Dear Chris Boardman
Dear Chris Boardman,
Congratulations on your new role as national commissioner for the brand new government body Active Travel England (ATE).
I really can't think of anyone better qualified or respected to be in charge of the organisation which is going to be responsible for:
- driving up the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure
- managing the national active travel budget
- awarding funding for projects that improve both health and air quality
- inspecting, and publishing reports on highway authorities for their performance on active travel and identify particularly dangerous failings in their highways for cyclists and pedestrians
- helping local authorities train staff
- spreading good practice in design, implementation and public engagement
- consulting on major planning applications to ensure that the largest new developments properly cater for pedestrians and cyclists
- scrutinising councils' plans for active travel and supporting them to create ambitious schemes that will enable more people to walk, wheel and cycle safely.
You're going to be busy!
My heart soared when I read the following in an interview:
About a quarter of households in cities have no car, Chris Boardman noted: “These are their roads and streets, too. Kids don’t have a choice to drive – they have to be driven. And these are their roads and streets, too, and they have the right to use them.”
Finally, someone who gets it!
What needs to change?
As a mum of two - and someone who's spent the past decade trying to get more families cycling - here's my wish list for change.
1) Schools, schools, schools
At the risk of sounding like Liz Truss, it is an utter disgrace that the vast majority of children in the UK cannot cycle safely to school.
It should not be up to parents to campaign for safe routes when their child has been knocked off their bike.
2) Avoid additional bureaucracy
Please, please, please Chris. No more studies, plans, pilots, trials, consultations, reviews.
The current processes require huge amounts of time and money putting words on paper, seeing if things will be "feasible".
And provide very little money for actually delivering infrastructure on the ground.
We now have the guidelines for what good infrastructure will look like, but you should expect many councils to try and find ways to delay or prevent implementation, or remove it as soon as someone complains.
3) Remember the small towns and rural areas
There are so many smaller towns in the UK which are the perfect size for cycling and walking.
Many of these tend to have very conservative (with a small c) councils, who are terrified of changing the status quo.
They use the excuse that "we're not a big city like London / Manchester" as a reason for not implementing decent infrastructure.
The funding options are also stacked against smaller towns, as the number of users is obviously going to be less per metre than in a large city.
4) Educate councillors and planners about the requirements for active travel
Active travel often gets confused with cycling and walking for leisure and fitness.
What makes a good route for a sunny Sunday family bike ride is often very different to what's needed for a ride home from work during a January evening downpour.
Many decision makers don't understand this at a high level, let alone at the more nuanced detailed level of why certain elements of infrastructure design work and others don't.
This means well designed and ambitious schemes that would actually deliver behaviour change stand no chance of being approved.
5) Improve the old as well as build the new
Our country is full of examples of terrible infrastructure - much of it piecemeal, and certainly not designed to the new standards.
Some is downright dangerous, and therefore doesn't get used.
Some of it reflects historical attitudes and old laws that need to be challenged to allow progress for the world we now live in.
Please remember this Chris when doing your audits of provision.
It's OK to say any new infrastructure must meet the standards, but authorities may use this as an excuse to do nothing, leaving "provision" which can't actually be used, or fail to provide routes where they are needed.
Good luck with your new role Chris.
You've got a budget of £2bn for cycling and walking over this parliament. It may sound a lot of money, but it's only enough to scratch the surface of what needs doing.
We really, really, need you to succeed.
Founder of Cycle Sprog
On behalf of families all over Britain struggling to cycle safely with their families
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