Chris Boardman promises to clear England’s streets of car traffic

Chris Boardman, a former professional road cyclist and 1992 Olympic individual pursuit champion, has been appointed acting national active travel commissioner and head of a new ‘executive agency’ body called Active Travel England, which will have the power to influence how councils are implementing new traffic plans and how well they are making space for cyclists and pedestrians.

“We’ll have the engineering capability to say, ‘Let’s take a look at the design and we’ll help you out,'” Boardman told the Guardian. “But we will also have the power to say, ‘That’s not good enough.'”

The new government body will be modeled after Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills), a non-departmental department of the UK government responsible for inspecting schools and educational institutions.

ATE will:

  • rate councils on how well they make room for cyclists and pedestrians
  • Inspect what is built and issue annual reports, ranking council performance
  • Set standards for projects aimed at reversing the increasing dominance of automobile traffic on minor roads
  • Fund cycling and walking programs
  • Oversee design and planning applications
  • Strip funding councils if they try to install sub-standard systems, e.g. paint-only cycle lanes
  • Offer advice to councils on how to deal with backlash on new cycling infrastructure

Boardman has long been an outspoken critic of British road safety and over the years he has been instrumental in creating a number of programs which have furthered his quest to create ‘a silent revolution’ in the way people move.

In 2017, Boardman began working alongside Mayor of Greater Manchester (home of British Cycling) Andy Burnham, first as the region’s cycling and walking commissioner and then as its transport commissioner. A major development during his time there was the Bee Network, intended to provide 1,800 miles of protected walking and cycling trails in what would be the UK’s first ‘joint’ network.

“Walking and cycling are the foundation of any sustainable transportation system,” Boardman said. “You can encourage people to change whatever you want, but when it still takes courage to cross a street, then people will drive.

“It’s about allowing and encouraging once you have a safe space. The message is: this is for people who do normal things in normal clothes, just having the choice of not having to do it in a car. And it’s in all of our interests to deal with it.

London’s cycle superhighway network facilitates safe journeys for commuters on some of the busiest routes into the city centre, but they do not extend across the city.

The news comes a week after Londoners were advised to reduce their physical exertion in the capital on Friday January 14, due to particularly high levels of air pollution – advice which has inevitably, and ironically, forced people to get back into their cars on the already overloaded road network. .

“We have a finite amount of space, and there’s over 20 billion more miles traveled around homes than a decade ago,” Boardman said. “We co-opted local streets to absorb traffic that the roads were never designed for. It’s not going to be easy to untangle, but it’s definitely worth it. »

New and improved cycle infrastructure hasn’t always worked well in the UK – in the past a small but vocal minority has been able to lobby local councils to roll back some changes, such as some of the cycle lanes installed to promote safety and health. traveling at the start of the pandemic – but part of the ATE’s mandate will be to guide councils through the backlash they can expect in their provision of safe routes.

These programs benefit more than just road cyclists, the easy target of anti-cycling sentiment. Boardman and ATE’s goals simply focus on securing the roads, period.

“We always lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of people want this,” Boardman said. “Every poll you see says, yes, I want my kids to be able to cycle and walk to school, but right now I don’t feel like I can do anything other than ride them.

“Change will not be easy, but it is essential. And it is inevitable.

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