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blog: Cracking the LCWIP!

Author: Neil Taylor

In case you missed it amongst all the recent General Election excitement, this Spring the Department for Transport published its national cycling and walking investment strategy (‘CWIS’ for acronym lovers).  This has since been accompanied by guidance for local authorities that sets out what they can do on a practical level to support the national policy aspiration to double cycling activity by 2025. 

While the extent of government funding available to deliver this ambitious target remains a topic for debate (typically, over a pint or two), the quality of the guidance issued for local authorities is not in question.  Developed by an expert advisory team that drew on international best practice for designing safe, cohesive, direct and dedicated cycle route networks; the Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan (‘LCWIP’) guidance offers a 40 page walk-through of the process local authorities are expected to follow in order to make the case for local investment that delivers their network plan.

Six steps to heaven

The principles set out in the guidance are enlightening and may present something of a ‘lightbulb moment’ for local authorities and political decision-makers wondering why all the urban highway capacity they added to their transport network in recent years has not ‘solved’ the issue of traffic congestion.  Presuming that towns and cities are keen to do something more transformative to replicate the success of London’s emerging cycle Superhighway and network, the LCWIP guidance sets out six steps to achieving walking and cycling nirvana which we have paraphrased as follows: 

  • Scope – define where, geographically, an LCWIP makes sense and identify the key players.
  • Evidence – understand where people walk and cycle now, and where infrastructure investment could strengthen and expand active travel activity.
  • Plan for cycling – devise a cohesive whole network capable of accommodating personal movement at between 10-20mph using trip origin, destination, and route choice data.
  • Plan for walking – in many places people and bikes won’t mix that well, so define key walking zones and required improvements separately.
  • Prioritise – you probably can’t afford it all, so figure out what it will all cost and which improvements deliver maximum value for money. 
  • Integrate – embed your LCWIP plans into other local policies, strategies and delivery plans.

Getting it done

Sounds easy right?  We think it can be, but also offer the following observations based on our experience of working with both local authorities and private sector developers who are keen to improve local cycling and walking networks:

  • It begins with vision and leadership: If your Councillors aren’t excited about this, then it probably won’t happen.  In many urban locations, prioritising cycling and walking will involve re-prioritising road-space or verges.  It won’t be for everyone, and it won’t be for everywhere.  Getting your key decision-makers out on a bike in UK and European locations where public space for walking and cycle network provision are being done right is a great way of highlighting what can be achieved, and the kind of place you might create.
  • Resist compromise: The net effect of shying away from high-profile decisions around prioritising cycle infrastructure means a lot of existing routes in UK towns and cities have been provided where it was easy or possible, rather than where priority and segregation from traffic was truly needed.  If you start to feel your LCWIP meandering towards a series of indirect or compromised routes, then we’d be the first to say ‘don’t waste the money’.  On the flip-side, if you can deliver your first LCWIP cycling route or walking zone so it serves a clear mobility need and reflects high quality design, then the evidence of subsequent uptake should offer the proof and political capital you need to secure continued investment.   
  • Engage with local walking and cycling groups: Often we find that local authority officers shy away from engaging with the local active travel community - sometimes because the views they express about existing routes and interventions can be both challenging and (brutally!) honest.  In our experience, working with the local cycling community to understand how and where people cycle, and to collaboratively design key pieces of infrastructure helps to secure buy-in and deliver a network that people will choose to use.
  • Make the economic case for the whole network: WebTAG is frequently-maligned, but is the mechanism transport planners have available to articulate the costs and benefits of different kinds of transport investment.  We’ve had great success at using it to demonstrate the economic, public health, and traffic decongestion benefits associated with high quality cycle network improvements, and are keen advocates of appraising the potential benefits arising from a complete network as well as constituent links.  Knowing the total ‘big ticket’ cost for your town or city’s walking and cycling network enables you to work back from there to prioritise early delivery of high priority and high impact links.  It also ensures you can make a robust case for using private sector developer contributions and Local Growth Fund investment when opportunities arise to deliver links that support growth.
  • Push-through the diminishing returns: Once you have delivered a few high-quality, high priority links there might be a temptation to forget about the smaller connectors.  Before you do, don’t forget that the value of the whole network will far exceed that of constituent links.  Seeing the job through is a key success factor for developing a cohesive network.
  • Maintain what you build and monitor its impact: Once built, don’t forget about it.  Maintaining walking and cycle routes in a similar manner to roads is not something we have always been great at, but is critical to sustaining an active travel revolution in your area.  Designing-in usage counting and data-capture mechanisms is a great way of understanding how your emerging network is being used – helping to make the case for further investment.

At the time of writing the DfT is inviting local authorities to bid for consultancy support to aid their development of LCWIPs before the end of June – what better time to get started?

ITP team cycling


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