Hertfordshire lacks a clear focus and ambition
"Must do better and be more pro-active" was the message from opposition Liberal Democrat councillors at County Hall to the four pilot schemes announced by the County Council that they brought in last weekend to encourage active travel and support for social distancing as more retail premises open.
Levels of walking and cycling have increased dramatically across the UK during the lock down. The Government recently announced a package of £250m of support to councils for changes as more people begin travelling to work again and there is an easing of restrictions, while capacity on public transport is still significantly reduced due to the ongoing need for social distancing.
The health evidence indicates a significant link between Covid-19 recovery and physical fitness. The health benefits of choosing more active travel options are even more important than ever, as are the reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality.
The four new schemes in Watford High Street, Hertford Fore Street, Borehamwood Shenley Road and Bishop Stortford Town Centre were introduced from this Saturday aiming to reduce motorised traffic and allow for better social distancing whilst encouraging cyclists.
Liberal Democrat Group Leader and Highways Spokesperson, Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst said. "I welcome these initial moves and it's great the county is doing something but they seem to lack ambition. I know county officers have been working on up to 16 schemes. However none of these have been discussed with elected county councillors first, not even those for the areas these schemes cover. At the last minute in my own area that covers Watford High Street I got hold of the plans and had to point out errors and omissions so changes and additions had to be made as they had not used my local knowledge. Not consulting local councillors is unacceptable."
"The Liberal Democrats fully support more improvements and changes to support active travel by walking and cycling. We have raised this at every county budget in the last 10 years with the need to invest more in footway improvements, tackle neglected cycle routes and bring in lower speed limits on residential side roads".
"The COVID crisis could lead to a social and health change but only if we move quickly and act now. At the start of the lock down I and my colleagues highlighted, yet again, that many designated cycle routes and overgrown footways that needed cutting back. In most cases the county has done nothing. It's normally the excuse of no money or "it does not meet our criteria for action". I've been told where there is a verge next to an overgrown path people should walk or cycle on that instead! This is unacceptable. All to often we have cycle lanes and routes incomplete or end at a road junction with nowhere to go. The result is they cannot be used. It's time to ignore the county rule book and improve our footways and cycle routes that currently hinder people in keeping to social distancing rules!"
"With fewer people using buses at present we need to look at what temporary changes to routes and bus stops could be made to better allow for social distancing in town centres. We need to look at what would be cycle commuter routes into our key areas to encourage people not back to their cars but on a cycle. We need to make those routes happen over the Summer. We must look at places like Watford that now has a cycle hire scheme to get similar in place in other key centres like Stevenage, St Albans, Hemel."
The Liberal Democrats said they would have a five point plan to meet the governments and health and social distancing objectives.
- Prioritise maintenance/repairs of existing cycle and pedestrian routes including cutting back overgrown vegetation and trees, repairing crossing points that are damaged or flood and installing new dropped kerbs in high pedestrian footfall areas.
- Investigate, install and complete existing cycle routes and introduce at least temporary ones that assist commuter cycling.
- Give greater priority to pedestrians at traffic lights and crossing points to prevent bunching and assist slow walkers.
- Move quickly to introduce a 20 mph zone and limits as the norm for residential roads in Herts towns.
- Consult and involve local county councillors for their ideas for their communities.
"It's time to think positively, to think green and promote a heathy safer environment, let's do it." said Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst
The UK government has now issued statutory guidance making it clear that they expect local authorities in England, particularly hose in areas with high levels of public transport use, to make major changes to their road layouts in order to re-allocate space for cyclists and pedestrians, to encourage active travel and allow for social distancing i.e. people being able to stay 2 metres apart where possible).
Local authorities in areas with low public transport use are also asked to consider all possible measures.
The Government has called for these measures to be introduced as quickly as possible, suggesting that they should be in place within weeks. The kind of temporary measures being proposed include:
- pop-up cycle lanes using features such as flexible plastic wands or suspending parking bays to enable the conversion of traffic lanes into temporary cycle lanes and widening existing cycle lanes.
- using cones and barriers to widen footways along lengths of roads with high levels of pedestrians, such as around shops and transport hubs and widening pedestrian crossings and refuges.
- reducing speed limits.
- introducing pedestrian and cycle zones with restricted vehicle access.
- closing certain roads in residential areas using planters or large barriers to create low-traffic or traffic-free areas.
- providing additional cycle parking at key locations, such as outside stations, including through re-allocating of parking bays to accommodate cycle racks.
- Changes to junction design to accommodate more cyclists.