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Covid-19: Walking and Cycling

Volume 803: debated on Monday 8 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking (1) to encourage walking and cycling, and (2) to discourage car use, in cities as the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

My Lords, on 9 May the Government announced a £2 billion funding package for cycling and walking. This is the largest ever investment in active travel. It includes £250 million to be spent in the current financial year on measures to get people cycling and walking, such as pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements, safer junctions and cycling and bus-only corridors.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer and I congratulate the Government on their commitment to cycling at this time. It is really good. However, although some local authorities are doing very well, there is a big problem with one in Manchester. The Mayor of Greater Manchester and Chris Boardman are launching 200 kilometres of temporary cycle lanes—tomorrow or this week, I believe—which has one big hole in the middle, because Manchester City Council will not co-operate. Can the Minister please encourage Manchester City Council to take part and work with other local authorities to create this potentially fantastic new facility for cyclists?

I thank the noble Lord for his warm words of welcome for this funding, which will make a huge difference to cycling. I take what he has said about Manchester City Council. I am in regular contact with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and I will raise it with him next time we speak, to see whether something can be done. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has initially been allocated £15.8 million, and it would be good to see that money spent wisely.

My Lords, there has been much good work on this issue undertaken in the devolved institutions. The Minister for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland has introduced ground-breaking procedures for the reform of infrastructure in relation to cycling and walking lanes. Will the Minister undertake to have discussions with that local Minister, and other devolved institutions, to ensure that there is joint working in this area to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health and well-being?

It is great to hear about the good work being done in Northern Ireland by the Minister for Infrastructure on cycling. I assure the noble Baroness that the department is in regular contact with Ministers across the devolved nations to share information during the Covid-19 pandemic. My officials in the department’s walking and cycling team regularly meet with colleagues from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to share best practice, as she suggests, and the lessons learned.

My Lords, I am sure that we all agree that those who can cycle should, but many people cannot ride bikes. Does my noble friend agree that cycle lanes are a good thing, but not if they hold up buses, increase pollution by causing traffic jams and displacing traffic to side roads, and, often, require the felling of trees in our cities? Does she further agree that it is not just the safety of cyclists which has to be considered but the safety and transport requirements of those who cannot cycle?

I reassure my noble friend that well-designed cycle lanes do not increase congestion. Local authorities are required to follow technical guidance on cycling infrastructure design as well as road space allocation guidance, which ensures that the views of local cyclists and drivers are taken into account.

My Lords, I too welcome the Government’s initiative to encourage us to cycle—it is so important for health and for the environment—but a lot of cycling accidents happen because of speed. Will the Government consider making it mandatory for all urban areas to have a 20 mph speed limit, as many parts of England and some London boroughs already do?

My Lords, local authorities already have the power to set 20 mph speed limits on their roads. The department has published guidance designed to make sure that speed limits are appropriately and consistently set. We do not support a blanket introduction of 20 mph speed limits, because they may not be appropriate in certain circumstances or for all roads and in all cities.

My Lords, cyclists prefer to use minor roads and leave main roads to motor traffic, but they are often discouraged to find that the surfaces on such side roads are broken and uneven through neglect. To overcome this, will the Government encourage local authorities to use the active travel fund to make sure that designated cycle routes and low-traffic areas have good road surfaces? Then, they would be used more.

The noble Lord makes an important point about road surfaces, which are important for cycling and other sorts of transport. That is why during the Covid pandemic the Department for Transport has made a great effort to invest in local infrastructure. Indeed, we have managed to put out £1.7 billion to local authorities so that they can invest in their roads and make sure that they are suitable for cycling.

Lateness and unreliability discourage people from taking the bus, and cycle paths that force cyclists out into heavy traffic discourage people from cycling. An easy measure the Government could take to encourage bus and cycle use would be to implement fully Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, which strengthens the powers that local authorities have to deal with traffic offences. Do the Government intend to do this and, if not, why not?

Local authorities already have a number of responsibilities, one of which is ensuring the expeditious movement of traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians, on highways. There is a range of things that they can do to make this happen. The commencement of Part 6 is one of the things we are considering; we are looking at the evidence and weighing up whether or not it is appropriate to commence it at this time.

My Lords, local businesses in my city of Leicester are desperately trying to revive their lost incomes as lockdown is loosened, but will my noble friend instruct local councils to consult and work with businesses and local communities before they keep creating pop-up cycle and pedestrian lanes that take away parking spaces outside small businesses?

The new statutory road space reallocation guidance issued recently by the Department for Transport makes it absolutely clear that local authorities must consider people for whom it is important to be able to use the roads. That includes blue badge holders, those who must make deliveries, and other essential services. I reassure my noble friend that there is much evidence to suggest that improving pedestrianisation outside shops increases footfall in them, which I think is beneficial.

As GPs are encouraged to recommend cycling to achieve a wide range of health benefits, including decreasing obesity, have the Government set targets for traffic-free safe cycling for those who may be quite wobbly when they start and the wearing of cycling helmets to avoid a spate of injuries that require hospital treatment?

There are all sorts of things that we can do to make cycling a better experience for all, particularly those who are starting out on their cycling journey. They include actions by local authorities to make some streets cycling and pedestrian-only. Work can also be done on improving cycling safety.

Government figures indicate that, nationally, increases in cycling and walking in the light of Covid-19 will result in fewer journeys by public transport and not fewer journeys by car, which people now regard as a safer means of transport. What do the Government intend to do to promote cycling and walking as an alternative to the car, rather than it being an alternative to public transport, as is happening now?

This comes down to the actions that can be taken by local authorities. We have provided the guidance that they need to follow. What they put in place within their own areas will be key to reducing localised congestion. That might include speed restrictions, as previously mentioned; traffic light cycles can be changed; there can be car-limited areas; and there could be changes to parking charges.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. We move to the third Oral Question, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews.