Shivaji Shiva looks at government initiatives, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to reshape our towns and cities for safer travel.
Today, Friday 5 June, is a decision point for many local authorities. It is the deadline for authorities to bid for a share in the first tranche of £250m of “Emergency Active Travel Funding” announced by the Department for Transport in May.
The need to maintain social distancing means that the effective capacity of the public transport system will be reduced dramatically - to one tenth of its previous capacity on some parts of the network. The road network does not have sufficient capacity to accommodate all those who might prefer to drive.
On Saturday, 9 May, Transport Minister Grant Shapps announced a £2bn package to encourage people to consider walking or cycling where possible at a time when we have, a "once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities".
The new statutory guidance published the same day is notable for its tone and urgency, with the instruction to local authorities that: 'Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.' The extent to which this is done remains to be seen. It will depend on factors including local political will and the capacity of already hard-pressed local authorities.
There is considerable public support for the changes. The President of motorists organisation the AA has been vocal about the fact that of 20,000 motorists polled for the AA, half said they would walk more and 40% intended to drive less. See: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52793230
The government has been equally clear on what is needed. A letter sent to all local authorities on 27 May, said “Anything that does not meaningfully alter the status quo on the road will not be funded.” Some local authorities, supported by environmental and health charities, residents, and local transport campaigners have taken up that challenge with enthusiasm - in some cases changes were made less than a week after Grant Shapps' announcement at the start of May.
As this article is published, many people are waiting to see whether their local authority has taken this once in a generation opportunity.
For a one minute guide to Grant Shapps' announcement see the article: 'Coronavirus: Reshaping Our Towns and Cities for Safer Travel'.
The public sector team at VWV have considered the statutory guidance in more detail in the article 'The Future of Public Transport - Managing Socially Distanced Streets During Coronavirus'.
Local Government Lawyer covered new guidance issued by the DfT on publicising Traffic Regulation Orders to help local authorities respond to the current crisis in an article which can be viewed here.