Labour has called for rapid extra spending on safe cycling and walking, saying that as motor traffic levels return to pre-Covid levels the gains in active travel made during the pandemic could soon be squandered.
This is seen as particularly an issue for cycling: the number of bike trips rose notably during lockdown, but there is concern that many new or returning cyclists could stop now that the roads are busier.
Labour has called for ministers to rapidly commit to spending the GBP2bn already pledged towards cycling and walking schemes in England in this parliament, while also saying this is not sufficient to properly expand provision. The party says there needs to be a proper plan for cycling.
Official statistics released last week showed there was a 23% increase in the number of “stages” – rides that formed part of a greater journey – cycled during 2020 compared with the previous year.
The figure was significantly greater among women, at 56%, with cycling organisations saying this showed how many people wanted to ride bikes but felt prevented from doing so by the perception of road danger.
Other Department for Transport statistics have shown that two-thirds of adults in England think it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads, with only 14% disagreeing. Women are seen as more likely than men to be put off by road danger.
Motor traffic on the roads in many places has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and there are concerns that in some areas it could rise further as people shun public transport because of concerns about coronavirus.
Kerry McCarthy, the shadow minister for green transport, said: “It’s time this government showed some real ambition, striking while the iron is hot on active travel rather than rehashing old pledges.
“It’s very worrying that we’ve gone back to the levels of pollution and congestion that we had before Covid, and in some places things are even worse. Unless the Conservatives do more to make our roads safer for cyclists, the problem is only going to escalate. We need to see a proper plan from government to get people cycling and keep them safe on our roads.”
A number of areas installed emergency infrastructure for walking and cycling during lockdown, including widened pavements and separated bike lanes, but some of these have since been withdrawn.
Some councils, including Labour-run ones, have removed another initiative intended to boost active travel – low-traffic neighbourhoods, or LTNs, which use physical barriers or cameras to stop through motor traffic on some residential roads while keeping them open to pedestrians and cyclists.
A government spokesperson said: “While we have some of the safest roads in the world, this government will continue to work tirelessly to ensure they are made safer still. We are investing record amounts in safe active travel schemes and cleaner transport infrastructure, and recently announced changes to the Highway Code, meaning those who present the most risk to other road users are given the greatest responsibility in creating a safer travel environment for all.””