Up to £2.6 million will be spent on ‘pop-up’ bike lanes, wider pavements and other measures to boost post-lockdown cycling and walking in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
The government is giving council’s extra funding to promote ‘active travel’ and ease the pressure on public transport and roads, as commuters return to work following the easing of lockdown measures.
Buses have had to severely limit the number of passengers they carry due to the risk of Covid-19 infection, and there are fears there could be traffic chaos if people turn to private cars and taxis instead. Scientists also suspect that air pollution, which has fallen during the lockdown, could increase the spread of the virus.
The £250 million Emergency Active Travel Fund is aimed at quickly improving infrastructure to support cycling and walking during the pandemic.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been provisionally awarded £168,000 in the first tranche of the scheme, with a further £673,000 in the second tranche.
Staffordshire County Council has been provisionally allocated £366,000 in the first tranche and £1.47 million in the second.
Councils had until today (Friday) to submit their first tranche proposals. The government hopes that the changes, which could also include new bus lanes, will be brought in within weeks.
City council leader Abi Brown said the size of the funding awards would limit how much the authority could do, but various options were being considered.
She said: “We’re probably not going to be able to build completely new cycle paths with this funding, so unfortunately there won’t be a cycling superhighway across the city. But we are looking at how we can build on the wayfinding signs we have installed to promote walking. We’ll also look at how measures can fit in with our Transforming Cities proposals.
“This funding will help our city to recover and move again in safe and sustainable ways. We are investing in all transport forms to make getting about the city easier and make it a better place to live and run a business.
“We are now working on plans that are proportionate to our topography, are practical and can make the most impact for the city.”
While bus use has been falling in Stoke-on-Trent over the last decade, there were still 9.3 million journeys by bus in 2018/19, equating to more than 36 trips per person.
On the other hand, only 11 per cent of Stoke-on-Trent residents cycle at least once a month, compared to 16.1 per cent of people across England.
Sue Jones, membership secretary of Lyme Racing Club, North Staffordshire’s biggest cycling group, believes the lack of segregated cycles lanes in the area can put people off commuting by bike.
She said: “We have good infrastructure on the canals, but not really on our roads, especially on roundabouts. We’ve had so many near misses, and road rages incidents as well. So we do need more dedicated cycle lanes.
“When I’ve visited France they have a lot more infrastructure for cyclists, with segregated lanes with their own traffic lights. So I would cycle on the roads in France, but not in Stoke-on-Trent.
“I think the fact that Stoke-on-Trent has a lot of steep hills can also put people off. But with electric bikes getting more popular that might become less of an issue.”
Cheshire East Council has been allocated £155,000 in the first tranche, and £619,000 in the second.
The provisional funding awards have been calculated based on the number of adults who use public transport as their usual method of travel to work.
Along with the funding, the government has also published new statutory guidance which instructs councils to reallocate roadspace for increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians.