“Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking,” recommended the World Health Organisation in April in its technical guidance on moving around during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Following such advice has been made easier by the actions already taken by many local authorities to implement measures and develop long-term proposals for cycling projects under lockdown, when reduced traffic and limited availability of public transport has coincided with a significant growth in demand for bike repair services and bike shop sales. The Government's latest announcement, of new powers to be introduced from 22 June for keeping cyclists safe, follows its recent trend, linked to both environmental and public transport principles, of financial and legislative support which will only encourage further development into the transport strategies of local authorities.
Returning to work
As lockdown eases and the country returns to work, the difficulties in maintaining social distancing on commutes and public transport have been recognised. From 15 June 2020, wearing face coverings on public transport will become mandatory, with new regulations under the Public Health Act 1984 coming into force which give the police powers to issue fixed penalty notices of £100 for non-compliance. The regulations can be viewed here. However, with the transport sector responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, and road vehicles accounting for nearly three quarters of CO2 emissions globally, a number of measures have recently been announced by the UK Government which aim to encourage use of the bicycle as an alternative to public transport when considering commuting options.
In May, the Government announced a £2 billion package to create a new "era" for cycling and walking and relieve the pressure on public transport, including a £250 million "emergency" active travel fund. Local authorities were allocated a share of £225 million from the emergency fund, to create pop up and permanent cycle lanes and reallocate road space for wider pavements, safer junctions, and bike and bus-only corridors. The Government issued statutory guidance under section 18 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, encouraging local authorities in areas with high levels of public transport use to take measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling. The guidance can be viewed in full here. In addition, £25 million from the emergency funding package was committed to create half a million £50 vouchers from June for bike repairs, which the Secretary of State for Transport hopes will "drag bikes out of retirement" and speed up "the cycling revolution". £2.5 million was invested to provide 1,180 cycle parking spaces at 30 railway stations across England, to encourage the use of cycling as part of longer journeys.
In the latest of these measures to encourage cycling and alleviate pressure on public transport infrastructure, the Government announced on Wednesday 10 June that new laws, coming into effect from 22 June, will give local authorities in England powers to use CCTV to issue penalty charge notices to drivers who park or load illegally in mandatory cycle lanes. The measure's stated aim is to prevent those lanes from becoming blocked to cyclists, giving people the confidence to use their bike without being forced into the flow of traffic.
Looking ahead, an updated Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, last published in 2017, will be introduced in the summer. It is expected that further measures to transform cycling and walking to deliver the government’s aims to double cycling and increase walking by 2025 will be outlined, including:
- the creation of a national cycling and walking commissioner and inspectorate;
- higher standards for permanent infrastructure across England;
- GPs to prescribe cycling and exercise; and
- creating a long-term budget for cycling and walking.
What steps have been taken?
Local authorities across the UK have put in place walking and cycling solutions to support a return to work and encourage cycling for shorter journeys. For example, Oxford City Council has installed additional bike parking spaces at Park and Rides to help commuters cycle the last miles of their journey into the city, as a boost to the "Park and Pedal" initiative in 2015. Transport for London has introduced car free zones, more cycle lanes and 1,000 new cycle parking spaces, and pop up cycle lanes and expanded footpaths have appeared in Peterborough, Leeds, Liverpool, Leicester and Lambeth. Reading Borough Council has introduced 16 measures, including: new cycle and bus lanes; one way streets to introduce contra-flow cycle lanes and increase space for pedestrians and cyclists; cycle priority measures at junctions; permanent improvements to bus and cycle lanes and 20mph speed limits in more areas.
It remains to be seen what effect the recent investment in safer roads and cycling lanes will have for the growth of inner-city bike hire schemes which have been announced in recent years. Upcoming schemes in Aberdeen, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands will join the likes of Cardiff, London and Edinburgh in offering bike-for-hire schemes to encourage less use of cars for residents and visitors alike by offering public access to bikes.
Support for a green recovery is high on the Government's list of requirements for funding proposals to be submitted by Local Enterprise Partnerships and Mayoral Combined Authorities in preparation for an economic stimulus package set to be announced in July 2020 (see our legal insight article here). This fact, together with the investment in road safety and other measures to encourage a new "era" for cycling and walking and an apparent surge in appetite for cycling as a mode of transport, means that opportunities are abundant for projects to encourage the use of cycling and public access to bikes.
DWF's specialist Public Sector law team has extensive experience of advising on all aspects of transport and bike hire projects, including working within Central and Local Government.