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Active Travel: Joining the dots - a To-do List for the Department for Infrastructure

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

The UK has rather ambitious climate change targets and wants to achieve net zero by 2050. That will be very difficult, given that the government recently has granted 100 new oil and gas production licenses in the North Sea. The largest emissions-generating sector is Transport, accounting for just under a quarter of total emissions.

To address this, the government will stop the sale of Internal Combustion Engine cars by 2030. The Climate Change Committee reported that in 2022, just over 16% of all cars sold were EVs, so we have a long way to go. All these electric cars will need charging. The plan is to have 300,000 charging stations nationwide, up from just 37,000 at the end of 2022.

The CCC’s report linked above calls out the UK Government on its lack of progress on Active Travel. Active Travel policies are devolved across the four nations, with England being significantly further ahead than Northern Ireland, which to all intents and purposes is stuck in the dark ages, in last place and a long way behind Scotland and Wales.

There are many reasons for this failure. Until very recently the Department for Infrastructure had a very pro-car culture. The department advised against the implementation of the 2022 Changes to the Highway Code here which would have given cyclists a lot more protection out on the roads. However, the jury is out on how much that would be because PSNI budget cuts currently would prevent rigorous enforcement… The local weather is often used as an excuse but given the mild winters here, that's an obstacle easily overcome. More worrying is the anti-cycling attitude among many driver.

In the final analysis it comes down to the long-standing local political inability to compromise, with the result that public services have suffered hugely. How do we get out of this mess? Here’s a tip from the Rolling Stones:

“You can’t always get what you want but if you try

sometimes you might find you get what you need.”

In other words, it is time for Stormont to move on and get back to work.

Assuming we do end up with a working government in the near future, it is then down to DfI to get to work. Its to-do list is rather lengthy:

  1. Implement a 10% spending target of its budget on Active Travel

  2. Develop a Province-wide Cycling and Walking Masterplan, linking local plans such as the Belfast Bicycle Network and the Ards and North Down Cycling Masterplan. If anyone from the DfI is reading this, contact us for a gap analysis of the cycling infrastructure in North Down.

  3. Improve existing cycling and walking infrastructure to make it fit for purpose:

    1. Eliminate advisory cycle lanes and replace them with permanent ones, marked by double-yellow lines

    2. Make parking on pavements illegal. This would reduce speeds as traffic would have to circumvent parked cars carefully and slowly

    3. Pass enforcement of a and b above to local councils

    4. Provide additional bike stands for urban regeneration projects/road repairs.

    5. Propose new legislation requiring large planning applications to include pavements and cycle lanes from the outset rather than being added at taxpayers' expense as an after-thought.

  4. Provide funding for an Active Travel/Highway Code Changes publicity campaign to encourage more tolerance among road users, something along the lines of “More Than A Cyclist”.

  5. Encourage Translink to accomodate bikes on trains before 9:30am.

  6. Introduce a 20mph speed limit on all roads within 200m of a school during term time, not just during school hours. This would encourage adoption of Bike Buses.

  7. Introduce a 20mph speed limit in all city and town centres

  8. Set up a reporting system requiring utilities log any planned maintenance or repairs to facilitate coordination of scheduled works to minimise the number of times a particular section of road has to be dug up

  9. Hire an inspector who checks that any roads dug up by utilities are actually properly repaired. This would reduce the number of potholes significantly.

  10. Facilitate ebike charging by requiring that any EV charging station planning applications include at least two charge points for ebikes. That would encourage the adoption of ebikes for journeys which otherwise would have been undertaken by car. While a Northern Ireland ebike Infrastructure project is in the planning stages at the moment, it would be considerably easier to piggy-back off existing EV charging infrastructure.

  11. Add a Cycling-Proficiency Course to the Learner Driver Curriculum. This would go a long way to highlighting to new drivers how vulnerable cyclists feel in a close-pass situation.

The implementation of the above would not only contribute significantly to our sustainibility targets, the adoption of Active Travel will have an extremely positive effect on the nation's health, increasing fitness while reducing the drain on health service resources caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

(photo taken at the intersecton of Hamilton Road and High Streetin in Bangor)

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