The UK government is set to make it easier for towns and cities to close roads to cars as part of a £250 million active travel fund package to encourage walking and cycling.
The new scheme has been introduced as part of plans to help people return to work following the coronavirus pandemic. Social-distancing measures set to be introduced will dramatically reduce capacity on public transport. To ease that pressure, the government wants to encourage people to walk or cycle. It cites a recent survey that found more than 40% of urban journeys were less than two miles.
The scheme will be the first part of a planned £2 billion investment, built into a previously announced £5bn scheme to boost cycling and bus use. The government says there has been a 70% increase in bicycle usage since the lockdown began.
The government has fast-tracked statutory guidance to update the Traffic Management Act 2004. It gives local authorities in areas with high public transport usage the ability to close roads to cars, widen the implementation of 20mph speed limits and introduce expanded facilities for cycling.
That could include mandatory cycle lanes, converting traffic lanes and parking bays into cycle lanes and installing physical barriers between cycle lanes and car lanes. Certain roads could be closed to traffic at certain times and barriers could be installed to block roads that are closed to cars.
Closing roads to cars previously required a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO), but the government has now streamlined the process, introducing the ability to introduce ‘experimental’ measures that are reviewed after installation and shortening the approval process for both temporary (up to 18 months) and permanent changes.
Transport secretary Grant Schapps said: “We know cars will continue to remain vital for many, but as we look to the future, we must build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had already announced a new 'Streetspace' plan to accomodate a "possible ten-fold increase in cycling and five-fold increase in walking" in the UK capital. That will involve creating new cycle lanes, widening pavements in town centres and creating "low-traffic neighbourhoods". While the schemes will initially be temporary and will be reviewed, Khan indicated that they could become permanent.