Kent County Council has welcomed news that government is investing £70 million to help restart local economies and make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
KCC has been allocated just over £8 million by the Department for Transport (DfT) to invest in walking and cycling and to embed new behaviours whilst promoting the positive effects of safe and sustainable active travel.
The first round of funding, however, will be £1.6 million with the remainder subject to agreement if spent within eight weeks.
In addition to this, plans are being worked on to introduce further 20mph zones, including trials in Faversham and Tonbridge.
Since lockdown on March 23, Kent Highways has recorded a 300% increase in the number of people cycling and a recent survey of people across the county found 63% supported the idea of more cycle lanes.
Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport Michael Payne said: “I very much welcome this funding and we can now get started on planning some short, medium, and longer-term schemes for those walking and cycling.
“I hope this will encourage more people to walk and cycle as the health benefits speak for themselves. This investment will allow our active travel options to be enhanced and improved so that these journeys remain safe and sustainable.
“We will be looking into the possibility of reallocating road space for walking and cycling, encouraging people to take part in active travel, for instance going to school, and reducing speed limits where appropriate.
“I very much hope that the number of people cycling and walking increases as there are a wealth of benefits to our communities if people are more active – lower traffic levels, reduced congestion, less road noise and improved air quality.
“But to make these changes long lasting we need to work together, and this can only be achieved with local support.”
Mr Payne added: “I want to develop ideas and improvements that not only give some quick wins, but to also learn and experiment so that we can lock-in the longer-term benefits from a programme of improvements across the county.
“I appreciate there will be lots of groups that will want to be involved. But right now we are assessing the opportunities this funding brings so that we can invest in the right places at the right time, whilst also responding to the key worker and urgent needs that we face in the current pandemic to quickly provide safe walking and cycling infrastructure.
“Welcome though this funding is we all need to realise that it will not be possible to accommodate every idea immediately. That is why some of the schemes that are chosen are likely to be experimental in the first instance.”
KCC anticipates more people will be travelling to work and to school by bike or on foot.
Working with colleagues in the local districts and boroughs, KCC is arranging to implement temporary signs that reinforce the social distancing message.
As part of the DfT Access Fund programme, KCC has worked alongside Cycle Community CIC based in Ashford supplying 50 refurbished bikes to key NHS staff.
The bikes have been supplied with safety equipment including helmets, locks, lights and hi-vis vests.
KCC will be looking to:
- Trial ‘pop-up’ cycle facilities with a minimum level of physical separation from volume traffic and also widen some existing cycle lanes to enable cyclists to maintain distancing.
- Use cones and barriers to widen some footways particularly outside shops and transport hubs.
- Encouraging walking and cycling to school.
- Reduce speed limits: trial 20mph speed limits where appropriate and locally supported.
- Introduce pedestrian and cycle zones, with the possible introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods and maybe modal filters.
- Provide additional cycle parking facilities at key locations, such as outside stations and in high streets, to accommodate an increase in cycling.
- Change junction designs to accommodate more cyclists – for example, extending Advanced Stop Lines at traffic lights.
- ‘Whole-route’ approaches to create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes into town and city centres.
- Identify and bring forward permanent schemes already planned, for example under Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans that can be constructed relatively quickly.
The top risks that COVID is putting on road safety are:
- Poor driver behaviour, particularly incidences of speeding in areas where there are lower traffic levels
- Mental health impacts on levels of distraction, anxiety and tolerance
- Driver fatigue – where people haven’t been used to driving as much during lockdown.
When passing a person cycling, give plenty of room – a minimum of 1.5m – and don’t pass too quickly. It can be frightening to a rider if they are passed at high speed.
Fewer people have been on our roads since lockdown began and traffic levels have been at about 60% of what they normally would be. However, with government encouraging schools to go back, traffic levels will increase.
What’s more, children will now be walking or cycling to school alongside other parents driving their children, and general traffic will be thrown into the mix – drivers need to slow down, be patient and stay alert to other road users.
Some drivers will be re-adjusting to driving, having not driven for a long time, or the skills involved may be rusty when it comes to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers on our roads.
We want everyone to share our roads safely because one mistake or a moment’s inattention can have tragic consequences, and human error is a factor in 95% of crashes.