Will Suffolk commuters be tempted back on their bikes by new campaign?
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk is waiting to hear how much it will get from the government to encourage more people to walk or cycle to work as part of a £2bn boost for sustainable transport over the next few weeks.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced at the weekend that £2bn of a £5bn boost for walking and cycling announced initially in February would be made available within the next few weeks - to make it easier for people to get to work without driving or using public transport.
However it is not clear yet how much will be coming to Suffolk – and there doubts about how much effect it would have on traffic outside the largest towns in the county.
Mr Shapps said: “During this crisis, millions of people have discovered cycling – whether for exercise or as a means of safe, socially-distanced transport. When the country does get back to work we need those people to stay on their bikes and be joined by many more.
“Otherwise, with public transport’s capacity severely restricted at this time, our trains and buses could become overcrowded and our roads gridlocked – holding up emergency services, critical workers and vital supplies.
“We know cars will continue to remain vital for many, but as we look to the future we must build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities.”
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New developments to encourage cycling and walking would be an issue for the county council, but in Ipswich the borough is also hoping to have a say.
Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere said it was vital that a return to work did not see more cars on the roads. “We are seeing a fall in pollution levels and the reduced traffic has made it much easier for people walking to observe social distancing – they can walk out into a road to keep them two metres away from others walking on the same pavement,” he said.
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“I know there are concerns about public transport, but it would be very bad if we ended up with more cars on the roads.”
But in rural areas the benefits of cycling were less clear. Trevor Garrod, from the East Suffolk Travellers’ Association, said: “The advice of the Mr Shapps, that more people should walk or cycle to work, while sensible in compact urban areas, are less realistic in a rural area like eastern Suffolk.
“Presumably Mr Shapps is not expecting people to cycle from Beccles to Norwich or Saxmundham to Ipswich every day to work.
“What is realistic is that people may walk to a bus stop or cycle to a station and continue their commute by bus or train. If they need to drive to the station to catch a train, easing of car park charges at local unstaffed stations should be considered.
“We are fortunate in having hourly trains, seven days a week, on the Ipswich-Felixstowe, and Ipswich-Lowestoft lines, while most bus routes have continued to offer regular interval services between, for example, Beccles and Norwich, Southwold and Lowestoft or Saxmundham and Aldeburgh.”
And the Green Party in Mid Suffolk has proposed improvements to cycle routes in the Stowmarket area.
Miles Row, chairman of Stowmarket Town Council’s Environment Forum, said: “Government has given councils emergency powers to close roads to benefit cycling and provide more space for socially-distanced exercise.
“We are proposing that Chilton Avenue, St Peter’s Road and Lowry Way should have barriers in place to stop cars driving straight through, effectively making each road into two cul-de-sacs with residents’ cars readily exiting at either end. This will complete a long safe cycle and pedestrian route from the centre of town out to the countryside in Onehouse.”
Suffolk County Council cabinet member for transport Andrew Reid said: “It’s no secret that we all face many months of upheaval as we work to emerge from the pandemic and this will no doubt impact on the way we move around our county. As we return to a ‘new normal’, our transport strategy will support people to make journeys by foot, bike or public transport while continuing to observe social distancing.
“Following the success of the temporary road closure to motorised traffic along Ipswich Waterfront, we’re leading the way with our approach to safer, more accessible streets and we’ve received support to create more room for pedestrians and cyclist. Where people need and want to make essential journeys and take daily exercise by foot or bike safely we need to give them the space to do so.
“As the highway authority we have been asked to consider locations and measures we can implement in other built up areas in our county’s towns. This may include widening existing footpaths and cycle lanes, providing temporary footpaths and cycle lanes and changing traffic signal timings to reduce waiting times for pedestrians and cyclists.
“However, it is crucial that these measures work for the majority of people living on or near the streets concerned. We’ve been engaging closely with local communities, and will continue to do so, to make sure access is maintained for deliveries, those with mobility issues and the emergency services, and these conversations will help us as we implement our changes.
“I am really pleased Suffolk County Council is able to put forward these changes, and I thank officers for all their hard work in making this happen.”