Social distancing-pop up space for walking and cycling

TACC has been asking the leader of Somerset County Council to introduce space for walking and cycling to enable social distancing. We particularly suggested that they consider these routes:

  • Fore Street and East Reach. East Street has been closed to motor traffic previously. The pavements are of variable width and, even with reduced numbers of shoppers, social distancing is not always possible. As a major route into the town East Reach has not been a comfortable place to cycle. Dedicating one lane to cyclists would encourage people to cycle into the town, leaving their cars at home.
  • A38 Wellington Road from the Bishop’s Hull roundabout to County Hall. Again this is a major route into the town with three lanes. Dedicating one lane to cyclists would help commuters use this route as well as leisure cyclists.
  • Cheddon Road and Station Road. This is another normally busy and uncomfortable cycle and walking route that is now relatively quiet. This route is two lane, with a lot of on street parking, both legal and illegal, making social distancing impossible for pedestrians.Our proposal is for a temporary coning off of a section of the carriageway to create safe space for pedestrians and cyclists. The photo below illustrates a problem that often occurs on Cheddon Road.

Illegal parking on pavement on Cheddon RoadThe types of segregation and other provision that other Councils are using are: using cones, some planters as temporary bollards, suspending push buttons at pedestrian crossings, closing ‘rat runs’ using experimental traffic orders.

Initially it seemed that Somerset CC didn’t fully recognise the opportunity and need. However, on 14 May we received this email from Somerset CC:

Thanks for your recent email and it gives me an opportunity to update you on our current approach to the issues of safe cycling and walking.

We are taking a flexible and dynamic approach and are actively developing plans that will:

  • address the immediate concerns of maintaining safe and socially distanced walking and cycling;
  • encourage longer term behaviour change and active travel modal shift.

We are still waiting to hear the details of what our share of the £250million emergency funding announced by the DfT will be and when it will be received. We know that initial tranche won’t do everything we want, so we will have to prioritise the immediate needs.

You will appreciate that such opportunities are not without their challenges. Clearly, issues of both capacity and budget will be to the fore, especially given the speed at which we are being expected to act. So it will be important to clearly identify the priority areas that require immediate actions and those that can be delivered in the weeks to follow. 

The main areas of focus will include:

  • Schools –identify needs and respond;
  • Town centres – opportunities and feasibility engaging with business groups and town authorities;
  • Rural – taking advantage of the changes in rural areas to promote new and existing routes;
  • Communications –to both publicise local changes and amplify government messages on behaviour change.

I know that TACC were engaged in the development of the Local Cycling and Walking Implementation Plan (LCWIP) for Taunton and you asked about the consultation process. The LCWIP is being finalised but it is unlikely, given the situation, that it will go out for consultation before the end of June. My colleague [… – Ed.] will keep you advised.

One of the immediate tasks in our planning will be to review the LCWIP for any early wins and some of the elements might come forwards earlier.

You and other groups across the county have been submitting items for consideration, ranging from quite small schemes to larger area wide opportunities. Please be assured that these are all being actively considered and will inform the next stage of our programme, which is the delivery of wider opportunities and support to the behaviour change needed to properly embed the shift to more active travel patterns.

There is an expectation to encourage more active travel and we are rapidly putting an approach in place. But we will need to keep pushing government to release more money for walking and cycling initiatives, including the announced £2billion and more detail on how and when that will be made available.

These will be far reaching changes to the nature of our towns and communities, and will affect a wide range of road uses including maintenance, emergency services, public transport, and of course our elderly and disabled travellers. But we are committed to delivering the scale and pace of change that will make the most of current opportunities and hope to be able to embed longer term behaviour changes.

We will be communicating more news of the changes and their impacts as soon as we are able and to ensure that we have your support and further involvement going forwards.

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