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Give roadspace to active travel, DfT tells councils

Active Travel

15 May 2020

The DfT has instructed local authorities in England to consider temporarily re-allocating roadspace to pedestrians and cyclists to help them keep to social distancing guidelines, and to encourage new ‘greener’ travel behaviours in the long-term.

In the foreword to new Covid-19 guidance on the network management duty, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “The Government expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.”

The statutory guidance, issued under the Traffic Management Act 2004, applies to all highway authorities in England.

On road space reallocation, it says: “Local authorities in areas with high levels of public transport use should take measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling, both to encourage active travel and to enable social distancing during restart. Local authorities where public transport use is low should be considering all possible measures.”

Measures should be taken “as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart [out of lockdown] takes full effect”.

“None of these measures are new – they are interventions that are a standard part of the traffic management toolkit, but a step-change in their roll-out is needed to ensure a ‘green’ restart,” says the DfT.

Actions to help cyclists could include:

  • installing ‘pop-up’ cycle facilities with a minimum level of physical separation from volume traffic, for example, mandatory cycle lanes using light segregation features such as flexible plastic wands
  • quickly converting traffic lanes into temporary cycle lanes (suspending parking bays where necessary) 
  • widening cycle lanes to enable cyclists to maintain distancing 
  • “Facilities should be segregated as far as possible, i.e. with physical measures separating cyclists and other traffic. Lanes indicated by road markings only are very unlikely to be sufficient to deliver the level of change needed, especially in the longer term.”
  • Cones and barriers could be used to:
  • widen footways along lengths of road, particularly outside shops and transport hubs 
  • provide more space at bus stops to allow people to queue and socially distance 
  • widen pedestrian refuges and crossings (both formal and informal) to enable people to cross roads safely and at a distance

The guidance also encourages councils to introduce ‘school streets’, described as “areas around schools where motor traffic is restricted at pick-up and drop-off times, during term-time”.

More 20mph speed limits should be considered. “20mph limits alone will not be sufficient to meet the needs of active travel, but in association with other measures, reducing the speed limit can provide a more attractive and safer environment for walking and cycling.”

Pedestrian and cycle zones are suggested, in which access for motor vehicles is restricted at certain times (or at all times), particularly in town centres and high streets. “This will enable active travel but also social distancing in places where people are likely to gather.”

The DfT also backs modal filters – also known as filtered permeability – closing roads to motor traffic, for example by using planters or large barriers. 

Additional cycle parking facilities should be provided at key locations, such as outside stations and in high streets.

Junction designs could be changed to accommodate more cyclists – for example, extending Advanced Stop Lines at traffic lights to the maximum permitted depth of 7.5 metres where possible.

“All these measures can be introduced temporarily, either in isolation or as a combined package of measures,” says the DfT. “Some interventions, including new lightly-segregated cycle lanes, will not require Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs).” 

Others will require TROs, of which there are different types. The main ones are:

  • Permanent: this includes prior consultation on the proposed scheme design, a 21-day notice period for statutory consultees and others.
  • Experimental: these are used to trial schemes that may then be made permanent. Authorities may put in place monitoring arrangements, and carry out ongoing consultation once the measure is built. “Although the initial implementation period can be quick, the need for extra monitoring and consultation afterwards makes them a more onerous process overall,” says the DfT.
  • Temporary: these can be in place for up to 18 months. There is a seven-day notice period prior to making the TRO and a 14-day notification requirement after it is made, plus publicity requirements. These are most suitable for putting in place temporary measures and road closures.

The guidance will be reviewed after three months.

Traffic signs may be needed to inform pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of changes to road layouts, particularly where temporary widening is in place. The DfT is publishing separate advice on using existing signing, and some new temporary designs.

‘Don’t forget freight’

The Freight Transport Association has urged councils not to forget the needs of freight in the rush to install measures to help pedestrians and cyclists social distance. 

Natalie Chapman, the Freight Transport Association’s head of urban policy, said: “The published statutory guidance directs councils to reallocate road space for significantly-increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians but overlooks access for those who keep our cities supplied with everything they need – logistics vehicles.”  

The FTA has written to transport minister Baroness Vere to request urgent clarification on several areas.

Said Chapman: “The FTA is urging authorities to provide reassurance that access to the kerbside for deliveries and servicing activity is maintained at all times – particularly as shops begin to reopen and demand for goods increases – and that any temporary reallocation of road space for walking and cycling be flexed and changed dynamically to reflect changes in demand and to ensure access for vital logistics services. 

“Road closures and diversions must consider the increased journey times involved and the potential disruption that displaced traffic could cause on nearby roads.”

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