Thursday brought active travel into sharp focus, with a look at some of the key protagonists in this field nationally, and particularly in Manchester and Birmingham, as well as London.
The webinar ‘How are UK cities adapting their streets for active travel?’ began with AECOM’s Peter Wright suggesting that London has seen a great shift away from cars in this profoundly changed world and that the professions have a shared responsibility to work together and shape a response and sustainable infrastructure during the recovery. Transport for London’s Mel Cazzato outlined some of the steps the capital has made in that regard via the Street Space regime, and the urgent need to reallocate more space for cycling and walking ‘to prevent a car-based recovery’. TfL has delivered over 15,000 sq m of additional footway space in over 30 locations across London over the last three months, said Cazzato, creating new cycling routes and lowering speed limits, with one result being a noticeable new diversity of users including kids and families. Low traffic neighbourhoods, new cycle parking and an expanded hire bike system are also part of the picture, employing innovative ways to get stakeholder engagement and speed up the whole process. ‘We’re going to keep delivering and we’re going to keep delivering quickly’, said Cazzato. In response, the City of London’s Bruce McVean said the Square Mile was focused on providing as much space for people walking as possible, treating it as one ‘busy hub’, reallocating through timed closures, one-way working and closures to through traffic, alongside a programme of seating and greening through parklets and the like. Flexibility and a willingness to adapt was key, he said.
In Manchester, said AECOM’s Stephen Gleave, the streets are the local experience and a shared resource, but safe streets should be so much more than that. ‘We also want our streets to be contributors to great place’, he said. ‘To be attractive, green, to be environmentally lovely to use, to be joyful and pleasurable’. They must also work for all users, however, something that has been brought into sharp relief during the lockdown, when Gleave himself used streets in a different way. Greater Manchester Mayor’s Cycling Advisor Brian Deegan showed some of the key initiatives going on in the city, including the first CYCLOPS junction, being pushed through as an accelerated programme and allowing people of all skills to negotiate a busy barrier.
Over in Birmingham, Black Country Transport’s Stuart Everton showed how a working relationship with seven local authorities was spreading initiatives across the West Midlands as a single vision for cycling and walking. The aim is to get a mode share from 1.8% to 5% by 2023, although that could go higher, post-COVID, via a charter and levering in as much funding as possible. The canal networks in Birmingham have also been upgraded, with on and off-road cycle networks emerging, and a region-wide bike share scheme about to launch. Importantly, though, said Birmingham City Council chief executive Chris Naylor, people need to see the benefits if transformation can happen and that authorities have their best interests at heart. ‘We have to have a very solid relationship of trust with the people whose lives we are inviting to change as a result of the things we are looking to do’, he said. Naylor suggested that people should experiment by taking their kids on the school run by bike – or even do those journeys anyway if they do not have kids – go to work and then repeat it in the evening. ‘And then let’s figure out through that process how we can make that work for everybody’.
During a panel discussion, Manchester’s Louise Wyman said that it felt like a moment of ‘real reset’; one of the silver linings of the lockdown period was an improvement in air quality through less traffic in our cities, along with the aid to mental health it has given many by just being on their bikes. In many ways, said Deegan. Paris leading the way in showing what can be done, not least in the cost-effective measures of introducing more zebra crossings. ‘I’m a huge fan’, he said. ‘the French have really led the way in what you can do with tactical urbanism…and the fact that all the people are into it. I think it’s a really good message for us all’.
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