Plans have been published to reallocate road space in parts of Reading to make walking and cycling easier and safer. Reading Borough Council will initially use its own funds to implement social distancing measures and then apply for support from Government’s Active Travel Fund.
Reading Borough Council has designed a series of schemes to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists and which recognise the severe restrictions on the capacity of local public transport.
Figures show a significant drop in car use in Reading during the lockdown. Traffic has fallen to around 35% of usual levels and there has been an increase in walking and cycling, particularly in local communities. Roadside monitoring locations on the Oxford Road and on Caversham Road show between a 32-39% reduction in Nitrogen Dioxide in recent weeks.
The council is moving to introduce a series of schemes – both temporary and possibly permanent in the longer term.
The schemes are designed to support the recovery of the local economy and its new Local Transport Strategy, which prioritises tackling poor air quality and congestion, as well as its commitment to create a net zero carbon Reading by 2030. The proposed schemes also aim to enhance the health and wellbeing of local residents by making it easier for them to walk or cycle when getting around town.
Besides several emergency projects, the council will be bringing forward implementation of a number of permanent smaller schemes that have already been earmarked in its Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan.
Details of all the proposed schemes can in a Policy Committee Report https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s12753/Reading%20Active%20
The Government’s new statutory guidance on the reallocation of road space is particularly focused on areas with high levels of public transport use. Reading, has the third highest bus usage in the UK outside of London.
Cllr Tony Page, Reading’s Lead for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: “While the long-term effect of the pandemic is yet unknown, we do know that in the short-term people’s travel behaviours have of course changed. It is important we move to accommodate that and make it easier and safer for people to walk and cycle as they continue to socially distance.
“These proposals are a combination of major new schemes and initiatives which were already in development, that we now think are appropriate to bring forward. Once implemented we would, of course, monitor their success carefully. It is very likely schemes will need some adjustment over time before we can then consider making them permanent.
“Looking further forward, car use is down in Reading, whilst air quality is up. It is possible these trends will remain, with more people opting to work from home. The coronavirus pandemic, alongside the Climate Emergency, has increased the focus on sustainable travel everywhere. This sits alongside our priorities of supporting the economic recovery of Reading, to create a new zero carbon Reading by 2030 as part of our commitment to tackling the climate emergency, and the council’s new Local Transport Plan, currently being consulted on, and which includes both improving air quality and cutting congestion as key themes.”
To ensure that the proposed schemes can be delivered without delay, the council is using its approved capital programme funding for transport projects to initially fund them. The council intends to use capital funding to get the schemes quickly implemented and then claim back the money through the Government’s £250m Active Travel Fund, once the bidding process is open and the Government provides clarity on the process for local authorities.
Cllr Page added: “Whilst I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s Guidance, and his personal enthusiasm, I very much regret the failure of the Department for Transport to announce any details of how ambitious local authorities such as Reading can submit funding bids. There’s little value in constantly repeating that money has been allocated to support cycling and walking schemes when we cannot bid for it. The council’s resources are already heavily stretched by the current health emergency and we have only very limited ability to fund from our own resources the schemes identified in this report.”
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