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New law is just the start for improved cycling prospects

A late amendment to the much-debated Infrastructure Act means that there should be a greater emphasis than ever on cycling and walking across the UK - but for campaigners, the battle is far from over.

While the new emphasis on the most low-carbon of all transport options is undoubtedly a victory, there are questions about how exactly this raised priority will be instigated in transport schemes, and how benefits might be shared between town and country.

London is leading the way when it comes to ambitious plans for cycling. The London Underline project, which envisages a future of underground pedestrian and cycle paths, has recently won an award for Best Conceptual Project. But critics suggest that it - as well as the much-hyped Skycycle scheme - is likely to remain just that - a concept. In a piece for Citylab, Kriston Capps argues that all plans to separate cyclists from other transport users can’t be taken seriously:

“Solutions that take cyclists off streets - whether they're cool-looking or merely grumpy - do nothing to improve safety for pedestrians or drivers (or cyclists, for that matter, who would still need to use roads even given a SkyCycle super-highway).

“When cyclists share the roads with drivers in great numbers, they develop a sort of herd immunity, which boosts the visibility of cycling from courageous transportation alternative to standard transit option.”

Something of a ‘halfway house’ between these two poles of thought might be something along the lines of the new 20 miles of cycling lanes in London, recently given the go-ahead. But it might be argued that while the capital continues to make gains, the rest of the UK is falling behind. This is certainly something that needs to be addressed, but there are local schemes to improve cycling infrastructure already in the pipeline.

On the urban front, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Leicester have ambitious schemes in progress. As far as more rural routes are concerned, Sustrans is looking for funding support to connect Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, while Devon County Council is receiving central government support to develop routes in five key areas of the county.

In the quest for economic growth, it’s vital that low-carbon travel options are not left behind. The new legislation should ensure that cycling and walking are not merely afterthoughts, but a balance is struck between innovation and creating scenarios, where people transporting themselves in different ways can learn more about each other, creating a safe and efficient transport network.  

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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