS, a British professional cycling team that competes at the UCI WorldTeam level (a.k.a. the highest category in professional road cycling).
Riders of INEOS, including Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, will be helping the British government promote cycling to its people by telling everyone to #GetPedalling.In response to the national government’s efforts, four key English cities quickly took action, including London, Manchester, Bristol, and Birmingham. The mayor of Bristol has accelerated plans to make the city transport system a much greener one and hopes to make it more pedestrian-friendly–taking into consideration physical distancing, of course–by summer. Authorities in Birmingham were quick to publish the Emergency Birmingham Transport Plan, which outlines its vision for a “low carbon, clean air recovery from Covid-19 lockdown.”