Warwickshire County Council have given an initial response to my request for details about their plans to incorporate new temporary infrastructure to support walking and cycling throughout the county, following the announcement by the government that emergency funds would be made available to authorities around the country.
The county has been allocated a total of £1.38bn from the Government’s scheme, of which £258k has been made available immediately. The remainder of this budget would be unlocked depending on how the local authority used that initial allocation.
In the Council’s response, it has confirmed that Warwickshire does have plans for a number of pop-up schemes which will support the gradual re-opening of town centres as lockdown restrictions ease and shops and businesses re-open. The plans are intended to create space for social distancing allowing people to return to town centres and to reach these destinations by foot or bicycle.
At present, there is no specific detail on what these plans are and where they will be implemented. The response notes that such schemes can be complex and require careful consideration and balance, and whilst Warwickshire County Council is indeed working with Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council (and presumably other boroughs around the county) to explore options for the reallocation of road space, these schemes have not yet been finalised and are not ready to be announced.
The response ends by noting that temporary schemes will be kept under review and may be scaled back or removed in time as social distancing measures are relaxed and traffic levels increase, but they will consider how changes will feed into longer-term plans for increasing active travel.
Does this go far enough?
The County Council’s response at this stage is vague, presumably necessarily so as schemes – certainly in Nuneaton and Bedworth at least – are not at a finalised stage.
It is good to know that plans are being drawn up but I am concerned about the speed of implementation. Elsewhere in the country, quick measures such as road restrictions using planters or coned-off lanes have been implemented (both officially and unofficially). Yet in Warwickshire, over two months on from the start of lockdown and one month on from the government’s announcement of emergency funding, as yet, there is nothing on the road to show for it.
Already traffic levels are returning as people are encouraged to go back to work but to minimise the use of public transport. The County Council needs to ensure it does not miss the boat by implementing schemes too late, once people have got used to returning to work by car.
A particular concern is the statement regarding complexity, consideration and balance in schemes. Yes, pop-up cycle infrastructure will need proper planning to ensure routes are in the right place, are connected to any existing infrastructure, and the impact on other road users is properly thought through. However, other schemes should be quick and simple:
- Blanket speed limit reductions to twenty miles-per-hour in urban areas in theory should be straightforward. It doesn’t change existing routes, just slows them down making them safer for cycling.
- Blocking through-roads for motor traffic, particularly in residential areas, with the use of planters should require minimal planning and is easy to adjust if the implementation isn’t quite right.
- Reducing the ‘splay’ on some junctions to force slower turns into side roads and make pedestrian crossings easier. Again, this doesn’t change traffic routes but makes them person-centred and improves the environment for walking.
Just these few schemes can discourage car use by making walking and cycling the more attractive option with slower traffic and cars being forced to ‘go around’ rather than through certain areas, where foot and cycle travel can still take direct routes.
I am also worried that the Council is already considering the removal of any temporary schemes before they are even implemented. Of course, the very nature of ‘temporary’ means schemes may not last in the long-term (though if some are successful, it would be nice to think they would be made permanent). However, to talk about reduction and removal of schemes as traffic levels increase, at the very time when traffic levels are already increasing, leads me to question whether some measures will ever get off the ground.
What happens next?
This is a crucial juncture.
Those wanting to walk and cycle for even just part of their journeys to work and elsewhere need infrastructure implemented now, not weeks or months in the future when the status quo may well return and the county will have missed its chance to support true transformation.
If you live in Warwickshire, please contact your councillors and write to the County Council directly. Tell them that you want and need this infrastructure – demand it! Tell them about the journeys you want to make: perhaps you work at the local hospital or a business in a local industrial estate; maybe you want a safer route to the nearby school or want to cycle to the local shops; perhaps you need a safe route from a village to the nearby town. Explain where a pop-up cycle lane would help you, your family, your friends and community to get about the local area without needing to use the car. State how you want to see the recent reduction in traffic levels sustained as far as possible and you don’t want to see a return to congested urban streets and polluted air.
Until schemes are announced, we just don’t know what Warwickshire has planned. But without support from the very people who want to use new infrastructure – not just those who walk and cycle already, but the people who want to but feel they can’t due to the lack of safe routes – there is a risk that the Council may not respond properly; it may miss out key areas that can benefit or only implement token gestures.
So, find the name of your local councillor and email them now. When you’ve done that, spread the word and persuade others to do the same – put it on social media, speak to your friends, bring it up at work meetings… make this a key issue that can no longer be ignored!
If you want to read the Council’s response in full, you can do so here.
Cover Image by Elliott Brown (CC-BY-2.0) – https://flic.kr/p/6xSp4Q