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blog: Are you ready to change gear? A review of the Government’s measures to encourage active travel

Author: Kirsty Whittaker

So, it only took a global pandemic, but the cycling revolution is finally here! At least, we hope it is. The Government this week announced a bold vision to kickstart a walking and cycling revolution in the UK

We know that during the pandemic there was a significant increase in the number of cyclists, as much as 16% of the population of England have been cycling per week according to Sport England. 

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However, the challenge comes now as we as consultants work with local authorities and other partners to ensure we lock in a wave of new walkers and cyclists and support those looking to convert to a new active travel mode.

Prescription Wheels

The Government believe that in order to improve the nation’s public health as a whole and reduce pressure on the NHS, more active travel must be encouraged and incorporated into people’s daily routines. To tackle this issue, as part of the vision, plans to start prescribing bikes on the NHS will be introduced. Previous schemes involving the provision of free bikes to those in need have proved successful. The Government funded Birmingham Cycle Revolution campaign handed out thousands of bright orange Rayleigh hybrid bikes to residents and commuters. The campaign initially focused on inner city areas, aligning with the Prime Minister’s new approach to prescribe bikes in areas with poor health rates.

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Design Guidance

Higher standards for cycle infrastructure have also been published by the Government in order to make sure schemes are better designed around cyclists’ needs. While ITP welcomes these new standards to ensure good quality cycle infrastructure, a recent report produced by Sustrans and Arup on planning for inclusive cycling, and reviewed by one of our colleagues, made an interesting point:

“When people in power and people who govern, design and deliver transport and cycling do not represent the wider population, unconscious and conscious bias can mean decisions, policy and schemes are not designed around the needs of other people as they are not fully understood or considered.” – Jools Walker

At ITP, we feel this highlights that representation is important and we will be interested to learn who forms the new “Active Travel England” inspectorate who will oversee standards and whether the inspectorate provides strong representation of the wide variety of cyclists across the UK.  

Fix Your Bike Vouchers

Is a new scheme ever released without the website crashing? While the Government’s “Fix Your Bike Voucher” offer didn’t exactly “break the internet”, it certainly commanded a lot of interest. An initial crash of the website was put down to technical issues, but soon afterwards the website had to be “paused” as the first batch of 50,000 vouchers had been snapped up.

The vouchers will now be released in batches and people can apply on the Energy Saving Trust website.

The vouchers will certainly be useful for a lot of people who have old bikes gathering dust and have been considering getting back into cycling. Coupled with the offer of cycle training for any child or adult, these offers could combine to create a new surge of cyclists.

Public Awareness

“Build it and they will come” … well, sometimes they won’t actually.

ITP is currently working closely with Transport for West Midlands and their Travel Demand Management Team to support work with key businesses and employees as we ease out the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK. As part of this work, we are targeting communications to businesses who are located close to new pop up cycle infrastructure in order to ensure employees are aware of their new cycle route options.

As with any new cycle infrastructure, there needs to be an element of marketing and communication to encourage both new and existing cyclists to utilise new routes or storage facilities. It’s vital that public awareness campaigns are put in place by local authorities in order to successfully influence travel behaviour and ensure any new infrastructure is a success.

Another key point noted in the same Sustrans and Arup report we mentioned earlier states:

“Despite a large appetite from different demographic groups to start cycling, 85% of people aged over 65, 78% of disabled people, 76% of women, 75% of people at risk of deprivation and 74% of people from ethnic minority groups never cycle.”  

These stats prove there is a real need to market and communicate with specific demographics in order to shift the balance in cycling and encourage those from backgrounds who are less likely to cycle to take up active travel and make use of the new supporting measures included within the Government’s vision.

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If you would like to find out more about the work ITP is currently doing surrounding active travel and marketing and communications support during the Covid-19 pandemic, please get in touch.

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