Environment

UK to build cycle lanes out of railways in bid to hit net-zero

New initiatives making it easier and safer for people to walk or cycle will be rolled out in the race to hit net-zero emissions

Motorists will be responsible for the safety of pedestrians and hundreds of miles of new cycle lanes will be built, in a major shake-up of the highway code to boost national health and efforts to reach net-zero emissions.

UK government ministers hope to build on the increase in “active travel” during the pandemic, namely walking and cycling, with a £338m package aimed at making it safer to get around without driving.

The funding — which promises to create extensive new cycling infrastructure, partly through converting old railways — is a 30 per cent increase on last year’s £257m active travel cash pot. It will “link communities together”, said Xavier Brice, chief executive of Sustrans, who welcomed the announcement.

“Most importantly of all, this vital boost will further enable those who want to cycle or walk to do so,” he added.

“The pandemic has highlighted the huge benefits of active forms of travel to people’s personal health and wellbeing, to local communities and to the environment.”

Cycling’s popularity grew more last year than in the previous 20 years combined, with Brits travelling a collective five billion miles on bikes during the pandemic, according to the Department for Transport.

Making it easier and safer for people to get on their bikes will be key in the UK’s drive to cut air pollution and hit net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, ministers said, ahead of COP26 being hosted in Glasgow later this year.

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“Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment,” said Grant Shapps, transport secretary.

“This £338m package marks the start of what promises to be a great summer of cycling and walking, enabling more people to make those sustainable travel choices that make our air cleaner and cities greener.”

This autumn the government will also unveil a revamped highway code, which is expected to shift the hierarchy on roads by placing more responsibility on those “who can do the greatest harm”, meaning drivers will be expected to be mindful of cyclists and cyclists mindful of pedestrians.

“Whether we choose to also drive or cycle, we are all pedestrians,” said Stephen Edwards, interim CEO for walkable towns campaigners Living Streets.

“These proposed revisions will benefit us all. The highway code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety. These changes will redress that balance.  

“People walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price, with pedestrians accounting for over a quarter of road deaths. Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose.”

The UK government committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with transport currently accounting for 28 per cent of all emissions.

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