Have pop-up cycle lanes during the pandemic been a success - and will they be made permanent?
During the Covid pandemic, towns and cities across the UK were transformed, to make walking and cycling easier. But are these measures here to stay?
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People across the nation got on their bikes and began cycling through newly quiet towns, with many areas, including major cities, responding to this cycling surge by putting pop-up cycle lanes into place.
According to the Department for Transport cycling levels increased by up to 300% during the first national lockdown compared to before.
But how successful have pop-up cycle lanes been, and are they likely to become permanent?
‘They have helped to make cycling trips more comfortable and enjoyable’
The Government’s own public research on pop-up cycle lanes and other active travel measures, published in November 2020, found that 77% of respondents supported government measures to reduce road traffic in towns and cities, with 66% of respondents supporting the reallocation of road space for walking and cycling.
Birmingham was one of the cities where pop-up cycle lanes were constructed, with plans now in place to make these lanes more permanent.
In 2021, Birmingham City Council were allocated an additional £4 million from the Government in the second round of active travel funding, which is set to be used to implement a second round of measures building on what was delivered in 2020.
Subject to public consultation later this year, this includes making these pop-up cycle lanes “more permanent”.
As part of the Active Travel Fund, every council in England was allocated funding to introduce measures to make cycling and walking safer and easier during the Covid pandemic.
Not all councils created cycle lanes, with some introducing measures for walking, others improving existing infrastructure by adding barriers to cycle lanes which were previously marked only with paint and some introducing ‘low-traffic-neighbourhoods’.
Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment at Birmingham City Council, said: “As a council we are committed to a low-carbon, green recovery from Covid 19. As part of this, it’s vital that we implement changes to make cycling a viable and safe option for everyone.
“We delivered our pop-up cycle lanes last year and they have helped to make cycling trips – particularly towards the city centre - more comfortable and enjoyable for our citizens.
“Now, with additional funding from government, we can build on this work and bring forward proposals to make these permanent and introduce more routes to help people cycle around our city more easily.”
He said that in Birmingham, over a quarter of all car journeys taken every weekday are under one mile long, but if people walked or cycled these journeys instead the city would see “a significant difference in terms of air pollution and congestion”.
‘An enjoyable and affordable way to travel’
Liverpool was another city which implemented pop-up cycle lanes during the pandemic.
In June, the then Cabinet Member for Highways for Liverpool City Council, Sharon Connor, said: “We want real change in how people travel around Liverpool – for their personal benefit and for Liverpool as a city to enjoy exploring.
“The pop-up lanes are a temporary solution but we are also looking at investing in the permanent cycling network because it is an enjoyable and affordable way to travel – and a great way to improve your body, your mind and the environment.”
Keir Gallagher, campaigns officer at Cycling UK, told NationalWorld pop-up cycle lanes “have been hugely successful throughout the UK, with many cyclists using them every day. We’ve seen significantly more people cycling regularly”.
“Despite the increase in traffic post-lockdown, we’re still regularly seeing more people cycling than pre-lockdown,” he added.
‘Pop-up cycle lanes can cause real challenges to the mobility, safety and independence of disabled people’
Although pop-up cycle lanes can be a quicker, cheaper and more environmentally-friendly way to travel around towns and cities, they can at times be a hindrance for those with mobility problems.
Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK, told NationalWorld: “Like other so-called ‘temporary’ measures introduced to the streetscape during the pandemic, such as banning cars from certain streets and allowing restaurants to use pavements for outdoor dining, pop-up cycle lanes can cause real challenges to the mobility, safety and independence of disabled people.”
She added that there is often “little or no consultation about changes to the street environment with disabled residents, meaning that new dangers and obstacles are introduced, without prior consideration and without balancing the needs of all citizens”.
Ms Hadi noted that those who are wheelchair users, have mobility or sensory impairments or learning disabilities often find themselves “navigating obstacles on the pavements and or encountering problems in safely crossing roads,” adding that pop-up cycle lanes “can make an already cluttered environment much worse”.
Despite strong opposition from some quarters, it appears that local authorities across the UK are set to hold firm in their plans to make active travel measures such as pop-up cycle lanes a more permanent fixture of our towns and cities. With the UK hosting the COP26 climate summit in November, the Government is acutely aware how it would look if they were to roll back on measures that encouraged more sustainable travel during the pandemic.
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