Exeter Cycling Campaign – A Positive Vision Of Exeter’s Future
The Coronavirus pandemic has presented a variety of problems and challenges that individuals, businesses and governments have had to scramble to address quickly. The introduction of Social Distancing into our collective consciousness has made the public completely rethink how they complete even the most mundane of daily tasks and with Exeter being an historic city, with its narrow roads and pavements, it’s not exactly built for our new, socially distanced world.
But this is where Devon County Council’s new “pop-up” cycle lanes come in.
With the virus being a particular sticking point for public transport, and traffic congestion limiting space for pedestrians, the government has introduced a cash stimulus for local councils to enable the public to walk and cycle around towns and cities in a Covid-safe way.
The Emergency Active Travel Fund has provided Devon County Council with an initial £338,000 that has seen Magdalen Road go one-way with a contra-flow cycle lane in place and the establishment of two portions of Exeter’s strategic cycle network; the E3 and E9 routes.
Safe, Family & Environmentally Friendly Cycle Network
For Mike Walton and the Exeter Cycling Campaign, the introduction of this pop up infrastructure is warmly welcomed.
“We’re not going to be jumping onto busses and trains anytime soon which means that we could all jump into our cars instead. Now, in Exeter and many cities across the country we already have a congestion challenge which is a real drag on business productivity. The Department for Transport has had the foresight to see that we need to change things so that people want to walk and cycle and can do so safely,”
“Devon County Council have responded to the government’s mandate to act quickly and said ‘ok, we’ve got some ideas that we’ve been brewing for several years now’ lets open up.”
For the Exeter Cycling Campaign, these measures are something they’ve been championing for some time with their 2030 Network Plan. For the past four and a half years they’ve been compiling a range of positive proposals centred around a safe, family and environmentally friendly cycle network across the city. Their aim is to build a dense network of paths so that people can walk and cycle in a safe, convenient and connected way. The Exeter Cycling Campaign has also put together a comprehensive three phase plan for what they would like to see as a response to Covid-19 parts of which the Council has already implemented.
But for Mike and the group, this could be the beginning of something much greater.
As we recover from the most fundamentally life-altering crisis of our time, the ECC is focussed on a positive vision of how to tackle not just the challenge of Covid-19 but the climate emergency and the issue of public health. They see a huge opportunity to “reset” Exeter with a cycle network solution that reduces the damaging effects of congestion and improves public wellbeing. Namely, cleaner air, less traffic noise and building activity into our daily lives.
“One of the things we’ve seen as a result of Coronavirus is that, with no cars on the road, people love to walk and cycle. Families with children have been out, cycling on the road when you never normally see them and that’s because they see it’s safe now. Now there’s a safe way to get across the city which doesn’t involve having to drive.”
“We can encourage our children to cycle but what we need to do is enable people to cycle by making it safe to do so. You don’t need to encourage anyone to cycle. If you enable them, they will flock to it just as we’ve seen from lockdown”
Pop Up Measures Benefit Everyone
The campaign is also sympathetic to the concerns of other road users and they’re keen to address some of the potential misconceptions regarding the pop-up infrastructure. Mike stresses that these measures aren’t simply “for cyclists” but for everyone. They’re not designed to block off cars and drivers from areas of the city, in fact, drivers are still able to access every location in Exeter, it’s about opening up roads and creating clearly defined space that enables the community to cycle, walk or scoot safely if they choose to do so.
“It’s basically saying we give you an opportunity to choose an alternative way of travelling, if you still need your car, that’s absolutely fine, and there are no places in the city that have been blocked off. You can still get to every location in the city, nothing has been blocked off but people now have a safe alternative.”
Not everyone is able to cycle, and this is recognised by the campaign, but they’re appealing to other road users to embrace the changes because even if someone drives exclusively, they will still reap the benefits in terms of an improved driving experience with fewer cars on the road and a vastly improved, healthier environment.
Furthermore, businesses in the city might, understandably, worry about changes regarding access to their premises. Mike said,
“Magdalen Road in particular which has been made one way. It’s a lovely street filled with independent retailers and we can understand they may well nervous particularly at a time when small businesses are struggling already. But I’d appeal to those people to just consider how these changes have worked in other places. In other towns, making walking and cycling more accessible has actually boosted business.”
The measures have, so far, been welcomed by the community according to Mike. Opening up streets for walking and cycling has transformed areas making them quieter, calmer and more attractive places to be and this too, could be a positive sign for businesses. Mike explained,
“It’s called ‘stickiness’ making places more attractive so that people want to stick around. Cars don’t buy anything but people do. Studies have shown that people walking and cycling shop more frequently than if they’d driven. Waltham Forest in London is an example. They took out cars and retail sales increased and retail vacancies decreased.”
Mike and the Exeter Cycling Campaign very much hope that the pop-up infrastructure is the start of a revolutionary cycling network across the city. Areas such as Queen’s Street and Union Road which see large volumes of students travelling along them daily are, in Mike’s view, a priority for safety reasons above all else. He suggests that removing parking on one side of Union Road would allow safer access to University but, fundamentally, it’s about addressing how to most effectively move people around the city. Mike explained,
“We need to think differently about how we move people across the city. The dominance of the car has influenced city planning in terms of volume when, in actual fact, we need to ask ‘how do we move people and what is the most efficient way of doing so?’ It’s walking and cycling.”
The lanes will remain in place for an 18-month period and, should it prove to be successful and the council is able to provide a long-term plan, the city will be eligible for further government investment and this is something the Exeter Cycling Campaign plan to support heavily.
“We’ve got an opportunity to take something positive from Lockdown. Its given us the chance to reset. It’s given us a glimpse of a better future. If we grasped the moment, and we’re bold not only are we able to create spaces for people to move in a Covid safe way but we’re actually reducing congestion, reducing air pollutants, reducing our carbon footprint. If we can unblock the streets we can build health into our active daily lives.”
“What’s not to like?”
Written by Alan Hancock