Andy Pickett is a senior consultant at Hyperion Infrastructure Consultancy and a long-standing member of the UKRLG’s Footway and Cycletrack Management Group (FCMG). In this article, he highlights some of the key points in the Government's new plan for active travel, including the importance of asset management and maintenance.
A bold vision is just the start
Last week saw the Government publish its Gear Change: A Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking, which set out its plans for a 'travel revolution'.
It has the bold aim that: 'England will be a great walking and cycling nation' in order to reap the benefits of increased levels of active travel, which include improved health, wellbeing and air quality, climate change mitigation and economic benefits.
On the back of the 'once in a generation chance to accelerate active travel' presented by COVID-19, the vision aims to shift many shorter journeys from cars to walking or cycling.
The document set out the Government’s plans for new infrastructure and the creation of new walking and cycling routes with an emphasis on high quality routes that meet minimum quality criteria.
Taking its cue from the significant and well-proven cost benefits of investment in walking and cycling, the vision announced funding of £2bn for local authorities for cycling (a declared six-fold increase in dedicated cycling and walking funding) that 'will end the stop-go nature of previous cycling and walking funding', allowing local authorities and others to plan in a long-term way.
The vision was accompanied with the publication of two other important documents; DfT’s consultation on proposed revisions to the Highway Code to introduce a hierarchy of road users with the aim of improving safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders, and Local Transport Note 1/20 Cycle Infrastructure Design.
LTN 1/20 replaces LTN2/08 and sets out minimum standards for cycle infrastructure, that will be a condition of national funding for schemes and that will be enforced and funded by a new inspectorate Active Travel England, led by a new national cycling and walking commissioner.
"Enabling, encouraging and empowering local authorities to do more for cycling on their roads, including appropriate maintenance, will therefore be essential to getting anything done.”
No future without long-term maintenance
The Footways and Cycletrack Management Group (FCMG) have been lobbying for some time to highlight the importance of maintenance and asset management of walking and cycling infrastructure in achieving the benefits of active travel.
The group provided input to LTN1/20 and it is particularly pleasing that there are a number of important provisions and shared principles in both the Gear Change vision and the Cycle Infrastructure Design guidance in the asset management area.
Most important of these is Principle 13 for Cycle Infrastructure Design: 'As important as building a route itself is maintaining it afterwards.'
Importantly, this principle takes a wider view of maintenance than just the condition of the hard surface of cycle infrastructure and mentions cleansing and, winter service as well.
This principle also includes that statement that 'Route Proposals should always include a clear programme of maintenance'. This is potentially very significant since it implies that funding will only be forthcoming for new cycle infrastructure if provisions are in place for maintenance to ensure ongoing quality and delivery of benefit over the whole-life of that asset.
Principle 14 states that 'surfaces must be hard, smooth, level, durable, permeable and safe in all weathers' and is also significant from a maintenance and asset management perspective by emphasising the need to choose materials that are easy and cost effective to maintain.
Maintaining knowledge and experience
The FCMG recently met (virtually) to review, update and prioritise its programme of potential research.
One planned project is the production of guidance for safety inspectors to help them understand the risks to cyclists of defects. This task is closely aligned to Principle 20 in LTN01/20, that 'all designers of cycle schemes must experience the roads as a cyclist'.
I would argue that all of those involved in maintaining and inspecting cycle infrastructure would benefit from experiencing those facilities from a bicycle in order to understand the impacts and risks of maintenance issues for users.
The role of Active Travel England will be of particular interest to highways authorities as they develop their walking and cycling networks, and how an authority performs on developing active travel will affect the level of funding for other forms of transport.
Other provisions in Gear Change and Cycle Infrastructure Design that will be of interest to highway authorities include an expectation that cycle infrastructure will be provided and improved as part of general improvement and maintenance schemes, and an acknowledgement that the whole-life cost of cycle infrastructure can be reduced through the choice of appropriate materials.
In conclusion on a new beginning
The vision and associated guidance are not perfect, in particular in the relatively lower profile for walking and walking infrastructure in the vision compared to cycling.
There is also the fact that despite acknowledging its importance there is no specific commitment for funding of ongoing maintenance of cycling and walking infrastructure, which will need to compete with the existing infrastructure for a slice of the maintenance cake.
Nonetheless, on the whole there is much to be welcomed in these proposals and asset managers for walking and cycling infrastructure can regard them as a definite step (and pedal!) in the right direction.
Gear Change: a Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking
LTN 1/20 Cycle infrastructure design
1. Footways and Cycle Routes: Pavement Design and Maintenance
2. Footways and Cycle Routes: An approach to risk based maintenance management
3. Cycle Service Levels and Condition Assessment