Rosslyn Colderley is the North West Regional Director for Sustrans, a charity which helps more people to walk, cycle or use public transport for short journeys. Here she writes for Northern Soul.
Earlier this year a quiet excitement rippled through the cycling community as Sustrans heard the news that we, along with a number of other leading transport groups and health organisations, had been successful in our attempts to make cycling and walking part of the Infrastructure Bill.
That Bill has now has become an Act, and so for the first time the Secretary of State for Transport will be required by law to set out a strategy for cycling and walking infrastructure, and more importantly, the funding provided to meet it.
The Infrastructure Act sets out the Government’s ambitions to build a better transport system. Although initially focusing on a Roads Investment Strategy, Sustrans and other groups campaigned for the inclusion of a cycling and walking investment strategy to also be included in the Act to ensure that active travel is considered as a priority area for investment.
This historic win means that for the first time there is a legal obligation on the Government to set targets and investment for cycling and walking, and guarantee that long term funding will extend travel choice, help ease congestion and improve our health and our environment. Cycling and walking are no longer just a nice add-on for leisure, they should be an integral part of our system, a fact which Sustrans and other ‘active travel’ campaigners will be quick to remind the newly-elected Government in May.
As Northern cities gear up to the potential for devolved local government, they have a fantastic opportunity to be visionary and change the way we live in our cities. The way we move around them is a key part of that picture. If our cities felt safe and accessible enough to walk or cycle short journeys, or it was easy to hop on a bike at a train or bus station, we’d all get a bit more exercise, while traffic congestion and pollution would decrease. We could begin to create the kind of relaxed continental environments we admire so much in cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, where walking or cycling short journeys are normal, mainstream ways to get around.
Many Northern cities have already made huge strides in this direction. Through the Cycle City Ambition Grant, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds will invest a combined total of more than £90 million into segregated cycle ways, cycle training and other facilities to encourage more people to get on their bikes. The Oxford Road corridor, where thousands of students on bikes currently brave buses, cars and petrol fumes, will be made into segregated lanes to allow for a much safer, more pleasant journey to university in the morning. Leafy, traffic-free cycle paths have extended along the Bridgewater Canal and the Worsley to Leigh railway line, attracting swarms of schoolchildren and commuters to get their health fix as part of their every day journeys.
But to make the kind of long term change that we see in healthier countries this work needs to step up even more. Cycling charities estimate that to really change the way people move around we need to invest around £10 per head. We know people want to cycle and walk more to their work but at the moment they tell us there are not enough safe or direct routes.
Sustrans created the National Cycle Network – more than 14,000 miles of cycle routes, including a big network in the North of England. It’s a great start. Many of them, such as the Fallowfield Loop in Manchester, the Liverpool Loopline in Liverpool or the Leeds to Saltaire towpath, are traffic-free old railway lines or canal towpaths, so they make ideal cycle ways. In areas where they are close to schools or offices these paths buzz with commuters and school children at peak times. But what we need now is long-term funding to make more of these safe routes and links from them to our residential areas, workplaces and schools.
Through the Campaign for Safer Streets, Sustrans has urged MPs to support the right for children to have a safe route to school so they can incorporate exercise into their daily routines. Many MPs have signed up to support the campaign and commit to making active travel a key part of their manifestos. We want to make sure these promises are translated down the grassroots, to the cities where we live.
It is an exciting year for cycling. The Tour de Yorkshire in May will inspire thousands to get on their bikes again and explore our beautiful countryside. There will also be events around the country to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the National Cycle Network. In June, Sustrans in Cumbria will join the party with the launch of a new cycle route around Morecambe Bay.
Cycling as a sport has finally made it into the mainstream in the North, but it’s a viable, healthy form of transport too. Northern cities are proud of their heritage and the fact that they can do things differently. Let’s take inspiration from our European neighbours and create cities that people love.